We recently picked up a book from the library entitled “Dear Mr. Washington”
by Lynn Cullen. It is a humorous look at the story behind Gilbert Stewart’s famous portrait of the first President. This one.
The book follows Stuart’s children as they attempt to follow George Washington’s Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior on Company and Conversation while the President sits for his portrait. These rules (110 of them) were copied down by Washington by the time he was 16.
Presumably used as an exercise in penmanship during his schooling, they include such advice as “Undertake not what you cannot Perform but be Careful to keep your Promise.” (Don’t start what you can’t finish. And keep your promises.), “Put not another bit into your mouth till the former be swallowed. Let not your morsels be too big for the jowls.” (Don’t take a bite so big you have to chew with your mouth open.), and “Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.” (Don’t allow yourself to become jaded, cynical or calloused. Listen to your conscience). Some seriously good stuff in these rules. As you can see, the children are less than successful obeying them.
As I read the book to my kids, one principle struck me as familiar. “Be not Curious to Know the Affairs of Others neither approach those that Speak in Private.” Then, when I opened my Bible to 1 Thessalonians 5 in church Sunday, I saw this verse highlighted on the opposing page. “That you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you.” 1 Thessalonians 4:11 Now, it may not appear so at this moment, but it is very specifically funny that a quote in a book about President Washington reminded me of this verse.
Anytime I get the same message from different sources, multiple times in a week, I figure God is trying to tell me something. In this case, the message was like a giant neon sign because of the manner in which it was delivered. Usually, I don’t get the picture that quickly. I’m grateful God’s patience with me far exceeds mine towards others.
Here’s the lesson. I struggle frequently with the “smallness” of my life. When I bump into someone I haven’t seen in a while, the conversation feels lame and pathetic. Here’s how it usually goes.
Friend: Hey! How’s it going? What you been up to lately?
Me: (internal dialog) How do I tell them that my life is not my own and I am never “up” to anything. That all I do is wake up, feed children, teach, wash laundry, sweep the floor, feed children, sweep the floor, read, feed the family, sweep the floor and sleep? Over and over and over. It’s all so small. So simple and quiet. Oh crap. I’ve been standing here with a blank look on my face for at least a minute. Or longer maybe. I wonder if she’s noticed. Who cares?! Just think of something to say that doesn’t sound lame. Think! And smile! Smile quickly! Say something…something resembling anything.
Me: (actual words): Doing great! You know, just plugging along with homeschooling and kids. How are you?
Now, I don’t want any mistaking or misunderstanding me on this next point. Because it’s very important. Bottom line: I adore my life. I am beyond immeasurably blessed. I would not change it for anything. I know I am exactly where God intends for me to be, and that my impact on this world will be multiplied exponentially through the lives of my children. That in this life journey, I receive far more than I give, and am constantly renewed from the inside out. As I sweep the floors, break up tiffs over toys, figure out (yet again) what to make for dinner, I’m thankful. I recognize fully the incredible gift of my life situation.
That said, 18-year-old me would be quite shocked at the obscurity of my life. You see, that me from so long ago was absolutely convinced that by the year 2015, she’d be running a political campaign…as the candidate. I’d already chilled with Washington’s Governor,
met the President of the United States (me @ Clinton’s right hand), and had a specific goal in mind for my life. That girl, who I don’t even recognize anymore, was positive her path would lead straight to the political power of the Presidency. When compared to a life of White House galas, peace summits and goodwill tours – book club, sibling arguments and goodnight songs can seem a bit blah. See why the President Washington book is so ironic now?
Because of those previously held expectations and the nagging thoughts that I’ve failed to live up to my potential in life, I’m thankful for verses like God gave me in Thessalonians. Not only is it alright to lead a quiet life, it’s something to aspire to. Aspire. To direct your hopes and ambition towards achieving something. It seems counterintuitive, but a quiet life is an achievement in itself. I needed to be reminded of that. A peaceful existence of trucking along, minding my own business, working with my own hands to accomplish all the chores of each day – that is a quiet life. That is a blessed life. That is a full life. I’m privileged to call that My Life.