What I want

One of the great tensions of being a person is finding balance. I have so many things I need to balance with a finite set of resources: who I am as a mother, a wife, an employee, a church member, a homeowner, a citizen. Most of these identities make demands of my time and energy. It is terribly easy to get wrapped up in those concentric circles of need and not create the space at the center that is none of those things — that person who is me. Without knowing who I am and taking care of my core, all those offshoots of my energy suffer. They need a strong, centered, joyful person in order to thrive.

But it IS hard. There are two ways I’m bad at it, and if they appear to conflict, well, maybe they do. The first problem I have is guilt. It’s hard for me to do things for me, that I enjoy, without feeling guilty for not spending that energy elsewhere. Last night, for example, I thoroughly enjoyed reading a novel. Hardly high crimes and misdemeanors. But I still feel like I should make up for this transgression in some way — work extra hard today or apologize or something. I certainly don’t feel like I have the right to read another novel this week (which I’m dying to do!) The best way I have around this is to turn a pleasure into an obligation. But the problem is that I have obligations enough. I actually enjoy (looks at list above) all of my obligations. I love being a mother. I am a delightedly happy wife. As much as is possible, I enjoy my job. I like going to church. I get satisfaction out of a newly painted wall. I take pride in being an informed citizen and exercising my responsibilities as such. It’s not that my obligations are onerous, it’s that they are tiring. But guilt is tiring, too. The time I take to renew my spirits carries a cost that it shouldn’t — a counter-productive cost at that.

The second hard thing is to really figure out what *I* want. That’s pretty easy on the scale of an evening. Heck, you can pretty much lay money that on any given evening I would enjoy doing one of the following:
*reading a book (preferably in the bathtub, especially in winter)
*watching a baseball game
*working on crafty/papery things
*goofing off online
*playing games with friends (anyone want to come play Agricola with me?)
*playing video games

There are maybe, uh, 5 nights a year I don’t want to do any of those things, and none of those nights coincide with Red Sox games.

But in a longer span context, it’s harder. What do I want to do with my career? What about continuing education? Do I ever want to go back for a graduate degree? (My problem there is that I’m not well suited to pursue my passionate hobbies — no Latin — and a graduate degree in those areas would be decidedly un-useful. But fun. I loved what I got to do in pursuit of my BA.) What sort of activities would I want to do to be healthy and active? If I had the desire and commitment to pursue a dream, I could doubtless make it happen. I just don’t know what dream that is.

This is all very long background for a revelation that’s been creeping up on me lately. The revelation is small and simple. Perhaps even anticlimactic.

I want to learn how to take good photographs.

(Waits for howls of astonishment and amazement from the crowd.)

You see, I really enjoy doing … well, this. I like to write. I think I would like to write fiction too, but I find that such a big bite to chew that I never seem well-rested enough, ready enough, prepared enough, with time enough to tackle it. But this informal, first-person, day-to-day writing and the sense of community and communication it brings are pleasant and sustainable. I write this for me, although I need the sense of audience in order to find my voice and to capture the urgency and need to report in.

But a truth I have learned about blogging is that if the words are the peanut butter, pictures are the chocolate. A well captured, well chosen picture illuminates the idea. I take literally hundreds of pictures. I took 300 this month. All of them were taken with my (quite nice for what it is) $200 point and shoot snapshot camera. I have some idea how much I don’t know about photography: shutter speed, aperture, focus, lighting, framing… there are a thousand things that go into taking a photograph that I know exist to be known, but that I do not know. These days, there are about two thousand after the photograph has been taken, but one thing at a time.

I could do something about this. I could decide to become a competent photographer. What stands in my way? Well, I’d like to take a course in it. I have taken no courses whatsoever since I graduated college. But it needn’t even be a long course. A few evenings. A long weekend. I suppose a book would do as well, but at this point in my life I think the commitment of a course would do better.

But then there’s the sticky part — the camera. Some of my friends and loved ones have real cameras. I am rather aware that they are what you might call a pretty penny. And to learn about all those fancy words above, you need a camera with, like, lenses and more than two settings.

Thus we come back to guilt. I would have a hard time justifying either the time (for classes and practicing what I’ve learned) or the expense (for classes and hardware). Justifying both seems downright greedy — but the one isn’t much good without the other. It seems like I should be happy with my point and shoot and my little blog and the myriad other things I need to do. But I so rarely can articulate what I want on any grander scale than this week or smaller scale than “at the end, looking back” that I feel as though I should take this impulse and run with it.

Please mom, learn how to take better pictures!
Please mom, learn how to take better pictures!

Modern sinfulness

Sinfulness just isn’t something I *feel* very much. I very rarely walk around despairing of my own sinfulness. That sort of diminishes the power of grace, when you don’t feel the weight of sin.

But I was thinking today that I’d love to not feel guilty, even for a little while. I forgot to give my guest a clean pillowcase last night. Guilt. I didn’t talk to everyone as much as I wished last night. Guilt. I think I was too preachy in Sunday school today. Guilt. I’m behind in planning some things. Guilt. I complain too much. Guilt. I spent money on things I don’t actually need. Guilt. I didn’t talk to a single guest in church today. Guilt. I don’t practice my trumpet much anymore. Guilt. I haven’t talked to my parents much lately. Guilt. I’m working right now. Guilt for working. If I wasn’t working, I’d be feeling guilty for not working.

So imagine, maybe, if God’s grace for me was not about removing the weight of sin, but instead the weight of guilt. What if I could give him all my own guilt, and come off scott-free and feather light? Maybe what Augustine and Paul were talking about — the weight of that sin — maybe I *DO* feel the same thing, but I call it guilt. And maybe God would be willing to take that from me, if I asked.