Lesson One: A Handful of Tranquility

Dear Janell: I have a question

I’ve been home from my whirlwind-trip-of-a-lifetime-to-Europe with my husband for almost two months now (whew, long sentence!) And, I admit, it has taken me this long to begin putting into words the life-changing lessons I learned on our journey. A few weeks before our trip, I sensed the Lord saying that he was going to alter the landscape of my life (read, “Alter the Whole Landscape” from July 10) I had no idea what he meant by that, but after my husband’s surprise gift, I do.

First and foremost, this trip showed me that I don’t want to live the next twenty-five years of my life in the same way as the last twenty-five years. Oh, don’t get me wrong, they have been blessed beyond measure, but the dominant characteristic of these years is my constant state of “over” doing. I concluded that I am moving out of “The Land of Over”:

  • Overdo
  • Overcommit
  • Over schedule
  • Over-the-Top Goal Setting (unreasonable goals)
  • Overeat (esp. sweets at night, smile!)
  • Overspend on the un-necessities (is this a word?)
  • Overachieve (ouch! this one hurts the most)
  • Over exercise (yes, its all about balance)
  • Over analyze (sometimes we must accept the facts/accept in faith)
  • Over step boundaries (know when to speak/not to speak)

Over, in the Greek, means, “hyper.” Taking that one step further, we see that hyper means, “seriously or obsessively concerned.” All in all, it just means, “a bit much; a bit out of balance.” I come by this personality quirk quite honestly. I know I born with a God-given capacity to achieve (we all are) but somewhere along the journey of my life, something clicked inside of me to take residence in “The Land of Over.” That click became the rhythm by which I paced my life. Do more. Be more. More. More. More. And the great travesty of this rhythm is that it played out in very good things. Excelling is what America (and may I add the American church) is all about. This became quite obvious as Rob and I traveled through Europe:

  • Businesses close for several hours in the middle of the day.
  • Life definitely slows down on Sundays (not much was open).
  • Mealtime is a celebration. No drive-thru’s. Beautiful tables set, both indoors and outdoors, where men, women and children sit for hours enjoying their meals.
  • The pace of life is slower (except on Italian roadways).

Now, I know there are overachievers in Europe, I am not naive, but something was different. Perhaps I just needed a change of scenery to see my own weaknesses. A break from the rapid routine which I lovingly call my life. It is no one’s fault but my own. I claim full responsibility. But, I know that I need to change. What will this look like? Well, I believe I found the answer yesterday in Ecclesiastes 4:6 (NIV), “Better one handful with tranquillity than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind.” The Message Bible says it this way, “One handful of peaceful repose Is better than two fistfuls of worried work—More spitting into the wind.”

Dear Janell: I have a question

Look who was waiting for me atop the Gemmipass,
Leukerbad, Switzerland, 2009

(Another tranquil moment . . . not far from where I found the snail.)

The minute I read this scripture, I remembered a picture I had taken while on a hike in Leukerbad, Switzerland (see above picture). It was a beautiful day where the wind was full of crisp whispers. I sat down on a carpet of soft, green grass. Nestled deep in the grass, I found a small snail. As I admired the spiral pattern on its shell (which we see so often in nature), I thought of its simplicity. Its quiet existence. For some odd reason, I placed it on the palm of my hand and shot a picture. Looking back, I can see that God knew two months later this little snail would confirm wise Solomon’s words in Eccles. 4:6 and remind me of that moment when I felt such deep, restful peace. That moment when I realized I couldn’t go on living my life in “The Land of Over.”

I’m not done wrestling with this life change. In fact, I am right in the midst of it. I find myself asking, “But, Lord, isn’t one handful a cop out if I am capable of two handfuls? I want to be found faithful stewarding the talents you have given me.” And then, I hear his still small voice say, “Just remember the key: one handful with tranquility, not two handfuls with toil and chasing of the wind.”

The root of tranquility is tranquil which simply means, “Free from commotion or tumult; free from or unaffected by disturbing emotions.” Key: FREE

Oh, I want to be free. Free from agitating voices that prod me to imbalance and commotion. Free from the whirlwind of life in “The Land of Over.” I am so grateful for a God who opens our eyes and constantly watches over us. If you find yourself with two handfuls of toil today, may God help you release it. And in the release, help you scoop up a handful of tranquility from His Word.

Dear Janell: I have a question

“He who believes in God is not careful for the morrow,
but labors joyfully and with a great heart.
‘For He gives His beloved, as in sleep.’ They must work and watch,
yet never be careful or anxious,
but commit all to Him, and live in serene tranquility;
with a quiet heart, as one who sleeps safely and quietly.”
(Martin Luther, 1483 – 1546)