Saturday morning starts with an hour or so of reading in my sunroom office, settling in to spend the day at home. John puts muffins in the oven, our son Luke lines up small airplanes along the edge of the carpet, and our girls are occupied in their bedrooms upstairs.
I finish David Benner’s The Gift of Being Yourself, thinking long and hard over his words in chapter six: “Our calling is therefore the way of being that is both best for us and best for the world.”
I write those words down, share them on Instagram, watch out the window as the sun gently wakes the yard.
And then, like a wild animal leaping from the bushes in a still forest, a high-pitched beeping pierces the quiet with a robot-woman voice shouting: “Fire, fire, fire!” I’ve not heard our smoke detector go off before and didn’t realize it had a voice. She continues to shout from the hallway, monotone and maddening.
The girls rush down from upstairs, panic all over their faces, and I keep on reading my book, thinking John will take care of it because I am a responsible grown up.
But when I hear no movement in the kitchen and the loud robot fire alarm voice continues to say fire, I feel like maybe I should get up.
When I get there, I see the kitchen is slightly smokey, but nothing to be too concerned about. I glance in the oven at the baking muffins, and sure enough on the bottom I see two small charred remnants of last night’s french fries. Like tiny black cigars, they offer a steady stream of foggy smoke that fills the oven, leaking into the room.
After removing them with my oven mitt, I grab the nearest stack of school papers from the laundry room desk, march toward the beeping, talking smoke detector and fan the air in front of it — my mad attempt to quiet her down.
Finally she stops, and the house is once again quiet, with the only hint of excitement now dancing in Luke’s wide eyes. “Is there a fire?” He asks, strange mix of hope and terror.
“There’s no fire,” I say, “only smoke.”
It’s easy to neglect caring for those things we cannot see, like two lone french fries escaped to the bottom of the oven. It isn’t until they start to smoke that we go looking for fire.
Our inner life hums quietly beneath the surface, speaking only to those who make space to listen.
For nine years I’ve been writing at Chatting at the Sky with the tagline creating space for your soul to breathe and I feel like it’s taken me this long to begin to understand what that means.
If our souls aren’t given a little room to breathe, they will suffocate beneath the heavy pressure of our fast-moving world.
Even if we don’t fully understand the workings of the soul, even if we aren’t able to eloquently define it, we all most likely recognize the evidence of a soul that needs attention — anxiety, loneliness, unexplainable anger, discontent.
So January is nearing an end and maybe that means all those expectations you wrote down are feeling less motivating and more paralyzing.
Instead of being discouraged by that, maybe this overwhelm is your smoke. The discouragement doesn’t arrive to shame you into doing more but to remind you to do less.
Maybe this heaviness is your soul trying to tell you something important.
Maybe you’ve tried hard to systemize your schedule but in the process, you’re suffocating your soul.
May we have the courage to walk with our friend Jesus into the fog, to follow the smoke no matter how thick it feels, and to ask Him to show us the source.