These days it seems you can’t throw a stone without hitting someone else’s idea of “better.”
“It would have been better for them to adopt a foster child from the United States than an orphan from overseas.”
“It would have been better to help veterans than to waste money on flowers for neighbors.”
“It would have been better to donate to a food bank than to pay off one college student’s debt.”
I close all the browser windows and shut the computer, but the overbearing suggestions of “how to do better” hound me still, ingrained in my sense of guilt and responsibility.
What makes for better writing, better mothering, better loving? I ask, and instantly the answers swarm so thick that they choke my fledgling motivation. Better means writing on relevant topics, of course. Developing a clear and engaging voice. Making one’s work marketable. Planning out educational activities. Volunteering with children. Letting children be alone to explore. Writing more letters. Hosting more dinners. Reading more books…
There’s a scene in Sabrina (1995), in which Linus Larrabee steps out onto the porch of a seaside cottage with Sabrina. At his request, she’s been taking photos of the house’s immaculately staged interior, and she asks if he wants a snapshot of the view from the cottage as well. Yes, he says. Which angle? she queries.
“All of them.”
Sabrina lowers her camera. “More isn’t always better, Linus,” she says, wryly. “Sometimes it’s just more.”
Those words are like a spade of new earth to me, freshly tilled from tired and oft-trodden ground.
More isn’t always better. A king of old once brought an offering of “more” after plundering an enemy camp, instead of destroying all the goods as he had been commanded. The offering was spurned; “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord?” Samuel told him. “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams” (I Sam. 15:22). Even sacrifice, the hard giving of self or possessions, isn’t better than heeding the direction given by the Lord.
Christ himself was beset with suggestions to do “better” as well. People demanded to know why his disciples didn’t fast — wasn’t that the better thing? The disciples thought it better to keep children away so that real ministry might be done; better to tend to the human needs of sleep and food before considering eternity. The onionskin pages of the gospels are full of others’ ideas for betterment.
I laugh a little, humbled, as I read of Peter’s reaction to the transfiguration: “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters — one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (Lk 9.33) It was good for them to witness this holy moment, and I nod along; it would be even better to mark it somehow. But the text goes on to tell us, “(He did not know what he was saying.)”
The sobering pronouncement upon all our efforts is that, if they fall outside His purposes, they’re simply more.
It may be that one man’s “more,” on a given day, is another man’s “better.” There are right sacrifices, times for fasting, times to put up memorials and monuments in Scripture; there are those for whom adopting a foster child or serving veterans or paying another’s debt is not just a good thing, but a glad shout of a command. It’s the Lord of the Harvest who decides the difference.
He knows what my work is in this golden field of earth, for the limited hour lent to me. How can I be faithful, then, to the plot in my care? How can I bring the presence and the reflection of Christ into it?
If more isn’t always better, show me what is. His answer has been surprising me lately. Bettering my corner of the world has meant watching Lucy read The Last Battle in a day, calming my enthusiasm before I ruin Narnia for her (excellent advice, this); feeding my family; reading good books; playing a game of Chutes and Ladders with a preschooler; setting regular meeting times to grow in community; cooking meals for new mothers; making good on resolutions to give monetarily; clearing room again to create. I’ve had less room to tend to the usual desires of needing to matter or to live the lives of other people, and a little more courage and more certainty about the goodness of God as I rest in it. This is my “better” right now, and I realize anew that the road to better writing, loving, and mothering will always begin with choosing to dwell in His presence and peace.
It was at His feet, after all, that Mary found the better portion. Here is where we’ll find if our ideas to do more are really better or not (or, perhaps, simply not yet) — and whenever the answer is affirmative, this is where we will glean the strength and purpose needed to accomplish the new task.
Here, for the weary who know what it is to struggle with “more,” there is joy for the taking.