How to Do Better (or, Reflecting on October)

One of the strong Martha-ish tendencies I have is a desire to Do Better. I don’t always have the drive to match the desire, and very often I am daunted by the actual effort it would require. (Or, worse, I’m frozen by the impossibility of living up to my own standard of what “better” looks like.)

But it’s the end of another month—somehow—so I’m looking back at October and forward at post-election and the holiday season and the new year and thinking about what Doing Better might look like.

Much of the time, I expect Doing Better = Doing More. Being more productive, picking up more balls to juggle and dropping none. I tell myself Doing Better means having a long list and checking off every item. It means not only keeping up with tasks but doing adequate self-care and joyful spiritual practice all along the way. (Practically speaking, it means self-care and spiritual practice become more To Dos on the list.)

Getting better.

As I thought about all the many ways I might “do better” in the months ahead—get more writing done, finish UFOs, practice yoga, do every Daily Office, etc., etc.—a snippet of dialogue played in my head. It went like this:

Scene: Woman is in bed, propped up on several pillows and covered in quilts. Her face is pale. Used Kleenex wads litter the bed around her. An Advil bottle is open on the side table, next to a half-full mug of steaming tea. Enter Friend.

Friend: Oh dear, how are you doing?

Woman, sounding strained: I’m doing better…

That’s the kind of “doing better” I need right now: not an exemplary list of To Dos but a quiet, care-full step in the right direction. Just the feeling of being on an upswing.

Like many of us, I think, I feel physically and emotionally drained by the worries and upsets of these days. I worry that the upswing will be a long time coming. And I’m upset that peoples’ lives—and all our futures—hang on such a precarious hope.

What is better.

I’ve just typed in that heading, “What is better,” and now I have to write something about What is better, but the truth is I don’t know.

I have a lot of thoughts about what I think would be better for us—as a world, a nation, and as people—but everybody has thoughts they believe in just as firmly as I do in mine. It’s not a religious thing, either; people of faith come down on opposite sides and are all convinced God has spoken to them. I don’t believe God is inconsistent, telling people different things… so the only other possibility is that some people are hearing their own voice and just calling it God. I always want to be humble enough to remember: that could be me.

What is better, perhaps, is to change focus. To release the need for certainty and accomplishment. To let go of the list, let go of Doing More. For that matter, I don’t want to passively let it go. I want to tear the list into a million tiny pieces. I want to set it alight. And then I can decide to Do. To do the thing in front of me, the singular work at hand, with the ability I’ve been given, without distraction, without expectation. But to do it better. To do it with awareness of holy Presence. To do it knowing that it serves God only to the extent that it serves those God loves… people living in desperate hope for repair.

That’s it, really. And what is better than that?

Stay well, friends. 🙏🏻

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