Yesterday found me, as it does most Wednesdays, working at the hospital. Much of my time there is spent with my fingers on patients’ throats, evaluating their swallow function while they eat in order to determine if they were aspirating their food or liquid. Bet you didn’t know that Speech Pathologists did that kind of thing, hmm? : ) Sometimes I am wryly amused by the irony of my day-to-day life. As a working mother I feed children, and as a working Speech Therapist, I feed adults. Apparently, God’s sense of humor knows no bounds (which, I guess, it doesn’t). Nonetheless, I love being a speech therapist in a hospital.
Ok, that was all just intro that got carried away.
While I was working one afternoon, a swallow evaluation request came through for an elderly woman with severe dementia. She had been admitted to the hospital with a bad case of pneumonia and I’d been consulted in order to rule out aspiration as a cause. As I entered her room, I noticed that she was in her bedside chair and had a lap restraint placed in order to keep her from leaving her seat. And boy, did she want to get up and go somewhere. Anxiously she yanked at the restraint, fidgeted with her call bell, and pulled at the blankets that were covering her legs and lap. For such a tiny little thing, she was certainly determined. No amount of reassurances or redirection could calm her down. After several attempts to quell her fretting, I stopped trying and decided to go ahead with my evaluation. As I began to set up my equipment I automatically placed a towel across the lap in order to keep any food from spilling onto it. And immediately, that little old lady’s frantic energy stopped. She gazed at the towel for a second and then calmly picked it up and began to fold it into perfect rectangle. Throughout the rest of my stay she smiled and chattered serenely (as I kept surreptitiously shaking out the folded towel and putting it back in front of her).
Before leaving the room I went and gathered a few more towel and placed the pile on the bed beside her. With a, “tsk, tsk” and an “oh, those certainly need to be taken care of!” she went right to work. Glancing in her room after I finished charting, I was happy to see that she was still calm and still steadily folding away. She’d found her rut. Her habit. The activity that calmed her mind and gave her a sense of stability. All was right with the world.
During the evaluation itself there were several moments when she became so focused on creating perfectly squared edges that she became too distracted to eat. I’d step back and wait a little and during one of those moments the thought struck me,
“I wonder what habit will calm me down when I’m old?”
You see, I am convinced that folding laundry must have been a big part of this woman’s life. Maybe she was a seamstress or maybe she had a family that produced mountains of never ending laundry! In any case, folding laundry seemed to give her a feeling of settled confidence that NOW life was manageable and under control.
Followed closely on the heels of that first thought came a second,
“Since I’m always becoming the person I’m going to be someday, I guess I should really decide what will calm me down when I am older.”
That was a sobering thought. To be reminded that all of my day-to-day actions and thoughts are reinforcing habits that are part of a life-long training regimen. Each day I’m laying down ruts of thinking in my brain—paths that my mind will habitually travel during certain circumstances—the question is, who is determining the course? Me (still burdened with my sinful heart) or God (through the power of his word and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit?).
Obviously that’s kind of a trick question. The truth is that from the moment of salvation we are being sanctified through the work of the Holy Spirit. Using the truth of scripture he is cleaning, mending and reforming our minds so that we can change into children who look more like Jesus and less like Satan each day (John 14:26).
But even as I am being changed into Christ’s image I have the ability to hold myself hostage to unbiblical ways of living. The Bible tells me to reject “futile” thoughts and actions (Eph 4:17 – which I think is a great way to look at any type of unbiblical response! Futile! Unhelpful! Won’t actually work the way it promises to work!) but I am very, very good at holding on to sinful habits (Jer 17:9). Even though I know it’s “technically” wrong, I keep striding along those paths in my mind. Laying down ruts. Creating habits. And each day those habits are mapping out the type of woman I will be in fifty years.
When perturbed with some childish accident will I habitually respond with condescending lectures? When angry at Paul will I snap at him and make sarcastic comments? When confronted with my own sinfulness will I become defensive and try to blame it on the occasioning circumstance? When anxious and overwhelmed will I try to impose control in my life by doggedly cleaning my home with vicious precision? Ok then, fast forward fifty year and I’ll be that condescending old lady who make sarcastic comments and gets defensive with any attempt to help and ends up complaining about how disorganized her room is.
Yikes, don’t want to be her caregiver.
So the question is, what will I do today to become the woman I want to be in fifty years? How will I respond when after Brenn, in a moment of pure toddlerness, flings his arms over his head and in doing so lets fly the content of his cup all over my wall/cabinet/floor? What will I do when Paul comes home and want me to just sit on the couch and talk to him rather than clean up the kitchen after dinner? Will I listen to the prodding of the Holy Spirit and act biblically, or will I head down the sadly familiar path of a sinful response.
In the end, no matter how godly a woman I want to be, nothing will trump years of bad choices. I want to be known as a woman who is preoccupied with serving God and loving others rather than being focused on my own wants and needs. I want to be Mary – whose greatest joy was found in sitting at Jesus’s feet and listening to his comforting and instructing voice (Luke 10:38-42). There is a time to take care of “Martha-esque” responsibilities (mountains of laundry, right? : ), but when I’m an old lady I want to automatically seek for security in God…not in my surrounding (Rom 8:28). So each day, I must resolve in my mind to listen to the Holy Spirit (I Cor 2:13), to fill my mind with truth (Col 3:16) and to make those everyday choices that are so very hard just because they seem so inconsequential (Eph 4:22-24). Someday they will matter.
“The fact of the matter is that the transforming work of grace is more of a mundane process than it is a series of a few dramatic events. Personal heart and life change is always a process. And where does that process take place? It takes place where you and I live everyday. …And because we devalue the little moments where we live, we don’t tend to notice the sin that gets exposed there. We fail to seek the grace that is offered to us.” Paul Tripp