Living a Mixed Life

Our lives are “extroverted to excess. Our attention is incessantly called outwards toward the multitude of details and demands …” Evelyn Underhill, 1926
Times Square
Culture has been heading this direction for a long time. Perhaps this world has always been so, developing in us a call to focus outward, a pride in busyness, a tendency to give undue importance to external details.
Many of our churches follow in the same direction, calling their people towards service and events far more than prayer, contemplation, and spiritual formation. We are asked to always be ready to give and serve yet are not told how to be filled up with anything to give.
It becomes clear, when we look at the life of Jesus, that we should live a mixed life, not a single-focused life. We should live a life of prayer and service, a life of looking and working, a life of being filled up with God and spilling that life out for others.
To deepen our own spiritual lives to meet the demands of others, we must first spend time gazing at God. We need a vision, a conception, as clear and deep and lovely as we are able, of the splendor and beauty of God.
That enrichment of the sense of God is surely the crying need of our current Christianity. A shallow religiousness, the tendency to be content with a bright ethical piety wrongly called practical Christianity … seems to me to be one of the ruling defects of institutional religion at the present time.
We have not changed directions since Evelyn Underhill wrote this in 1926. We have only moved further down that path.
Stressing service rather than awe simply does not wear well. In those moments when the pain and mystery of life are deeply felt, in the moments when we fall into a dangerous spiritual exhaustion in the name of meetings the needs of others, this “shallow religiousness” falls flat.
St. Ignatius of Loyola said that “Man was created for this end – to praise, reverence, and serve the Lord his God.” Notice that two of the three things for which our souls were made are our relationship with God: adoration and awe. Unless these two pieces are in their correct place, the last of the triad, service, will not be right.
Again, it is in looking to Jesus and the pattern of his own life that we see the way in which we should walk. This mixed life of prayer and service
unites the will, the imagination, and the heart; concentrates them on one single aim. In the recollected hours of prayer and meditation you do the looking; in the active and expansive hours you do the working. (Underhill)
Our secret life of prayer, the steady orientation of our hearts to the reality of God, is what leads to the desire and ability to be Jesus’s hands and feet to those around us. Ruysbroeck, a contemplative in the Middle Ages, said that the result of a perfected life of prayer was “a widespreading love to all in common.”
It is, for certain, a grace from God to have a sense of wonder and delight in him. Like all graces, however, our ability to receive it depends mostly on the exercise of our will and desire, on our openness and giving of our time to receive it. It will not be forced upon us.
Our churches are not wrong in teaching that a life of service is good and necessary, yet service should not, cannot, come first. We must first “deepen (our) own lives, that (we) are capable of deepening the lives of others.” (Underhill)
Christ set us an example in all things, and so it is a mixed life that we are called to live, a life of prayer and service, of looking and working. We must first take the time to be filled up with a deep and clear vision of the splendor of God; only then will we have the ability to spill out our lives in love for others.

I Don’t Have Enough Time

I tell my eldest that this is her last soccer game of the season. 

A loud “Hurray!!” is flung into the air and she spins wildly, sending shin guards flying.

Why so excited for the end? The answer lies in past conversations. Each time we pull out socks and shin guards, she pleads for more time to play. “Please can we go to the park instead?”

Already, at the tender age of four, she rebels against the busyness of life. She doesn’t want activities and events, she simply wants to play.

What is one of the biggest complaints from people all over the country? According to Arthur Boers, author of Living Into Focus ,it is that they are too busy, that they have no time for what really matters.

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–His good, pleasing and perfect will. ~ Romans 12.2

How am I different from the world and culture around me? 

I fill up our days with activities and chores, avoiding the stillness of unplanned time.

I don’t take the time to craft God into our days, don’t leave empty moments open for filling with His Word.

I am not different. 

I have conformed and have not renewed. I stay busy and distracted, wondering why I feel so frantic with no time left over for those who really matter. 

My family, my neighbors, Christ Himself, get left in the dust of my busy life.

I live the same sort of shriveled life that is favored by contemporary culture. 

Would anyone in the world, harried and distracted and seeking peaceful stillness, look at my life and think that I am any different? 


I don’t pose an inviting alternative. I don’t live out abundant life in a way that encourages others around me to take my Christian faith seriously. And why should they? I am living a life just as distracted and busy as everyone else.

How can I draw people to Jesus, how can I be the fragrance of Christ, if I am just as shriveled, just as focused inward as anyone else? 

There is no beauty, no enticement, no intriguing mystery of a life that is different in the middle of this busyness.

I have divinely revealed reasons and divinely promised power to live differently. Will I use my imagination and my courage to do so?

For pushing my own self (and hopefully for you as well!) to take the time to use my imagination and courage to be transformed and stop conforming to our world, I will end with this quote from the president of Missions Resource Network, Dan Bouchelle:

Where does it come from, this endless need to be preoccupied with something? … What is so wrong with our lives that we can’t be still and just be?

Yet, we find God’s grace an embarrassment because to receive it we must admit our need of it. Therefore, we keep going out on the Sabbath gathering manna which grows mold and maggots overnight.  We can’t be still because we cannot bear the unblinking eye of God not knowing it is the adoring gaze of a lover rather than the suspicious glare of a taskmaster. In our anxiety to prove our worth, we obsess over our productivity, seeking to earn the respect of everyone around us, including God. …

We don’t know how to be still and filled with God. We are unable to rest in the knowledge that he has declared us enough. We are loved. We are what he made us and is making us. … But, to accept his grace means letting go of our sense of self-sufficiently and, for many of us, that is just too expensive. It would end all comparison with others and banish boasting. We can’t have that. 

So we now live in a world where taking Sabbath has become a sin. We cannot be still without feeling guilty. We cannot have an unproductive day unless it is filled with working hard at play or we can justify it as “well deserved” by working excessively long and  hard before and after. 

We think our busyness more essential than God’s. After all, God rested on the Sabbath, but we don’t. 

God help us! Help us understand how small and non-essential we are so we can rest, truly rest, without guilt or anxiety, and just enjoy gazing upon your beauty and our blessedness as you gaze upon us with the adoration of a parent with a new baby.