You Can’t Go With All the Flows

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Photo 2016-06-06, 4 35 52 PMI was with a friend a few months ago, and he was sharing with me how many good causes there were to join in on and how distracting it can be. When we are passionate about justice and change, it is so easy to want to be part of so many movements, offer our time and our heart and our energy to help be part of changing oppressive systems. To support the work of our friends. To be a good advocate. To participate instead of stand on the sidelines.

As he was sharing, I had this image that I know was for me as much as it was for him. It was of a flowing river. Picture it: powerful, moving, alive, pouring over the rocks, pulling in the direction it’s supposed to pull. And off that flowing river, I saw a bunch of little side streams. Some were bigger than others, and they all were pretty and wound around in all different directions.

These forks weren’t desolate or ugly. In fact, they were pretty, too, in a different way. But those forks didn’t have flow. They were side trails that, while good, take energy and divert from the flow.

There are technical terms for this related to a river—tributaries and distributaries—depending on which direction they go, but the technicalities don’t matter. What matters is the reality: while all of the side streams are all well and good, they aren’t part of the flow. I have to be careful about going off on them and letting them take all my energy.

This is so easy to say and really hard to do.

In my life, I have so many side projects, passions, people I love and respect who I want to partner with and support, and so many opportunities to contribute and play.

All of these things do, indeed, matter to me.

Organizations who care about justice.
Conversations about unity in the church.
Groups of friends who are advocating for things I deeply resonate with.
Artists creating all kinds of beauty and hope.
Spiritual guides curating unique and lovely contemplative spaces.
Activists working to change laws.

I want to be involved and I want to be part. I love playing with others.

I love all these causes and initiatives and events and ways to collaborate and influence change. But oh, I have felt it in my bones, how easy it is to become pulled in so many different directions that in the end, the flow is choked off.

When this happens, there’s too much energy going in a whole bunch of little directions and not enough going in the one big stream I am personally called to.

I don’t think this is an either/or moment. I believe firmly in paradox and the reality that both can exist. That it’s possible to spend my energy mainly in my flow AND be part of these side streams that all are part of the same river.

The danger is not being clear on what is part of the flow and what isn’t. What is there really margin and energy for and what there isn’t. What’s realistic and what isn’t. What’s the direction I’m supposed to be going and what’s just a detour?

Oh, I have no easy answers or formulas for anyone, because I think it’s so much more complicated than just “do this, don’t do that.” But I have been thinking a lot about this since my conversation with my friend. 

I’ve been trying to notice my soul and how weary it sometimes becomes. I’ve been trying to consider where to offer my time and passion and where to say no. Mostly, I’ve been trying to do what’s often the most difficult thing for me—accept my humanness and limitations. I just can’t do everything I want to do, good little streams or not.

It’s sometimes painful.

It’s not just about FOMO—fear of missing out (although I will admit, it’s in there, too).  It really is about wanting to be part of so many amazing things that are happening around me and that I deeply care about. But I have to be so careful about the detours and the side-streams, and stick with what I am truly most passionate about: nurturing and creating healing and transformational community and safe spaces.

It doesn’t mean I don’t show up at local social justice events or contemplative retreats or political rallies. It doesn’t mean I am not part of several networks of friends who are doing great work in the city or have challenging conversations about the wider church or a host of other things I truly love to do.

Those things all help with the overall flow.

But I’ve got to be more honest and realistic with what I most care about. What I’m best at. That which is my heartbeat and my lifeblood, what I wake up thinking about each and every morning of each and every day. That’s my flow. That’s my passion. That’s the thing that I want to be careful of getting detoured from.

SheLovelys, this post isn’t about beating ourselves up for doing too much or caring too much or not managing our time enough. We’ve got enough of that in every direction already!  But what I’m hoping for me, and for those of you struggling with it, too, is that we keep finding our flow and have the courage to acknowledge and honor it so its life force doesn’t get choked off with a lot of other good things.

How are you finding your flow?

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Kathy Escobar
Kathy Escobar co-pastors The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver. A trained spiritual director, speaker, and advocate, she also blogs regularly about life and faith at kathyescobar.com and is the author of Faith Shift and Down We Go—Living out the Wild Ways of Jesus. A mom of 5 young adults and teens, she is married to Jose and lives in Arvada, Colorado.
Kathy Escobar

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  • Kathy, I SO relate. I’ve had to step back from a lot of things in my local church as my writing ministry has grown. It’s hard (there’s that fear of missing out and also that fear of what others think about me. They don’t see all the hours I put in to editing and contributing to three websites) but this is where I feel God has my ministry right now. I love that you say you are being honest about what you are good at. It’s so easy to try to do it all instead because we “should.” I am finding my flow in saying “no” to a lot so I can say “yes” to a few vital things, waking up early before my kids so I can get some ministry done and not miss out being present with them. It’s a daily process and it works SOME days. Thanks so much for this needed encouragement!

    • thanks, nicole! i like that “saying no to a lot so that i can say yes to a few vital things.” so good!

  • Yes, yes. God’s created us to be passionate, to be called, to be active, to care. Yet there’s only so much energy to go around. And the need doesn’t necessarily constitute the call in every season.

    That can be hard.

    I guess this is where we need wisdom … when to act … and when to simply be still …

    • yes, i love that “when to act…and when to simply be still…” (not go, not respond, not do, not ______). thank you!

  • Tiffany Smart

    YES! Thank you! There is so much that stirs my heart! But I feel so scattered!! I’m trying to start a blog as a source for my focus and passions. Maybe this will help my flow!! God bless!!

    • blogging helped me with flow a long time ago, but warning: there are a lot of good things to write about, ha ha. i’ve been trying to stick with what i’m most passionate about 🙂 happy writing to you and here’s to flow…

  • For me, I find it best to find 3-4 things I’m super passionate about. Not just things that a friend is doing or a friend is heading up. I find things that I”M passionate about. It’s best to give ourselves to a few things and do them well than to give ourselves to 10 things but not be able to dedicate the time needed. This is a great post of balance!

    http://www.littlelightonahill.com

  • Helene Burns

    So great… thank you xo

  • Nichole Bilcowski Forbes

    Kathy, thank you! I am constantly reminding myself of this and course correcting on the fly. I joke that I am easily inspired but I need to be disciplined in my focus to carry on with what I am specifically called to do.

    This is SO good!

    • thanks, nichole! yeah, it seems like life is one big “course correcting on the fly” isn’t it?

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  • Great post! I also love social justice and fighting for change. I agree that we can get so caught up in various interests that we can get detoured from what matters most to us. I have had to be selective about which volunteer interests to get involved in – there are so many great causes, but ultimately, I choose things based on where I feel God has blessed with me both talent and experience!

  • Your words feel like permission for me to guard my yeses and to issue a few well-placed noes. I love your imagery of a strong flowing stream.

    • thanks, michele. that image has been my center image all year long. i printed one out and have it on my art journal with the big letters FLOW 🙂

  • Kathy, I just finished “Essentialism” today. Such a good book and here you wrote about this very thing. I’m a Seven on the Enneagram, an Enthusiast, so I want to do ALL. THE. THINGS. But I am learning the ends of my energy, especially. So, I LOVE that picture of the river … Thank you.

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