When Have I Done Enough?

Positive Thinking Tip: When the “dinger” rings, it’s okay (and even critical) to stop!

My friend Natalie taught a lesson during our women’s meeting at church recently on “Having Temperance in All Things”.

Temperance = moderation and self-restraint

I easily understand this in terms of harmful substances and addictive behaviors, but when I think about what “Temperance in All Things” means, I have trouble.

I haven’t been good at knowing how to be temperate in goal achievement, for example.  I aim high, and then I overbook myself and get overwhelmed by all that needs to be accomplished.

I haven’t known at what point I can say, “I’ve done enough.”

In fact, just that morning I was praying for some insight on how to keep up better with all that I juggle.

Part of my problem is that I’ve had the mindset that I can do anything – and so there’s no such thing as doing “too much”.  I don’t always know how to temper my over-ambitious tendencies, because frankly, they’ve helped me achieve some things that I’m pretty happy about.

However, sometimes my mortal body can’t keep up with the pace of my thoughts and ambitions… and so predictably, I go through periods of unbridled ambition, followed by periods of crashing and burning, until I regain my strength and start it all over again.

I’m telling you, that kind of pattern can eventually break you, like bending a metal rod back and forth over and over again.

That morning before church, however, I could feel that I was on the verge of another crash-and-burn, and so I prayed to receive insight on the matter that day.  I knew something wasn’t quite right about my methodology… but I just couldn’t seem to see how to be any other way.

Then Natalie, at the front of the room, began.  I’ll try to sum up the experience.  She said:

I like to make cookies.  In fact, I have a wonderful recipe for Chocolate Chip Cookies that just works. Over the years I’ve used it, as long as I follow the right steps, we will predictably end up with perfectly delicious cookies.

If I set the timer for 13 minutes and take them out on time, they’re perfect.  But if I get busy and ignore the timer, pretty soon I’ll smell them, and even if I run to the oven to take them out, it will be too late.  They’ll be hard, dark, and good for nothing but to be thrown away.

After mixing all the ingredients together, baking them has to be one of the most important parts – otherwise you just don’t have a cookie.  Baking them right determines if they will be quality or not.

The timer is important to help you make sure the cookies don’t burn.

Life is the same way.  When you’re trying to accomplish something good, your energy behind the goal is one of the most important parts, like baking the cookie.  However, you’ve got to stop the process when the “timer” dings, or you can ruin it altogether. You’ve got to listen to (and heed) that inner voice that quietly says, “It’s enough.”

She continued, but the lesson just to that point had a profound and lasting effect on me.  I felt that the lesson had been prepared with ME in mind – and it touched my heart that the Lord could and would answer me so directly. For the first time in my life I could finally understand that yes, there is such a thing as too much, and if you push the limits, you run the risk of ruining everything.  Too much of even the most wonderful things can turn into something bad.

Finding that middle place, trusting that it is by “small and simple things” that “great things are brought to pass” is an act of faith of the highest order.

I began to listen more carefully to the Spirit of God that serves as my “timer” – it quietly alerts me when I’m pushing things too long or too far, and when I think I may be hearing it, instead of rationalizing that “I can still do MORE!”, I think about burnt cookies, and it has helped me stop soon enough to avoid burning out.

Natalie concluded by giving us each a perfectly formed cookie and said:

Baking is what determines the quality of my cookie, and temperance determines the quality of my life.

Thank you, Natalie, for being an instrument in God’s hands that day – my prayer was answered in a significant way (and my family thanks you for it, too!)  🙂