I know, right?! Blasphemy. I’ve been a fan of the Do Hard Things movement since I was thirteen or fourteen and when I say fan, I mean a crazy big fan. I loved the idea so much that my laid-back friend would often joke, ‘why do hard things when Jess can do them for me?!’ I am a bit of a workaholic and very self-disciplined. (E.g. I used to get grumpy at myself for sleeping in just half an hour past my alarm clock. Yeah…) I really flew with this idea and applied it to every area of my life. If there was a situation that would push me and sounded hard, I felt nearly obligated to do it.
Let me backtrack before jumping into my blasphemy. Doing Hard Thing has huge benefits and has changed my life. The same time I started reading the blog, I was at a crossroads in a ‘who-do-I-want-to-be’ moment – a super-duper shy girl, or a confident, bubbly one? I could adapt to either, but I knew that God calls me to step outside my comfort zone and lead, not follow. It challenged me to choose the harder, bubblier option, and that has freed me to be the person God made me to be.
I think I’ve grown in my musical, public speaking, math, sewing, people, and writing skills because I was challenged to show discipline and to grow in competence. It helped me push through hard jobs on the farm, or to speak or do the right thing over the funny or hurtful thing. Do Hard Things rolled me out of bed many a morning and it spurred me to accept challenges that I was terrified of, but in hindsight grew me enormously. I can see how stretching myself has really helped me in character, competence, and collaboration, and it continues to do that.
Being the disciplined, self-controlled, diligent person I am also has its downsides when I don’t balance them with rest and a real understanding of what those words actually mean.
I think I got to point where nearly e v e r y t h i n g had to be done the hard way. If there was an accomplishment I could do, I thought I needed to do it. If I thought it was a big feat that would make me the ‘good Do Hard Things girl’, I wanted in. I think what brought this on was two things; one, not recognising the hard things I was actually doing without even choosing to do a Hard Thing for the sake of doing a Hard Thing, and two, not having a proper understanding of God’s grace in my life and what he’s really getting at in the Bible.
I do do hard things, but I didn’t really need Do Hard Things to get me there. Mum and Dad had been training me from the get-go to do the right thing, to show responsibility, to persevere, to plan a routine and stick to it, to grow in my skills, and to work with other people in love and grace. My heart was already there (though DHT definitely shaped it). (Aaand Mum has been trying to knock that into my head since forever. Thanks Mum. :)) When I read Do Hard Things, I thought that meant doing the hardest of the hard things and slogging along, when really, I was already stepping outside of my comfort zone in many areas and doing hard things that were small or that didn’t pay off immediately. The hard things I was challenged to do through Do Hard Things were valid, and I didn’t have to keep adding and adding more and more Hard Things to my life, just for the sake of Doing Hard Things.
Something else I’ve learned to accept is that rest is of God – he rested himself. He created rest, and he created the physical, spiritual and emotional parts of us to rest. God rested before the Fall, so it is a good thing. Today I’d say rest means to rejuvenate and unwind from working, and to relax. It doesn’t mean being lazy or doing nothing – rather, it is a sphere of our life God created us to thrive in. It’s a valid thing, and it can take many forms. I personally rest by getting lots of sleep at night, and by doing something creative, like sewing, card making, or writing. I need people, so socialising rejuvenates me as well. Also, just blobbing out in front of a novel, Facebook, or movie, where I can switch off, leaves me feeling relaxed, and nowadays, I’m okay with that.
God also doesn’t demand perfection from us. He just wants us to give it our whole heart. For years, I thought diligence was about winning, about persevering until I reached my goal, no matter the adversary. I thought being diligent was about never loosening my expectations on myself, and about consistently showing self-discipline. When I looked up the Hebrew word for diligence about a year ago, however, I realised that it just means throwing my whole heart into the job at hand. Suddenly, all the stress of waking up at five thirty every morning dissipates, because diligence is less about the externals, and if I am free and called even to rest, then hey – let’s throw my whole heart into that right now! Obviously, there are seasons of my life when being diligent means throwing my whole heart into getting out of bed, but I haven’t sinned when I don’t meet my goal to get out of bed at such-and-such a time, simply because I overslept. Simplifying diligence to a heart attitude that faces everything with enthusiasm actually makes diligence a whole lot easier.
And so, back to the title… you don’t have to do hard things. That’s not strictly true. God does call us to do hard things, and I want in!
But. We don’t have to do every hard thing.* In light of a grace-filled idea of diligence and the freedom to rest, it’s okay to turn down some hard things. It’s okay to spend time on Facebook instead of reading some deep theological book. It’s okay to just chill with your family instead of starting some activism campaign. It’s totally okay to say no to stepping out of your comfort zone in one area when you are already doing something hard.
*when I say we don’t have to do hard things, or even every hard thing, I don’t mean things that God has specifically called us to do in the Bible. Just because we’ve chosen to give generously doesn’t give us a license to not forgive someone. Walking in the Spirit, God calls us to imitate him in every way, even if every one of those things is hard. The Hard Things I mean are non-moral disciplines, challenges, and choices we have the freedom to do or not do.