AUDIO VERSION Burger King used to have a radio commercial that claimed, "It takes 2 hands to handle a whopper." Ah yes, sounds heavenly. And perhaps some of you readers are familiar with the Dagwood Sandwich. Those comic sandwiches where notoriously enormous. As they say, sometimes our eyes are bigger than our stomachs. But when eating a whopper or a Dagwood, who would think to take a little tiny itty-bitty teeny-weeny bite? No way! You've got to take the biggest first bite your can possibly cram in, right? But sometimes that backfires. Sometimes we bite off more than we can chew.
When I commit to 12 hours worth of work while I only have 4 hours to give, then I have bitten off more than I can chew.
When a person agrees to manage a project with no knowledge of the cost, the deadline, or the necessary ingredients to make it a success, then he or she has likely bitten off more than they can chew.
When you get yourself a gym membership and agree to meet your friend there for a workout every morning @ 4:30, you've probably bitten off far more than you can chew.
To bite off more than you can chew is to take on more work or a bigger task than you can handle. It's an idiom. It's a vivid expression that clearly communicates a predicament many of us have been in far too many times.
Some of us live this way perpetually. Life feels like one long string of crises management scenarios.
As a youth pastor, I used to come up with (or copy) crazy games for the teens to play. One of them was a marshmallow eating contest. It really wasn't an eating contest. It was a mouth stuffing contest. How many marshmallows can you fit in your mouth at one time? (By the way, the world record is 58). For sure, there comes a point when there is no more chance of the contestant chewing and swallowing. The only reasonable option is to dig the marshmallows out and throw them away.
In the words of Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood), "A man's GOT to know his limitations."
A fool picks fights that he can't win. A fool wakes a sleeping giant. A fool begins to build without being sure he has the wherewithal to finish construction. A foolish king goes to war without calculating the probability of defeat.
The list of sayings, parables, expressions, and examples goes on and on. Why? Because it is an error so very common in humanity.
"Can you..." Yes.
"Will you..." Yes.
"Could you..." Yes, certainly.
"Help me." Gladly!
"Take this." Ok.
"Do this." With pleasure.
"Fill this. Build that. Go there. Hold on. Let go. Give me. Don't quit."
Ok. Ok. Ok. Ok. Ok. Here. I won't.
And all of these things may be good things; even necessary things. But are they all MY things? Maybe.
But, maybe not.
We certainly need to make sure we are using our time wisely. Investing our time, not just spending our time — or worse, wasting our time. If we are burning daylight doing nothing while our duties lie untouched, then it's not a matter of "biting off more than we can chew," it's just laziness. We're just refusing to chew. Or refusing to bite at all.
Not that we shouldn't rest. It is important that we rest and recharge. There is nothing wrong with unwinding the knots and tangles that life wraps us into. In fact, there is everything right about doing just that. But we relax in order to ready ourselves for reengagement; at least that's how it's supposed to work.
So, assuming you and I have achieved some relatively sane balance of work and play in our lives (though more likely than not the equation is always going to need some tweaking), are we accepting challenges and obligations responsibly?
I don't know what the percentage is, but there are certainly some things that every able bodied and able minded human must do for themselves. In others words, under normal circumstances we have a list of responsibilities that will be ours no matter how wisely we relegate and delegate. Nobody can be the husband my wife needs except me. At least, nobody had better try. Nobody can pray my prayers for me. Nobody else can or should be brushing my teeth. I have to sleep for myself, eat for myself, and choose for myself who and what I will love. So, there are things that I can't spit out. I can't reasonably refuse these duties.
But there are many things in life that are discretionary. Especially in our modern, affluent, convenient, connected, free, comfortable, safe, 21st century American world — I have a lot of choices to make. Maybe you have less freedom than I do, but likely you also get to choose quite a bit concerning what things you will value and what others things you will ignore. We can't value everything. An attempt to do so will actually devalue everything. We must choose.
Now to the point of this blog. When it comes to the faith life, we must bite off more than we can chew. It is essential to do so. If I can do it, then I don't need faith. If I can do it alone and easily, then it surely takes no faith.
In business it's called a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG). A vision (or mission or aim or goal) that is large (and clear and inspiring and exciting) is surely essential for significant success and progress. But especially in the spiritual life we must recognize that we have to learn to aim high. Really high.
We serve a God who "...is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us..." (Ephesians 3:20). Our transcendent, infinite, omniscient God is also immutable. And, he is the God who parted the Red Sea, saved the 3 Hebrew children from the burning fiery furnace, and arose from the grave victorious over death itself. Yes, He can still move mountains. And He wants to move some for you, and for me.
"The LORD has done great things for us; whereof we are glad." (Psalm 126:3).
The Apostle Paul wrote that when we are weak, it is then that we are strong. Why? Because, then we HAVE TO depend on God. God used David because he was the least. God used Gideon after He had first weakened him. God used Peter following Peter's demonstration of his own impotence.
So, what am I saying? I'm saying that you and I need to listen to God and obey His Spirit, realizing that He will inevitably push us beyond our limitations. He will repeatedly push us outside of our comfort zone. He will be sure to lead us into places and situations where we have to look up and call out to Him for help and strength. He knows that as long as we think we have everything together, we won't ask Him to intervene. We have to have "more than we can chew" in our mouth before we are ever inclined to look to Him in desperation for help.
Every week I feel like I'm just a few kicks away from drowning. It's been like this for years too. In ministry I see the world in week-long segments. My week runs from Tuesday through Monday. Sunday is the big Hooah for me. Monday I crash and veg. Then Tuesday morning I look at the events and obligations of the week, then sigh and dive in again. I feel like I'm always in over my head. Like Paul wrote, "Who is sufficient for these things?" (2nd Corinthians 2:16)
Certainly not me.
But, it seems to me that this arrangement is essential. I have risen to the level of incompetence. I have succeeded just enough to reach a place of opportunity that exceeds my capacity for success. And so, what do I do? Well, I would like a demotion. Or, I would be even happier with improved competence. However, I don't actually expect either. I've been around just long enough to realize that this is the place of maximum humility and utility. Every success is a surprise of sorts. Every good day is clear evidence of God's grace and goodness. Every victory is a pleasant relief. Every accomplishment a testament to divine intervention. Repeatedly I anticipate failure and disaster, only to be relieved with survival.
I have to walk by faith because I can't see.
My bald head bobs up and down in the sea of opportunities and I gasp and gulp for air in anticipation of the next descent beneath the waves. And it comes. Every time, it arrives without exception. Time after time, it comes. Again I'm submerged, wondering if this trial will be my last. Not that my life is harder than anyone else's, it's just that my strength is less than theirs. And so I look up through the murky waters of life and see the Son's rays piercing through to where I am and then once again (as a thousand times before) He pulls me up in mercy and lets me catch my breath. I take a gulp of grace-filled air and attempt a few flailing strokes in my swim toward the destination He has set for me. He reminds me that I can walk on the water with Him if I will. But my faith seldom sails to that level. His grace is sufficient, but my doubts get in the way. I look at the effects of the storms around me, sink again beneath the surface and again reach out for His hand. And the cycle continues.
I've bitten off more than I can chew.
I often say that for me it's not a problem with a lack of time, it's a problem with a lack of brain power.
Paul wrote, "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwells no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not." (Romans 7:18) Thank you Paul! That pretty much sums up my life. That's my testimony in a nutshell.
Still, perhaps it can't be any other way. With my mouth too full, I feel like I'm about to choke. Which, I am. But at least I struggle less with a self-sufficient "I got this" attitude. And that's a good thing.
It's not that God wants to hold me down or enjoys my suffering. But for sure, He is willing to do anything to me and to take anything from me in order to keep my focus on Him. That is the greatest good possible.
And, I am thankful.
After all. Psalm 81:10 records Him saying, "I am the LORD your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt: open your mouth wide, and I will fill it."