More Than a Sabbath: My Fast from Ladder Climbing

Editor's Note: On Fridays we're hosting a series called More Than a Sabbath, where employees discuss how they've taken a break from otherwise good elements of work. Each post is a response to How to Fast the Other Six Days.

A few months ago, exhaustion and confusion sent me to some older, wiser women for prayer. We talked about how driven I’ve been all my life to succeed and really make a name for myself. When did this fight to climb the ladder begin?

Even in first grade—six years old!—I remember the thrill of winning an award for my writing. The other children crowded around me on the play ground, wanting to have a look at the girl who won. At that moment, I felt like somebody special. I felt like I belonged somewhere.

I remember thinking that if I could just keep winning, perhaps I wouldn’t be lonely. That six year-old girl still cries out, “Love me! See me! Accept me in your club!”

It was a rude awakening to admit to those ladies that I love being a success in this way; that I love feeling superior, more influential, more important, and more noticed than everybody else. I cried about what a fool I’ve been; about how I transform into a false self that’s more interested in self-promotion, twitter re-tweets, blog followers, book deals, and my platform. 

I want to be free. I want to cut loose all those tethers that feed pride and self-exaltation. In my teaching. In my writing. In my blog. Would I abandon these public pursuits if God asked me to? Could I (and would I) lead a deliberately more hidden life?

The wise women prayed for me and then said this: “Go home, Heather. Love your husband and daughters this summer. Don’t do anything else.”

But what about the neighborhood ministry? What about sending out proposals to publishers? What about evangelism and teaching and writing? What about everything I’ve built my life around? I’m an achiever. That’s what I am!

Don’t do anything else. Just your family.

I’m learning that this advice was designed to keep me rooted in the real, honest, and hidden work of marriage and mothering. A fast from achievement in all these areas I love, even in what we often call “ministry”—especially there—is making me face the toughest questions of my life: Who am I? What makes life worthwhile? What do I really want?

Grappling with these questions has devastated me in the most beautiful way. I’m meeting myself anew, and it’s the strangest thing to find the woman I always was but couldn’t catch because she was too busy climbing. “Hello there, Heather. I’ve missed you.”

Without succumbing to the drive to achieve, I find myself cleaning breakfast dishes, chasing little girls around the living room, and taking frozen chicken breasts out of the freezer to thaw for dinner. Sometimes, I take walks in the woods. I check on the sunflower because it’s going to bloom any day now. I write things like this in my journal:

Who I really am is a person loved by God and accepted into a vast and glorious family. I’m not alone, and I never was. Sometimes I close my eyes and imagine a great cloud of witnesses above my living room as I vacuum.

What makes life worthwhile is not achievement. It’s worship, actually. I’m still thinking about this as I pick peas and eat them fresh from my garden. It’s a particular delight that makes me wonder at the kind of Creator we have.

What do I really want? I want to make the name of Jesus great. At my best, that’s my true heart’s cry. I want to say with Isaiah that “your name and your renown are the desire of [my heart]" (26:8). This prayer has quieted my tweets and status updates and concerns about Klout ranking. Instead, I write about what I'm learning and how I'm worshiping. If you don't read my blog, that's OK. It's finally OK. And if you're a publisher wanting my manuscripts, that's OK, too. I'll call you back once I've finished making Baked Alaska with my daughters. We'll talk more about mystery than we will about book contracts and advances. At least that's what I'm praying.

These are the things I work out in this fast. These are the truths that let me catch that woman I know I am.

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"More Than a Sabbath" Collection


Image by Tim Miller. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr. Post written by Heather Holleman, author of How to Write with Flair.