Your Homework: Heartwork

I assigned homework. Yes, I did. I assigned homework to my husband and told him it was due that day.

He is a school administrator. Like all school leaders across the land, he is having a tough year. It comes right on the heels of that other tough year, 2020. We all thought 2020 was about as rough and tough as it could get. We were wrong. I pray daily, as I know you do, for our nation’s school staff, parents and students. The task is education, the reality feels more like war.

Part of my job as his spouse is to help him have a soft place to land when he comes home and to remind him to take care of himself so he can be a good, strong, steady leader for others. I mostly keep telling him what I tell you and myself all the time, Look Up. Trust God. All will be well.

I wake up every day before my husband does. Actually, I wake up before everyone on the planet. The wee hours of the morning are Holy Time to me. There, God feeds, surprises and settles me. There, I pray, reflect and work at mindfulness. During that time, I read scripture plus about four other books I choose, different books for different seasons. Yesterday, I was reading Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts by Brené Brown. (I highly recommend this book for anyone. I finished it and sent it with my Army son to read. It applies to almost every situation from family to work.)

At the end of Dare to Lead, Brown introduces a simple exercise called Meaning and Joy which can help us clarify our values, mission and how we spend our time. The exercise: write down what brings your life joy and meaning. It can be homework for one person or many. It could work in a marriage, a family, a work group, a friendship circle or hundreds of other groups.

I told my husband I was going to make a list of what gave my life joy and meaning. I wanted him to do the same and then we would discuss. I’m not an educator and don’t know much about assigning homework, so I decided to be the nagging kind of teacher and remind him several times during the day to do it. Anyway, when it was time to turn in the homework and compare, he frustrated me a little because he didn’t turn anything in. It is my head, he said. I decided to let that go.

What followed was a surprising discussion. Much of what gave each of us joy and meaning was shared. Some was separate. Some he had on his list he was sure I didn’t have on mine but I did. Quickly what emerged from our homework was the simplest of Aha’s…we should do more of that which gives us joy and pleasure and less of that which doesn’t. We should be intentional in shaping our life together around those values.

I took the summer off from writing because I was dealing with increasing pain and super low mobility due to a degenerating hip. I began writing again on September 1, the same happy, new life day I got a new hip. The two new blogs for the fall ended up being spiritual math about subtraction, loss and pain and the second one about addition; adding in new things where the pain once was. Adding in healing.

I’ve heard from friends and strangers from all over in these last two weeks through the blogs. You’ve shared similar stories of God’s math: addition, subtraction, grief and resurrection. I love it when something I write from my up and down life helps someone else to grow, reflect or connect to God.

I suppose it is appropriate at this rough back to school time that we are adding, subtracting and now doing our homework.

If I can assign the school superintendent homework, I’ll just give you an assignment too. Take a few minutes and jot down what gives you joy and purpose. Share it with yourself, a friend or God. Do it as a couple, it doesn’t matter if you are a decades long couple or are new in a relationship. It would be a fun date night discussion. Do it with your friends, your children, your grown children, your co-workers. Traveling with friends? Do this before to help define your trip. The question would then situationally become what would give me joy and meaning on this trip? See if your answers match.

When the seasons are hard, such as recovering from major surgery or going through a rough career patch, it helps to focus on joy and meaning. When you are in a re-routing season, this helps. When you’ve just had a baby or quit a job or had a diagnosis you didn’t want, this helps.

I’m only just now realizing, as I feel better, how much I was slowly dragged down over the summer by my worsening condition…and it may have started even months or years before I realized. Keeping my eyes on joy and meaning might have helped me stay afloat a little longer.

Sometimes it is the smallest thing that brings you joy. I got a card from a friend on surgery day that says on the front, Even small steps will get you where you’re going. I taped it on my walker, inside my cool walker bag. Only I can see it with every small, wobbly, sometimes hurting step I take. It brings me joy, meaning and focus.

My daughter bought me a sloth charm for my hot pink favorite Croc shoes. I texted her today that it is making me way too happy. It is reminding me as well to walk slowly, don’t push, be a sloth as you heal.

Sometimes joy comes when you just notice the gifts in your life. My same daughter just spent four days here helping to care for me after surgery. I’ve never experienced her as a wife, only a daughter. I texted her husband yesterday, Thank you for sharing Daryl with me. She is an amazing wife. If you ever don’t want her, I’m marrying her. She’s organized, cooks great food, is funny. He replied, Now you know why I signed her up for my team. We both agreed in the end, though, that I can’t afford her taste in jewelry.

Sometimes joy/meaning comes when you just take away that which robs you of joy and meaning. If you know what feeds your soul and what starves it, do more of the feeding and less of the starving.

My physical therapist, Julie, was assessing me a couple of days ago on pain. She asked me to describe the scenarios that hurt the most in regard to my surgery. I told her it really hurts when I go too fast on my walker and get it hung up on something and slam my incision site into the walker handle. She blinked at me and said, Don’t do that. Isn’t that great? Don’t do that which hurts, robs you of joy or sucks the life out of you.

I’m not a teacher. I have no authority to assign homework. I’m doing it anyway. You’ve got homework except I’m calling it Heartwork.

Trust me here. This will help you no matter what you are going through. Class dismissed.

Dr. Cindy Ryan is a pastor, wife, mother of three grown children, breast cancer survivor, Mosa to Keller, Pace and River and proud owner of a brand new hip. You can read more of her blogs at Sign up there as well for Cindy’s Inner Circle monthly emails.

11 thoughts on “Your Homework: Heartwork”

  1. Thank you Cindy! Great post! I hope every day improves your hip recovery! Sending prayers of strength to you & to Robin for his tremendous challenges at school.
    One of the wisest women I’ve ever known is my mom. She was an RN for 50 years, raised 4 children alone after her husband died. She told my siblings and me this all our lives. I’m 71 now & it has served me well, still today: Sometimes you just have to live ten minutes at a time – God will help you – and you can do anything for ten minutes”

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