Friday, April 6, 2012

The Parable of the Popcorn

Something funny.

That's what I was going to write about today. Over the past week, at various times, I have found myself laughing out loud and thinking, "I'm going to write about this."

But you'll have to forgive me. Because now that I am here in front of my computer, I can't remember one funny moment. Instead, my heart feels heavy once again and I just . . . well, I am driven to write whatever flows from my heart to my fingertips, and I'm afraid it's probably not going to be comical.

The truth is, I've cried a lot lately. Not because I'm sad, because I'm not. Not because I am going through a difficult trial, because I'm not. And not because life isn't good, because it is. But it is an uphill climb with tons of constant pressure, and sometimes along the way, I find myself wondering if I'm moving in the right direction.


That's the dream I'm always chasing. How to balance all my roles and still take time to smell the roses along the way. It's kinda like popcorn. You know what I mean. When you're microwaving popcorn, you have to be completely dedicated to the task because if you're not paying attention, you'll burn it. All good microwave popcorn makers know it's vital to stop the microwave as soon as three seconds pass without a "pop." Sometimes you're tempted to keep it in a little longer so you don't end up with a pile of unpopped kernels at the end of the treat, but if you do let it keep popping, you end up opening the bag to the smell of burning rather than warm butter, and that's worse than a few unpopped kernels. It's all about timing and balance. Being patient enough to let it cook as long as possible without letting it go too long. Wow! Who knew there was so much to popping popcorn, right?

Life is the same way. It's a delicate line we walk. How much time to spend serving others, cleaning, volunteering at the school, doing church work, exercising, keeping up friendships, shopping, working, and on and on versus how much time to spend on family. All of the first list is important. It deserves and demands consistent time and energy. But what about my family? Shouldn't they get the best of me? And why, when I feel I am giving my best to my family, does it seem I am probably letting others down? I guess the question is, Is it really possible to have perfectly popped microwave popcorn, with no unpopped kernels and no burned pieces either?

I don't think so.

Instead, it comes down to the choice of which one you can live with more--unpopped kernels or burned ones. Because the truth is, it's not possible to have both, at least not with any bag of popcorn I've ever popped. Now, of course, I'm not really talking about popcorn. I'm talking about life. But today, when I was debating whether to drop everything and plop down with my kids to watch a show together or keep working on a long list of to-do's I've managed to create since I've been out of town for a week, it hit me. As I waited by the microwave to pounce on the "stop" button as soon as the popping stopped for the allotted time, it all became clear to me. Just like there's no perfectly popped bag of popcorn, there is no perfect balance either.

I just have to choose which needs more of me at the given time. Obviously, my family always deserves my attention and time and energy, but sometimes even they have to be patient and willing to share a little bit. They have to become more independent and more supportive. They have to learn to appreciate cold cereal for dinner sometimes and short bedtime rituals. Unpopped kernels.

In return, I have to be careful to not schedule my time so tightly that I'm spending more energy on outside responsibilities than is best for my family. I have to be able to say "no" sometimes and to even let a few things slip if need be so my children and husband know they matter most and always will. Otherwise, I run the risk of burned popcorn, and that's something I personally can't stomach.

I guess what I'm trying to say in the midst of this popcorn parable is that for me, I need to stop chasing the perfect balance, because it's not something I will probably ever really attain. And if I do, it's fleeting. Life is demanding and challenging, and it always will be. There will always be more required than I will ever be able to accomplish fully, so instead of being frustrated at what I lack, I just have to enjoy what I manage to get right. In other words, instead of feeling cheated when I see unpopped kernels in the bottom of my popcorn bag, I need to enjoy the warm buttery taste of the puffy, sweet treat that melts in my mouth and throw the rest away, hoping the next bag will have fewer unpopped kernels.

Now that we will never be able to look at another bag of microwave popcorn without wondering if our lives are in balance, let me just say one more thing:

For every uncooked kernel, there's at least a dozen puffy pieces that cook to perfection. And those pieces make the whole bag worth eating. In other words, although we may not perform everything in our lives to perfection every day, the tasks we do complete, especially the ones that contribute to our families' success and happiness, are totally worth it.

So we just have to keep on popping!


Bryce & Charly said...

Great parable! I've been searching for a perfect balance and kept thinking I just needed to do more to achieve it. However, I think your right that a perfect balance probably isn't possible and it's all about making the best choice.

April Perry said...

So nice to meet you through your blog, Lori! Saren's told me wonderful things about you, and I look forward to meeting you at the Park City Retreat next weekend! Thanks for helping me learn more about balance in this post! I will never look at microwaved popcorn the same again . . ..

Julia said...

I love this! Never heard that but it totally makes sense!