A Quiet Space and a Slower Pace

Even after writing about pausing and making time to slow down during the busyness of the Christmas season, I’m finding myself getting swept up in the mayhem.

It’s so easy, isn’t it?

Scrolling through our Facebook or Instagram feeds, losing our motivation to keep things small when we see the beauty of what others have created, longing for the same things in our homes and our lives. Seeing others’ highlight reels causes us to somehow forget the craziness and all the hard work required to do all the things and the reason why we’ve decided to pare down the planning and festivities this year in the name of creating some peace.

Even if we say we’re not going to overcommit, not going to say yes to too many things, not going to agree to things we don’t want to do or even to all the things we do want to do, we do.

How do we teach ourselves to live differently? How do we train ourselves to move more slowly, savor each step, and cherish each season while it’s here?

I think it starts with seemingly small steps. Creating new habits one choice at a time. Setting aside time today to quiet the thoughts in our heads and silencing our phones long enough to breathe deep and see the bigger picture. A moment to refocus and remember what this time of year is supposed to be about.

It’s difficult to set aside time when it seems like the whole world is hustling and bustling around you to the tune of Jingle Bells. But all it takes is a moment. A moment to breathe. A moment to pause. A moment to remember.

For the sake of your sanity and mine, I think we need to create time and space to pause and reflect on this season and the past year. Time to think about what went well, what didn’t, who we are, who we want to be, what we want to do, and the whys behind it all.

The more often we stop to remind ourselves what really matters, the easier it will become. And, I think, the better we’ll be for having done it.

This week, I’ve been forced to spend more time doing just that, as my computer and my car are out for repairs. It has been inconvenient in some ways, of course, but in others, I think it has been good. I’ve read more. I’ve rested more. I’ve been more flexible, realizing I probably won’t get everything done that I wanted, so where’s the harm in taking a little extra time here or there to do other things? Even though it wasn’t initially my choice, I’m glad I’ve made more time to just sit and stop participating in the holiday hustle.

I’ve been thinking more about what I need and what I don’t need. I’ve been doing the important things before some of the productive things. And that has been glorious.

So will you join me today in creating space and a place to pause? Time and room to think, to dream, to sit with your thoughts instead of rushing off to do the next thing on your to-do list? Time to rest in peace. Now doesn’t that sound like a good way to spend the Christmas season?

 

 

Further reading:

7 Advent Practices That Will Make Your December Better by Catherine McNeil, Relevant Magazine

You Said You Need This More Than Anything by Emily P. Freeman

Self Care During the Holidays by Rachael Hartley, Avocado a Day Nutrition

 

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Know Your Limits

We can’t do everything. At least, I know I can’t.

In this season, it’s all too easy to fill our calendars and to-do lists to overflowing with holiday busyness. We rush and rush, feeling like we have to do everything in order to have a perfect Christmas.

I want to do ALL THE THINGS. I want to make all my own food (mostly healthy, of course). I want to make frugal, natural cleaning products for my house. I want to buy fresh, local, organic food. I want to support causes that are important to me. I want to pour into friendships with people both near and far. I want to be engaged at work and at home. I want to keep a clean house. I want to crochet blankets and paint canvases and bake treats and watch all the shows on my Netflix queue. I want to serve in soup kitchens and meal packing stations and wherever else I can. I want to donate to organizations helping alleviate hunger, providing shelter for the homeless, safety and hope for the abused, and those that spread the good news of the Gospel. I want to spend time with my family, build my community, and still have enough time to myself to not go crazy. I want to run new routes and push myself to new limits. I want to learn and grow and not be complacent.

But my skills and time are limited. I work full time and have other commitments and plans outside of work, too. I realistically can’t do everything that I want to do. At least not all at once. I need to know when to say no. I need to understand the seasonal rhythm of my life and carefully choose what’s best from all the good options before me.

I’m trying to categorize my options to better decide which things I will say “yes” to and which I will say “no” to.

  1. Core commitments. I have to go to work– that’s not optional. But besides that, I have committed to my church, community, and my family. I have said I’m going to show up, and so I have a responsibility to be present. That means that family birthday parties and holidays take precedence over other things, and church family gatherings are prioritized.
  2. Things that bring me joy. I love reading and crafting. I love exercising and cooking. I would be disoriented without those things in my life, and they’re a part of my regular rhythm. I also love watching Christmas movies (especially with others) and Christmas parties, so those will definitely make the cut this year. But I don’t love stressful Christmas shopping or spending a lot of time outside in the cold. No, thank you.
  3. Sanity-savers. I’m an introvert, and that means I can’t function without enough alone time to recharge. In the midst of the holiday season, that can be challenging, but I know I have to set aside time to read, rest, and recuperate in solitude.
  4. Things that align with my purpose or goals. If I’m presented with an opportunity to take part in something I really believe in, something that fits my personality and gifts, then I will say yes. If my plate is already full, or if something sounds good but not great, then I’ll pass and let someone else who is better suited for it step up.
  5. Spur-of-the-moment things. I struggle with spontaneous plans, mostly because I usually have mentally committed to something else, even if it’s just a night at home to read by myself. That being said, these things get fit in when I do have time (especially if they bring me joy and align with my goals), and I pass on them when I have other things planned without feeling guilty.
  6. Things that can wait. There are things around the house that I would really love to check off my list. But they aren’t necessary for having a wonderful holiday season, so I’m pushing them to the back burner. No painting the kitchen cabinets this month.
  7. Everyday housekeeping. Starting with (but not limited to) actual housekeeping. I will say “yes” to the basic things to keep my house clean but not stress about having it picture-perfect or let it get in the way of my hospitality.

Despite the pressure to move through this season like a spinning top, I am choosing to set aside time to rest and cherish the real reason for the season. I’m going to say “no” to things that hinder my heartfelt celebration of Christmas and purposefully choose to participate in things that let me really enjoy it as much as I can. I’m going to be intentional about planning things out so that I don’t try to cram in more than I can handle or have to pull all-nighters to get things finished in the final hour.

No matter what I do, I’m going to regularly remind myself of what really matters. Investing in my people matters. Being thankful matters. Taking care of myself matters. But having a perfectly decorated house or beautiful, detail-oriented dinner party doesn’t matter if I’m a big ball of stress.

So here’s to a wonderful, intentional, purposeful Christmas season. May you and I both learn to say “yes” and “no” to the right things, respecting our own limits and those of others as we do our best to celebrate the season without losing our minds in the process.

 

What about you? What are you making time for? What are you saying “yes” or “no” to? What are your limits?

Pause

Instead of human doings, we are human beings, loved not for what we achieve or what presents we give or how well we can cook a turkey, but for who we are—beloved children of a generous and comforting Father. -Nancy Sleeth, Relevant Magazine

Have you already fallen prey to the busyness of the holiday season like I have? In the middle of the chaotic mess that is everyday life (especially around the holidays), I challenge you to pause. I’m challenging myself to do it, too, so you won’t be alone.

The reality is that we need to press pause in the middle of our busy lives.  We need to learn to take the time we need to find that space to reconnect with our hearts, pay attention to what has meaning to us, and then begin to design a life that includes pausing as we go instead of a forced pause when we come to the end of our rope.  – Danielle Allen, One Foot Coaching

We’re busy, yes. But don’t we want our lives to be purposeful? I, for one, know that when I look back on a week or a month and only see time spent doing the immediate, practical things required to get me through without an ounce of purpose, intention, rest, or fun, I’m disappointed. I find myself wishing I could do it over, think more, spend my time doing more things I enjoy, slow down, and savor each moment. But that doesn’t come naturally to me. And I’m willing to bet it doesn’t come naturally to you, either.

That doesn’t mean we can’t learn to pause, though. We can teach ourselves to set aside our to-do lists, projects, assignments, and ambition for even just a moment and take a breath.

It, like many other things, is a habit we can cultivate. Just like constant busyness, it’s something that becomes more natural over time. So if we decide today to begin setting aside little moments to pause, we’ll slowly find ourselves doing so naturally. And we’ll be able to benefit from the practice as we make the time to rest, re-center ourselves, gain perspective, and see the bigger picture.

Pressing pause allows our hearts the breathing room they need to make us whole and to remind us that our identity is not based in what we do but in who we become.  – Danielle Allen, One Foot Coaching

So in a season that is full of holiday to-do lists, frantic shopping, late-night gift wrapping, and more parties than our social calendars can possibly accommodate, let’s make sure we pause to rest. After all, the holidays are meant to be enjoyed, not rushed through at breakneck speed.

I say enjoy the aspects of it that are special to you, and do away with as many of the troublesome burdening portions that you can. If your family no longer likes some of the traditions you’ve observed in the past, don’t feel like you have to do them just for tradition’s sake. Don’t worry about having a Pinterest-worthy living room decorated with a giant tree and perfectly arranged stockings on the mantel. Don’t feel the need to fill your bucket list and calendar with so many events that your head spins just from looking at it. Set aside time with family, planning low-key moments to cherish one another’s company in the spirit of Christmas, remembering that the holiday is about more than presents, trees, lights, and parties. Whatever you do– however you choose to celebrate– remember to pause and cherish this special time of year.

 

Further Reading:

All the Things You Don’t Need for a Perfect Holiday by Joshua Becker

How to Prevent Holiday Burn-out Before It Starts by Nancy Sleeth, Relevant Magazine

 

The Gift of Time

I have been in a sort of minimizing mindset over the last year, and that has made me reconsider my gifting habits. I think a lot longer about what I might want when gift-giving holidays come around, trying to be wise about my choices and not ask for anything that I won’t really use, and I spend a lot more time carefully planning and choosing gifts for others.

We all likely have things in our homes that we don’t use, like, want, or need. Gifts from others sometimes can contribute to that. Although we know the gift-givers always mean well, we so often end up throwing unwanted gifts away or donating them after the holiday season passes (or during spring cleaning years later, depending on your style). This year, I wanted to personally challenge myself to rethink gifting and inspire others to also consider choosing gifts more wisely.

As the holiday season approached this time around, I endeavored to create presents that felt more personal than just things decided upon and picked out quickly and without much thought put into them. I wanted each gift to be specially chosen for its recipient, and I chose to give some people experiential gifts instead of just tangible things.

My extended family decided a few years ago to stop exchanging gifts and instead give of our time. We began an annual tradition of packing meals at Feed My Starving Children around the holidays, and we spend our Christmas day playing games together and eating too much delicious food.

Our focus is no longer on how to pack all the presents in the car to take them home, figuring out what things we need to hold onto the receipts for, or thinking of where we’re possibly going to put everything. Instead, we get to turn our attention to enjoying one another’s company free from the stress of gifts. We do exchange white elephant gifts as part of our new tradition, but it’s more about playing games together and getting a good laugh out of the kinds of things we find to wrap up than it is about the gifts themselves.

As much as we all have loved getting tons of presents every year, my family and I have agreed that the most special ones are the ones we’ve been able to share– things like our trip to Walt Disney World last year, or our tickets for Joyful Noise Family Fest. As our schedules become more and more hectic and difficult to align, we have begun to really cherish our time together. Because of this, I wanted to give some of my nearest and dearest the gift of time spent together.

For instance, I gave my dad popcorn, an assortment of boxed candy, a movie, and four customized tickets for the rest of us to join him for a movie night whenever he wants. We’ve been giving him movies for a long time, of course, but I thought it would be a fun twist to incorporate the movie into a night spent together as a family.

For my best friend and fellow winter weather sufferer, I put together a coupon book of adventuring ideas, themed after winter activities and Christmas carols. The book included things like roasting chestnuts on an open fire, decking the halls with boughs of holly, walking in a winter wonderland, and building a Parson Brown snowman. I hope that with some ideas to get us started, we can come up with ways to enjoy the season despite our aversion to the cold weather.

For my mom’s birthday in early January, I put together a jar full of mother-daughter date ideas. I looked up some lists online for inspiration, choosing things I thought she would enjoy. I included vouchers for a movie date, spa date, shopping date, lunch date, crafting date, and sort of a wild card– a “you choose” date. I look forward to seeing what she chooses to redeem first, and I think we’re going to have a blast getting together to try some new things and pursue some old favorite hobbies together.

I was really excited to give each of these gifts to their recipients because I had put so much more thought and energy into each and every one of them. It was as if more of my affection and appreciation was being communicated by these gifts than ones I could have more easily picked up off the store shelves, like a part of my heart was given to them as well. Feeling that pride and excitement was all the reward I needed for my efforts.

How do you feel about giving the gift of time and experiences instead of tangible things? Do you have other ideas about giving others the gift of time spent together?

Merry Rest of the Year

Here comes the letdown, Christmas is over
Here comes the meltdown, there goes the cheer
But before we have a breakdown, let us remember
The light of the world is still here

Happy day after Christmas
And merry rest of the year
Even when Christmas is over
The light of the world is still here
The light of the world

Come January I’m ready for summer
The Super Bowl’s over and I’ll settle for spring
Sometimes we all need a change in the weather
But it won’t change the reason we sing

Happy day after Christmas
And merry rest of the year
Even when Christmas is over
The light of the world is still here

The light of the world
The light of the world
The light of the world
So take down the stockings, take back the sweaters
Take down the lights and the star and the tree
But don’t let this world take your joy after Christmas
Take joy to the world and just sing

Happy day after Christmas
And merry rest of the year
Even when Christmas is over
The light of the world is still here
Merry Rest of the Year, Matthew West

I’m always so bummed when Christmas is over. It seems like the magic of the season vanishes at midnight as mysteriously as Cinderella’s carriage turned back into a pumpkin. We go so quickly from being like Buddy the Elf to being more like Ebenezer Scrooge once again as the dreary winter days loom before us.

We designate Christmas Eve and Christmas Day as time for family, friends, traveling, fun, eating too many sweets, and biting our tongues to try to keep the peace. But as soon as the timer runs out, the leftovers are packed away, and the wrapping paper cleaned up, we resume our fast-paced lives as if none of it ever happened.

Who’s to say that we can’t carry the true spirit of Christmas with us throughout the year? Why can’t we slow down to appreciate our friends and family, cherish the time we’ve been given, give thanks, spread joy, and do kind things for others, regardless of the season? We certainly could all use some more joy in our day to day lives, not just for one month out of the year.

Even though the holiday season is coming to a close, nothing has really changed. The greatest Gift ever given is still ours to have and to share with the rest of the world. Joy, peace, and cheer can all be found if we will only take the time to look for them, and if we look for them in the right places.

Let us be determined this year to live like it’s Christmas all year long– to spread goodness, thankfulness, and patience to those around us. Let us be beacons of joy, light, and life in a dark, chaotic world. Let’s not succumb to the bleak winter weather with a sour attitude, letting our lives fade back into the mundane routine they were before the holidays provided us with some relief and a reminder of what’s really important. May our lives instead be changed by the Advent season, refreshed and reoriented.

Let’s challenge one another and spur each other on to be true ambassadors, messengers just like the angel in the Nativity story, carrying the truth of the Christmas story with us all year long. Let’s hold tight to the beauty of Christmas, Christ, and the virgin birth, cherishing it all in our hearts all the year through. Even though the official holiday is nearly a whole year away, I want to say Merry Christmas to you!

The Greatest Story Ever Told

Nothing I could possibly write even on my best day could ever compete with the Good News of the Nativity. So without further adieu, I give you the story of the first Christmas.

Luke 2New International Version (NIV)

The Birth of Jesus

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

A Christmas Prayer

Have yourself a merry little Christmas

Let your heart be light.

From now on, our troubles will be out of sight.

Take just a moment to think about what it would look like if we lived like those words were true. Because this is how the Christmas season ought to be. Our troubles should be miles away, worries thrown out the window, concerns long forgotten in the light and joy of the celebration of Jesus’ birth. In comparison with that wondrous gift, that moment when all of history was forever changed, how can our little concerns (and even our big concerns) possibly compete? They ought to be dwarfed, completely eclipsed by the sheer greatness of our God and the celebration of the gift of His Son.

In the place of this kind of holy holiday, when we gather with extended family for this annual event, old feuds rear their ugly heads, tensions rise, and tempers flare. Impatience reigns, and stress isn’t far behind. Our troubles and stresses certainly aren’t out of sight; instead, they loom before us like physical foes ready for battle.

Instead of letting the truth of the season and the significance of the celebration work its way into our hearts, we only let it permeate our calendars. We fill our schedules with things that seem connected to Christmas but really bear no resemblance to the spirit of the holiday. We fill our days with activity without taking a moment to pause and relieve our hearts of the burdens they carry.

In the midst of the craziness and busyness, I want you to take a breath right along with me and focus on the good. Instead of adding more and more to our wishlists this year, let us count the abundant blessings we already have.

Whether your plans include gathering all the extended family together for a big, loud dinner, or a sweet, small celebration with just a few of your nearest and dearest, may you truly have a merry little Christmas. I hope you and I can both remember that it’s not the size of the group, the culinary quality of the meal, or the cleanliness of the home that makes this time special. It’s about time spent together as we pause to reflect upon the joy and peace that can be ours if we will accept the gift being offered to us in a still, small voice that we can only hear when we slow down and clear away the clutter.

The holidays can either be rife with stress, tension, and hastening from one thing to the next with arms full of unwanted, overpriced gifts, or they can be simpler times of joyful company with the minimized importance of gifts and the focus shifted to what really matters– the hearts of those nearest and dearest to us.

In the spirit of the season, let us choose to cherish this time with our loved ones, no matter what else happens. Let us deliberately approach these next few days with a clear head, pure heart, and positive attitude. Let our hearts be light, free from overwhelming stress. If the turkey burns, that’s okay. If we don’t get everything we asked for, that’s probably a good thing. If people arrive late or have to leave early, let that teach us to be flexible and forgiving. If it doesn’t snow and we’re left with a rather brown Christmas, let us rejoice in roads without ice that take us safely to our destinations.

I don’t know about you, but I want to look back on this next week with a smile, knowing I didn’t strive in vain to create a perfect experience that will inevitably disappoint, but that I recognized that there is a time for everything– a time to prepare and a time to plan, and then a time to set things aside, declare them done, and just relax and spend time with people. And I have a sneaking suspicion that you would agree.

My prayer for us this Christmas is that we would set aside our differences, refuse the temptation to stress and worry, instead focusing on our many blessings, valuing people over presents, and truly make this Christmas one to remember as we gather together to praise our King.