This Year

I’ve started thinking about what I want this next year of my life to look like. And while the idea isn’t quite fully formed yet, I do have some thoughts on the subject.

I want to be more like Christ. I want to be generous. I want to be less self-centered. I want to be more understanding and gracious.

I want to get better at meal planning, saving myself time during the week and freeing up more time to spend with friends and family. Using time wisely for the win. ‘Cause I’m learning it never slows down, and I’m not capable of creating any more of it. I need to be diligent in making the most of what I’m given and prioritize it well.

I want to remember that people matter more than everything else. Despite my best intentions so far, I often let my to-do list come before relationships. But I know that when I look back, I will be far happier if I spend my time pouring into the lives of my nearest and dearest than if I pour all my energy into my work or building up a life for myself.

I want to relax. I’ve written before about how I tend to be too serious, wound too tight. I expect too much of myself and sort of set myself up for failure. I need to create space in my life for fun and make time to just relax with no agenda.

I want to get better at loving others and myself. “Love is patient. Love is kind. It keeps no record of wrongs.” That’s not always my first reaction, at least in terms of my knee-jerk responses. Truly loving starts from the inside out, and I want to put more intentional effort into that.

I want to figure out this whole intuitive eating thing. My interpretation has been a little too much on the lenient, eat-all-the-food kind of approach. Not exactly a great plan. I’m aiming for figuring out what truly makes me feel my best, incorporating the joy of cooking and eating foods I love and making sure I focus mostly on things that allow me to function at my best.

I want to be engaged at work and at home. I want to feel like I’m really present, really contributing. I catch glimpses of that feeling every so often, and I want to pursue it more.

I want to serve, whether it’s in soup kitchens, my neighborhood, meal packing stations, a school, or somewhere else an opportunity comes up. I want to be more generous with my time and money, recognizing that there are better uses for them than things that only benefit me.

I want to spend time with my family, build my community, and still have enough time to myself to not go crazy. I want deep relationships that stand the test of time, and I know that requires putting a great deal of effort into building and maintaining them in the regular rhythms of life.

I want to run new routes and push myself to new limits. I want to constantly challenge myself to reach new goals.

I want to learn and grow and not be complacent. It’s all too easy to get stuck in a rut and live life only out of habit, without any passion or joy.

I want to live like love.

For Today

I’m a perpetual list-maker, in case you didn’t already know that. I love making to-do lists. I like being organized. I like knowing what the day before me holds.

But sometimes my own tendencies trip me up and make me anxious. When there’s too much on the list, I get stressed as I try to think of how I can somehow manage to get them all in anyway.

It’s all too easy to spiral into a whirlwind of craziness in the name of getting things done. Productivity is great, but it’s not the end goal. There’s not much point in doing things just to do things.

Crossing things off a checklist feels good, but if I don’t put the most important things first and recognize which are too trivial to worry about at all, I’m still going to be dissatisfied at the end of the day when there are items left, regardless of how many I’ve already crossed off.

Sometimes I just need to focus on today.

Today, I’m going to eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full.

Today, I’m going to make enough food for the next couple days and not worry about the rest of the week.

Today, I’m going to smile and have joy no matter what happens.

Today, I’m going to have a good attitude about work.

Today, I’m going to pause and prepare my heart for Christmas.

Today, I’m going to be grateful for what I have instead of lamenting what I lack.

Today, I’m going to be present and pay attention to the people around me.

Today, I’m going to make an effort to reach out and do something nice for people around me.

By definition, choosing the most important things for my day identifies the rest as comparatively insignificant. It sets my priorities for the day, reminding me of what’s most important, what really matters. And that’s critical, especially in this busy season.

While many of the things on my list aren’t productive in the traditional sense (like cleaning my house would be, for instance), they’re far better. They are steps toward becoming who I want to be, and their impact reaches farther than that of a clean house or piles of clean laundry. They impact more than just me and more than just today.

Of course there are dozens of other things I can and probably will do, but I’m going to do these things first because they’re the most necessary for my sanity and my life. If I get every little minute detail done without touching the big things, then I’m no better off than if I had done nothing but lie on the couch and binge-watch Netflix all day (which sounds pretty good right now).

 

What are you going to do today?

 

 

Image source: combiboilersleeds.com

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

 

What if You Don’t?

A feeling of overwhelm was descending upon me as I thought about all the things I had yet to do.

There were the time-sensitive, practical things like taking my car in for an oil change, looking into our association documents to figure out how to pay our dues, making time to file some paperwork with the city, and grocery shopping. Then there were the things that were slightly less pressing, but that I nonetheless considered necessary– like cleaning the house before having company over, calling the doctor’s office to straighten out a prescription refill, reorganizing my dresser drawers to make everything fit, wrapping Christmas presents, and cooking enough food for the week. I also wanted to make a Christmas wreath, paint some canvases to hang up for the season, clean my room, crochet a new hat, and curl up on the couch to make a bigger dent in my copy of The Complete Sherlock Holmes.

Needless to say, not all of those things got done.

Adult responsibilities kept piling up, and I didn’t know what to do with them all. I found myself questioning how everyone else does it. How do other people work full time, keep their homes clean, get food on the table, pay all the bills, have some sort of social life, pursue hobbies, and sleep enough to function?

I’m not sure my answer to that question is very satisfying. The only thing I came up with was to let things go. I can’t do it all (and I’m willing to bet you can’t either). I needed to figure out which things I had to do and which ones I could do without.

In my endeavor to lighten my load, I found myself asking some important questions:

What would happen if I do task x? What would happen if I don’t do task x? Would things fall apart, or would the world keep turning? Would I function as if nothing was different? Would it impact the lives of those around me? Would anyone notice? Would I be more or less stressed?

When it comes to things like cleaning my house, the truth is that nothing would come to a screeching halt. Nobody would likely even notice. However, they might notice if I didn’t show up for work or quit showering. And I would be better off for having taken the time to rest and read than if I spent a whole Saturday doing household chores, even though that’s more productive in the traditional sense. So I prioritized things that had greater consequences.

What can I do right now? Taking tasks one at a time helps me overcome my to-do list. Even if all I feel like I can do in any given moment is small, it’s something. It’s a start. And it’s one less thing to do tomorrow.

Is there a way to simplify things or cut them out completely? I’m still working on this one, because most of what I do is by choice, and I don’t really want to let any of them go. But I’ve come to really like automating things and creating patterns for myself to lessen the burden of making decisions and save myself time. For instance, I have calendar alerts for things I have to do so I don’t forget, and I set out my clothes and pack my lunch the night before to save time in the morning before work. I’m also working on getting better at meal prep to reduce the amount of time spent doing the menial part of cooking.

In the spirit of figuring out how to live a life of purpose without getting distracted or buried by all the other responsibilities and opportunities around me, I just pre-ordered Jennie Allen’s new book Nothing to Prove. It comes out at the end of January, and I’m really excited to read it. Even though I told myself I need to reign in my spending now that I’m almost done with Christmas shopping, I ordered the book in the name of my mental health.

That’s it. I’m not at all finished figuring out what it means to juggle the responsibilities of living life as an adult, but I like to think I’m on my way. I’m still learning and working through it day by day, but aren’t we all?

Thanks for joining me on this journey!

 

What things have you done to keep yourself sane when things get too crazy? How do you handle the busyness of the holiday season and the responsibilities of adulthood?

Here & Now

Oh, how easy it is to continually be looking either forward or backward.

We can get caught up in our past— who we were, what we did, how our experiences have shaped us, for better or worse. We feel confined by a past that clings to us like gum on the bottom of our shoe.

Or we spend all of our energy looking to the next step, the next new thing. If we could only get our dream job, move into a bigger house, or start a family of our own, we’d be all set. We think that once we get there, everything will be better. But when we get there, we find ourselves looking forward once again to what’s beyond the next turn in the road.

I don’t usually like to share such a large portion of someone else’s words, but I can’t say these better myself, and as they struck me as words I needed to hear, I thought I would share them with all of you.

Because here’s the trick to the whole thing: If we’re always looking a step ahead, then we’re always looking a step ahead.
When we finally get to that next stage, or job, or weight-loss goal, or when we finally get married, our eyes will still be fixed ahead. The satisfaction will still evade us.
We won’t ever have arrived.

And the reason this is so sad is because when we’re so focused on what’s next, we miss what we have today.
If we spend our time peering over the fence—longing for grass that isn’t ours— that means we’re totally missing the beautiful gifts God has for us right here, today. We miss our lives longing for what’s next, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to miss my life!
I want to love my stage of life to pieces—to wear it out like an old pair of sweatpants I can’t bring myself to get rid of.
I want to dig into this season — to be present, and to savor it, and I want to do the same thing in the next season — soaking it in for all it has to offer, drinking it up to the very last drop.

…And so this is the work I’m inviting you into today — something I think about in my life a lot. Let’s keep our eyes on our own side of the fence. Let’s be present and full of gratitude in where God has us, right now, today. And let’s trust that when we get to the next season it will be just as wonderful, and even MORE wonderful because we’ve been practicing this present, grateful way of living.

Today I’m praying that in whatever season you find yourself in, that you lay back in the grass, the sun warming your skin, as you soak in the goodness of this season, knowing that the next season will be there when you get to it. – Stephanie May Wilson (emphasis mine)

Amen to that! May you and I fight the tendency to get stuck in the past or caught up in worrying and dreaming about the future, choosing instead to focus on the great things our present season has to offer and teach us. We are where we are right now for a reason. Let’s rest in that knowledge and not rush ahead to the next step.

Keeping Up With the Joneses

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Why do we work so very hard to accumulate things to impress others? Why do we waste so much of our precious time comparing ourselves to others? Why do we feel so dissatisfied, like we never have enough or do enough to be content? Why do we crave more, and more, and more?

Our paths in life are uniquely our own. We may walk alongside others for a season, but we have each been given a role to play in this world, one that is designed specifically for us.

We don’t have to strive to attain what those around us have. We can choose to focus on the path we’re on, appreciate what we have, and work toward our own goals. Not everyone is called to the same lifestyle. Those around you aren’t called to the same purpose you are; they have their own just as you have yours. And when we all go boldly in the direction of our own path, our actions work together with those of others, creating a beautiful piece of art that wouldn’t have been possible if we had all tried to paint with the same color.

When we spend too much time looking at what others have and what they’re doing with their lives, we lose focus on our own lives. We think we need to copy them in order to be happy. So we pursue the things they have, do the things they do. And yet, somehow the result isn’t a reflection of their happiness. We’re still empty. We’re surrounded by things we worked really hard to attain, but haven’t found satisfaction in. We don’t feel comfortable in our own skin because we’ve been trying to fit ourselves and our lives into the box we’ve created from our misled expectations.

Social media has made it even easier to constantly compare our lives with those of our peers. But what we have to keep in mind is the fact that the things we see online are just small glimpses into the lives of others, and often only the highlights. Our friends and family members may also be a few steps ahead of us, and it’s only going to discourage us if we keep comparing our progress to theirs instead of focusing on our own paths. So let’s set our eyes on the goals we have set for ourselves and resist the temptation to draw comparisons between our lives and the pieces of others’ lives that we see.

If we can see that we were uniquely created for a specific place in this world that nobody else can fill, we just might find the ability to deviate from the course we thought we had to walk down and instead forge our own path toward a much greater destination, one specifically designed for us by our Creator.

Consider this your permission to do just that– throw off the weight of the expectations placed on you, the constraints of the box you’ve never been able to fit comfortably in, and the hoops you’ve tried so unsuccessfully to jump through. May you and I walk confidently toward what lies ahead of us, freed from the burdens we’ve carried, ready to embrace our unique paths and all life has to offer as we travel them.

 

Image source: https://annegarrisonstudio.com/products/be-yourself-everyone-else-is-already-taken

From Stressed to Blessed

As I continue learning what it means and looks like to rest, I found myself asking the question what gets in the way of rest? One of the main factors for me is stress. When I’m stressed, I’m camped out far away from a place of rest.

Telling myself not to stress only makes me more stressed as I then try, by force of my own feeble willpower, to stop worrying and fearing the problems and circumstances of my life that loom before me. Instead of trying to push those feelings aside, I’ve discovered a few healthier ways to cope with my stress.

  1. Breathe. Simply taking a deep breath can help me calm down, especially if I focus on the act of filling and emptying my lungs. It may be that it distracts me momentarily from whatever stressful thing I had been focusing on, thereby freeing me to return with a more positive approach. Or it could simply be that it lowers my heartrate back down within the normal range.
  2. Accept help. I’m no good at this. I’ve been told that I’m no good at it. I stress out because I try to do everything on my own, keeping too many plates spinning all at once. I’m slowly coming to see the value in accepting help from others– whether it comes in the form of someone opening a door for me, carrying something for me, making food for me, taking on some of my workload, or any one of dozens of other things. I need to realize the people around me are far more willing and able to help than I usually think, and I have the opportunity to build a relationship with them and let them serve me by helping out when I’m struggling. Many hands make light work.
  3. Be flexible. My perfectionist personality rubs up against this one, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true or helpful. It just makes it particularly difficult. I’m starting to embrace the beauty found in imperfection. It’s okay if my apartment isn’t perfectly clean, I don’t have every hair pinned in place, every detail isn’t planned out ahead of time, every activity on my calendar isn’t done exactly when it’s scheduled, or every task on my to-do list isn’t checked off at the end of the day. Life goes on. Being flexible allows room for growth, change, and for God to rearrange the parts of my life I might otherwise hold too tightly. It leaves room for conversation with others. It means I have breaks to recover instead of flying from one thing to the next.
  4. Take a break. Plowing through days, weeks, and months of life without stopping to rest isn’t a sign of hard work and determination as much as it indicates self-sufficiency, fear of what will happen if things stop, and a lack of control. I’m beginning to cherish my moments of pause. When I begin to feel too weighed down by the task before me, I set it aside briefly, walk away to do something else, and come back with fresh perspective.
  5. Tackle one thing at a time. Too often I find myself freaking out because there are just too many things on my plate, and it seems like they’re about to wage war against me. Instead of staring in fear at my never-ending to-do list, I need to focus on completing one thing at a time. When I pour my attention into just one thing, I find that I can accomplish it more efficiently and make better use of my time than if I was simultaneously thinking about the next five things I have to do.
  6. Consider the worst case scenario. Stressing about things makes mountains out of molehills. If I were to consider the worst thing that might result from a failure, I might just see that I’m making too big of a deal out of things. If I’ve thought it through, then the idea of failing is less frightening because I know things will still be okay.
  7. Count my blessings. It sounds really cliche, but when I’m focusing on everything I am grateful for, there isn’t room for worry and stress. The positive thoughts and praises to God crowd out the negativity and frustration.

It’s going to take a lot more practice with these things, but as I daily pursue rest in 2016, I hope to become better and better at managing my stress. And I hope you, too, find ways to curb yours so you can fully enjoy your life and all the wonderful things it has to offer!