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

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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

 

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

 

Life in Full

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. -John 10:10

Do you feel like you’re missing out on this kind of life? Are we spending our time doing things that energize and revive us, or are we filling our lives to the brim with things that only end up draining us, all in the name of responsibility? Certainly, there has to be more to life. I thought about this concept a while ago when writing about finding things that energize us, but this goes deeper.

Life is full of not-so-fun obligations that we can’t avoid, like filing our taxes and paying our bills. But when we have a laundry list of things we want to accomplish, we can develop a case of tunnel vision, only seeing our goals and ignoring everything else before us. In doing so, we might miss other doors that open up before us. If we’re holding tightly onto our detailed dreams for the future, we limit God’s ability to bless us with something different but infinitely better in the long run.

I used to get discouraged when my to-do list wasn’t finished by the end of the day. I concluded that I hadn’t used my time wisely, because my list didn’t get done. But then God challenged my thinking by asking, “If you are walking with me step-by-step throughout your day, following my leading moment-by-moment, isn’t that accomplishing MY to-do list?”

Proverbs 16:9 says: “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.”

If we walk by the Spirit throughout our day, we can experience God’s plans for our time.

We accomplish His tasks, His ideas, His hopes. And, in doing so, we can find great satisfaction at the end of the day. Even more satisfaction than a crossed-off to-do list. -Christine Meggison, (in)courage

If we want to embrace the kind of full life Christ has in store for us, we need to hold onto our dreams, goals, hopes, and blessings with open hands. Everything we have is a gift from God, and He is merely trusting us to be good managers of His things. We need to keep our eyes open to the people around us to see how we might best use what we’ve been given. God cares far more about people than things and accomplishments, and we should follow suit.

If we’re constantly tuned in only to our own to-do lists, we’ll miss the chances to connect on a deeper level with people because we think we’re too busy to stop. In our determination to accomplish our narrowly defined goals through the carefully-planned steps we have laid out for ourselves, we put on blinders to the outside world, restricting opportunities to invest in others and let them invest in us. Instead of letting God be God and move in whatever ways He wishes, we usurp His role and try to tell Him when, where, and how to act by determining the path we think our lives should take.

What would happen if we let go of our rigidity and embraced a more flexible approach to life and all it throws our way? Instead of thinking of unexpected interactions as interruptions in our plan, we might actually start viewing them as divine appointments– openings to build friendships, serve others, share their burdens, walk beside them, and show them love. This kind of attitude would not only benefit those we “help,” but it would be good for us, too. These are the very things that give us life, the things that make life worth living. Relationships are what it’s all about at the end of the day. And clearly, that is far more valuable than getting our laundry done.

Living life to the fullest looks like embracing the everyday beauty of our unique lives, cherishing each season that comes, and making the most of what we have while we have it. It might look like opening your messy home in the name of community and hospitality, going to a job you’re not crazy about so you can have the ability to financially support a charity you believe in, talking to your coworker who’s grieving, befriending a new neighbor, or sending a card or flowers to cheer up a friend. It might mean working less so you can spend more time with your family when your kids are young because you know they’ll grow up all too fast, setting aside your phone when you’re with friends because they’re more important than your inbox, and being willing to help those around you in seasons of abundance and willing to ask for assistance in seasons of need.

Today I encourage you to keep your eyes open to the world around you while you go about your tasks. It’s buzzing with the possibility of a full life. Where might there be opportunities for you to pause in your daily rhythms and invite others in? Who could use a little encouragement or a listening ear? Whose burden might you be perfectly suited to bear? Who is hurting but too afraid to ask for help? Let us together strive to use the things we have been blessed with to bless those around us. We might just find that these opportunities are far more life-giving than a completed to-do list could ever be. I have a strong suspicion that they are.

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.