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

 

Rescuing Your Time

“Time is a squirrely thing. It only goes where you tell it to go. It has no mind of its own. It won’t naturally gravitate to things that matter or work you really care about. It always looks for the easy way out.” – Jon Acuff

Time. What an elusive thing. Try as we might, most of us feel like we just don’t have enough of it.

But is that really the case? Or do we merely spend our time on things we would rather not spend it on? And, if that’s the case, why are we wasting this precious gift on things that aren’t worthy of our time?

I think we feel obligated to do some things, like go to work, for good reasons. We know we need to earn our paychecks to put food on the table and a roof over our heads. But we also sometimes feel obligated to do things that we maybe shouldn’t. Maybe we feel like we have to pursue a certain career path to appease others or strive for a bigger, better home or a family of our own by a certain age. But we have the power to choose a different path for ourselves. There are some things we have to do as responsible adults, but there are also a great many things we have the privilege of getting to choose for ourselves.

What would happen if, aside from the things we can’t change like going to work and getting sleep, we prioritized doing things we want to do?

I’m not saying we should shirk all responsibilities– deep down, we still want to do some of those things. I want to wash the dishes to avoid having to scrub dried food off later. I want to do a load of laundry so I can have clean clothes. But I don’t want to spend all night doing those things. So I get what needs to be done (pots and pans, one load of laundry), and I move on to doing what it is that I really want to do (hanging up art work, reading a book, spending time with friends). I don’t get caught up doing the little things and miss out on the big things. I decide how I’m going to spend my time, even if it’s different from those around me.

I’m suggesting we do what’s absolutely necessary and then relax and allow ourselves to have some fun doing what we love with the people we love. Let go of the obligations and standards imposed on us by the world around us, and exercise our right to choose to focus on what we value most in our current season.

Certainly, there is a time for everything. Some activities go with specific seasons, like planting seeds or harvesting them. The same is true with our lives, although the length of seasons may differ.

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

-Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Maybe you’re in a season of intentional self-care after a time of neglect. Maybe you’re in a season of abundance in which you have the privilege of blessing others. Maybe you’re in a season in which you are bursting with creative energy, looking for an outlet. Those things change over time, and that’s okay. In order to feel like we’re making good use of our time, we must know where our time is most needed right now, and take steps to act accordingly.

What do you really care about? What needs to happen for you to be able to devote more time to those important things? Are there things you need to say no to? Are there things you need to let go of in order to focus on others? What do you need to get out of the way, set aside, or delegate so you can focus on what matters most?

Will you join me in figuring out where to pour our time and energy? I sincerely hope you can figure it out and make the most of the time you have right here, right now. Because this is the only today you’re going to get, and nobody can leave a mark on it quite like you can.

 

 

Further reading:

3 Signs Your Life Is Too Busy by Eden Jones, Relevant Magazine

 

Image source: https://www.theodysseyonline.com/your-most-valuable-possession-time

Narrowing the Focus

You don’t have to do it all.

We often set the bar too high for ourselves. Our tendency to over-commit stems from societal pressures to do everything, and beyond that, to do everything well. We take an all-or-nothing approach, pushing ourselves to create picture-perfect moments, dishes, photos, homes, and lives to share on social media.

Again, saying you want something is one thing, doing something about it is very different. We prove what we desire most by our actions, not by our words.

So let me ask you: What is it you want most? What life change do you desire?

Then, ask yourself this follow-up question: Are you taking the steps necessary to accomplish that goal? Or, are you settling for something else instead?

After all, a goal without a plan is just wishful thinking. – Joshua Becker, Becoming Minimalist

Did you set New Year’s resolutions only to join the majority of people who fall away from them when life gets too chaotic? Did you try to change too many things at once? Did you jump on the bandwagon and make a resolution that you weren’t genuinely motivated to pursue? If you feel discontent with where you’re at, I encourage you to ask yourself what you really want to change, and what steps you can take today to get closer to being the person that you want to be.

If you’re like me, and you let too much time go by without actually planning steps to achieve your goals, you might find them slipping into the back of your mind, never again to see the light of day. If you were to be asked, you would say that you certainly still wish for the same things, but you just don’t know how to accomplish them.

Where does the disconnection happen? I don’t think it’s that we’re not motivated; we all want to change things. I don’t think we don’t know how; there are others to ask, plans to follow, and, of course, the Internet to go to for ideas. I think we just fill our lives with too many other things, leaving ourselves too little margin to put enough effort into the things we most want to work on. We try to pour ourselves out into too many buckets, causing there to not be enough in any one bucket to accomplish anything.

I know that when I choose to see life as a series of seasons, it makes it easier for me to make decisions. I know that I won’t be forced to stick to them for the rest of my life (at least in most cases), but can rest assured knowing that I just have to choose what’s best in my current circumstances, and I can later choose something else. I don’t have to commit to one career path. I don’t have to live in one place for the rest of my life. I don’t have to pour my time into just one lifelong hobby. Depending on my current needs and the opportunities I’m presented with, I can step forward in faith, knowing I’ve made the best decision possible with the information I had at the time.

Prioritizing my goals allows me to see what’s most important to me in my current season. It allows me to rearrange different pieces of my life to focus on the piece that’s the biggest at the time. When I narrow my focus, intentionally picking and choosing what it is that is worthy of and desperately requiring my time, I feel a greater sense of purpose. I don’t feel like I’m wandering aimlessly, just waiting to see what comes next. I have a greater part to play and know that I’m making good use of the time and gifts so graciously given to me.

It also helps me realize when I need to say no to some things that are good in order to say yes to things that are the best. I can’t do everything, so I have to be willing to turn down some opportunities, even if I would really like to do them. Because deep down I know that there are other things that would be an even better use of my time and energy. If I truly want to accomplish my goals, I have to be willing to spend more time working on them and less time on other things. And the things I say no to open up the door for someone else to say yes.

And when I remember to take life one step at a time, focusing on fewer things, I find that my slower pace allows me to better enjoy the life I’m living. If I’m trying to go through it at a sprint, I trip over my own two feet and completely miss all the roses I’m meant to stop and smell along the way.

So here’s to saying no to the good to make room for the best, narrowing our focus, slowing down to smell the roses, and reminding ourselves that we don’t have to do it all. May you and I both remember that today and walk freely without the unnecessary weight of our ridiculously high expectations, choosing instead to love this season and love ourselves and our lives in it for however long it lasts.

 

Further reading:

WFMW: Just Do One {Special} Thing by Mary Carver, Giving Up on Perfect

Slow Your Roll

Waiting is painful. We push through and rush on to the finish line in our search for instant gratification. We want what we want, and we want it NOW.

But have we taken a step back and considered the thought that there just might be a purpose for the in-between time? That there could be a reason for all the waiting?

It’s been said that the number one fear of people isn’t death, but rather a wasted life. I don’t know for sure, but I’m willing to bet that none of us want our lives to be wasted. If they were to end right now, would we be satisfied with the way we had lived them?

Would we wish we had traveled more? Maybe. Would we wish we had earned more money? Potentially. But I think the biggest thing would be wishing we had slowed down, really lived in the moment instead of worrying about the future, appreciated what we had when we had it, and spent time on the things that really mattered, like our friends and family.

We make higher-quality things when we go slowly and take our time, right? So why do we try to rush God in His work with us? He’s taking His time to purify and refine us, exhibiting great patience and care trying to make us into the beautiful masterpieces that He is making out of us. Why would we want to rush that process? Won’t the end product be better, more well-crafted and polished, if we let Him take His sweet time?

We are where we are for a reason. Each of us has purpose right where we are. Right here. Right now. We don’t know if we have tomorrow, but we have today. And it’s not by accident that we are exactly where God has placed us today.

But if we run through this stage of life just to get to the next, we miss out on what this time had to offer. Perhaps it has valuable lessons we need to learn. Maybe we’re uniquely positioned to reach out to someone in need in a way that others can’t. Or it might be that we’re building the foundation for something we’ll need to rely upon later. If we skip these all-important steps, we’re really side-stepping the master plan God has for us and trying to substitute our own.

He knows far better than we do. We’re called to walk with Him (read: not run ahead on our own), trusting that He’s got it all worked out and will unfold each step of His great plan one at a time, when the time is right. He uses everything for our good and His glory, even the waiting. Even the in-between time. If we allow Him to. We don’t have to wait until we reach a certain milestone, age, job, title, or achievement to begin living a life of purpose. If we make the most of what we have and where we are right now, we are living purposefully. We are living out love.

May we all slow down enough to make the most of where we are right now and live like love to those around us.

 

Slowly Comprehending

I have a bad habit of rushing through books really quickly. On the surface, it might appear to be an advantage to be able to read quickly, until I admit that I’m not able to retain much of what I read because I go too fast.

Despite the fact that I know I have to slow down, putting it into practice has been a big challenge. When reading a book that I want to learn from (like Daring Greatly, The Four Loves, or For the Love, for instance), I have to force myself to read each and every sentence slower than my natural pace and underline things that strike me as particularly meaningful in order to try to absorb more of the material before moving on.

In a similar vein, I can rush through life without pausing to absorb what I’m learning or pay attention to what I’m doing. I can get caught up in the day-to-day routine of working out, scheduled quiet times, work, making dinner, running errands, and going to bed only to wake up to do it all over again. It’s all too easy to look back and not know what I’ve been doing with my time and my life as a whole.

In the midst of trying to slow down to absorb lessons I’m reading, I’m also having to exercise greater self-control and careful selection of what I read and when. I can’t keep storylines straight if I read more than one novel at a time, unless the settings, characters, time periods, and plot are vastly different. I also can’t focus as well on gleaning knowledge from nonfiction if I’m reading more than one book at a time. I like having both a fiction book and nonfiction book on my proverbial nightstand (it’s more likely that one or both are actually ebooks) so I can pick and choose based on my mood. I think having a regular stream of both keeps me balanced. I can read for the pure enjoyment of it, and I can read to learn and be challenged.

As I am intentional about choosing what types of books I read when and limiting the number of books that I read at once, I ought to be just as careful about choosing what to invest my life in. If I try to do too many things at once, none of them get the proper attention and energy needed to be done well, and everything suffers as a result.

I need a variety of pursuits, both those of pleasure and those of learning, to be a well-rounded person. These require different approaches, which has opened my eyes a bit to the realization that different types of situations in life also demand different types of responses from me, and learning to balance both in the right quantities at the right time is key. Too many tasks (or books) on my plate will overwhelm me and take away my enjoyment of any of them.

When reading novels, I still breeze through them at a pretty quick clip, but I’m less concerned about that habit. I’ve discovered that it ultimately comes down to my motivation for picking a book up– do I want to learn something, glean some truth, change some habits, be enlightened? Or do I simply want to be entertained by a good story? If I find myself craving the latter, I don’t worry too much if I finish a book quickly. In fact, I see it as a sign of a well-written novel if I have a difficult time putting it down and finish it in a short time span.

Setting limits in my reading habits has made me realize that I should probably be better at setting limits in other areas of my life as well. Without them, I’m likely to just rush through life, much like I would rush through a book. And in the case of both life and books, there is significantly more enjoyment found when I slow down and enjoy every step of the journey.

And as I get better at slowing down to read and absorb what I’m reading, I’m intentionally making time for rest. Hurried reading isn’t restful, but pondering and taking time to properly digest what I’m reading actually requires me to set aside time to just relax and read. I hope you, too, can cultivate the ability of slowing down in life (and maybe in your reading, if you’re like me) to truly enjoy the journey.

Quote

Focus on the Journey

“It’s about the journey, not the destination.”

We say this about life in general, but we neglect it when making our New Year’s resolutions. We focus on attaining specific goals within the course of the year, often paying little attention to what happens along the way. I didn’t think about that concept until this post by Anne Bogel of Modern Mrs. Darcy opened my eyes to its truth.

We focus so much on making S.M.A.R.T. goals that we lose track of any progress we might make if we fall short of our final goals in the end. If we’re only measuring the end product, we’re more likely to be disappointed in ourselves because we neglect the steps we took in the right direction, even if we didn’t get as far as we initially wanted.

Every step in the right direction counts, even if there are backward steps thrown in. We can have big dreams and goals for ourselves, but if we don’t learn to appreciate small growth toward them and enjoy the journey, we’re likely to get burned out and give up, thinking we’ll never accomplish what we’ve set out to achieve.

After all, getting to the goal is not all that exists. Sometimes, the trip is just as great as the destination. If vacation was only composed of the arrival at a destination and getting back home, what rest would it give? Vacation is about the trip, and work can be the same, if we choose to find meaning in the process rather than just the product.
-Michael Mahan, Relevant Magazine

I’ve seen this to be true when I set out to do something big and plow right through to the end in order to check it off my to-do list. For instance, I have a bad habit of reading books so quickly that I don’t retain any of what I’ve read. I certainly don’t enjoy them as much when I don’t let myself slow down and savor them. But when I do intentionally consume them at a more relaxed pace, I find myself craving book after book every time I finish one. Approaching my goal to read more from this perspective– to go slowly enough to truly enjoy each one– is more likely to motivate me to read more than setting a numerical goal that I feel pressured to reach as soon as possible by reading as many as I possibly can, as fast as I can.

Today, as Gold’s Gym declares a fitness cliff and abandonment of New Year’s resolutions, I am committing myself to pursuing healthier, slower, more intentional lifestyle changes instead of resolutions that feel like obligatory tasks to check off a list. I don’t have a definitive goal in mind or specific metric for gauging my progress this far, but I want to challenge myself to continually be growing in strength, push myself outside of my comfort zone, try new things, improve my eating habits, and ultimately find rest.

As I strive to achieve these things, I believe I will see positive results. I don’t know exactly what they will look like, but that’s kind of exciting, thinking there will be little surprises for me along the way that I would otherwise have passed right by on my way to the finish line. And I know I will enjoy the journey.

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.