Tag: slowing down

Four Ways to be Less Busy

 

It’s autumn in Pennsylvania. Autumn in this part of the world means cornfields that rustle beige in the evening thermals.  It means pumpkins on stoops and hay mazes towering in muddy alfalfa fields.  It means russet leaves applauding the sky and geese heading south with their human-like voices echoing overhead.

For our family it also means settling into a different routine – one that currently includes soccer games, hunting trips, and longer hours within the walls of our living room. Darkness comes earlier, and we find ourselves racing to fit more into days that seem shorter.  It’s the time of the harvest – a time for filling the freezers and picking squash and baking countless loaves of zucchini bread for who knows what.

In the midst of it all, we want nothing more than to slow down and embrace the season, but the current of our lives races by at a furious pace, and we see little choice but to let ourselves be carried away in its grip. I sit in the woods on a Sunday afternoon and watch sycamore leaves flutter to the yellowing earth.  It’s time to recalibrate.  It’s time to consider what it will take to slow into a pace that doesn’t feel frantic, and this is what I’ve come up with:

Refuse to hurry

What would actually happen to our lives if we refused to hurry – ever again? I consider the consequences: We’d probably be late for social gatherings more often than we already are.  We might miss the school bus a few times.  There would be less time spent in the waiting rooms of doctor’s offices.  And everyone would be ok.

Maybe everyone would be more than just ok. Maybe we’d be better for having killed the rhythm of the rushed.  Psalm 46:10 reads, “Cease striving, and know that I am God.”  For years, I thought this was a verse solely designated for quiet time with the Lord: Stop your constant thinking, worrying, and planning, and focus on God.  But what if it’s more than the mantra of the devotional time keepers?  What if it’s a Word for the hurriers, and what if it’s meant to be invoked outside of our prayer closets, in the midst of our important and frantic lives?

Plan margin time

Caleb and I walked to the creek this week. The day was blank on our calendar – a day for cleaning the house, cooking, and enjoying the season.  I pushed him in our worn stroller, and we walked to the creek – black water winding through a crimson and orange understory.  We threw heavy stones into the water and laughed at the droplets that splashed our legs.

We walked home without hurry, and the neighbor was in his yard. We stopped to talk for ten minutes or more – to encourage him and speak words of truth.  As we strolled away from his house, I considered how many times we’ve hurried past with a quick wave, off to the next thing on our schedule.  I also considered the way margin time in our days leaves room to actually see the people in front of us – to look into their eyes and silently ask God what he might want to speak through us.

Take a day off every single week

Sabbath-keeping hasn’t been a command I’ve honored well with my life. As an athlete in high school, there was often a tournament or track meet that filled my Saturdays, and Sunday was the only day left for studying physics or biology.  College was more of the same, and when a teaching career came, Sunday was the day for planning the week’s lessons and activities.

Life as a full-time mom has its own set of challenges. If we’re not careful, every day of the week starts to feel exactly the same as the others: scrubbing sticky floors, laundry, meals, and more.  We don’t live this perfectly, but we’re learning to live differently one day a week.  For us that day is Sunday.  Sunday is slower, more intentional, and more restful.  We take naps and force ourselves to slow down.

Slowing down one day a week recalibrates us and helps us slow down throughout the rest of the week. It breaks the frenzied cycle of rushing from one thing to the next.

Keep first things first

Saying no to busyness means we can’t say yes to everything. It means letting a few tomatoes spoil in the garden, letting the basement door remain unpainted for another year, choosing soccer over cross-country, and taking a break from the women’s group I once loved.  Saying no to busyness means stepping back and honestly assessing what matters most, and then arranging our lives to honor our highest priorities.

 

In the stillness of the woods, I write my list for a less-busy life, and I stand to slip away from the sycamores. A leaf cascades to the ground and lands squarely on my shoulder.  I’m thankful for having noticed.

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The Power of Margin Time

 

I asked Caleb what he wanted to do for his birthday, and he wanted hotdogs and marshmallows for breakfast and a trip to the sandy beach. He settled for powdered doughnuts for breakfast, but I came through on the trip to the sandy beach.

The sandy beach is the name the kids have affectionately labeled a stretch of sandy shoreline along the creek behind our house. In winter we build fires at the sandy beach, and the smoke wafts up through a thick canopy of hemlock trees.  In summer we swim in the waist-deep water with the rock wall on the far side of the swimming hole.

We’ve been known to catch bluegills and crayfish in the shallow part of the pool, and surrounded by wilderness, the sandy beach feels like an escape to a different world.

The day of celebration dawns clear and cool.  I leave the calendar wide open and free of plans, and so our walk to the sandy beach is slow and filled with frequent stops. We stop to rescue a caterpillar from the middle of the dangerous road.  We pick goldenrod and ironweed and joe-pye weed for a late summer bouquet.  I gather a handful of green acorns for him to throw off the bridge when we reach the creek.

When we finally make it to the bottom of the hill and past the red barn, we notice that we’re not alone at the creek. Our neighbors made the half-mile trek to the creek as well.  The boys’ grandpa doesn’t get around as well as he used to, and so he drove the scooter down the road with his grandsons close at hand.

The boys are quick to tell us that they didn’t catch any fish today. Even worse, the fishing pole broke, and an essential part of the reel is submerged in the clear water just below the bridge.  We gaze down from above, and the lost part sparkles from the depths of the clear water.

“Go get it, Mama!” Caleb commands, and I know he’s onto something.

It wasn’t safe for the boys to head into the water on their own, but this is a task we can handle. Grandpa laughs and tells me it’s not necessary, but the pleading gaze of the little boy who is like a second son to our family captures my heart.  I don’t need to think twice.

And this is how I find myself wading across Wolf Creek on a sixty-degree morning in search of a piece of fishing reel.

The boys take off their shoes and stand in the mud along the creek, and I manage to wade into the thigh-deep water, reach to the bottom, and secure the treasure.  There are cheers and hugs.

An hour later, sitting along the bank of the sandy beach with Caleb, I consider all the times I’ve missed opportunities to bless others because I’m in too big of a hurry. My to-do list daily threatens to rule my life and dominate my decisions, but this is never God’s best.

God’s best is a life without hurry – a life that leaves margin time between activities: time to pick goldenrod, save caterpillars, and show kindness to neighbors. Surely, there are seasons when margins are narrower, but when there’s a choice – and there’s often a choice – wide margins hold the power to bless.  When there’s a choice, I decide to choose the wide margins and live with eyes wide open for what God is doing in my midst.

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How to Boldly Step into the Next Season

 

It’s an overcast evening with light air hanging over the black-eyed susans that blanket the fields behind the house. The Conservancy planted them when they bought the land, and despite the fact that they tore down the old white barn, we’re blessed by the wildflowers.

Among our favorite parts of summer is dinner on the deck. I like it because the spilled honey and tiny pieces of shredded cheddar don’t end up plastered to the dining room floor for weeks on end.  The kids like it because the last bite of the meal is permissibly tossed off the deck to our three hungry chickens.  We all like it because the open sky and chattering red-winged blackbirds fill us with a deep sense that we are free.

I’ve spent most of the day cleaning the house, dealing with a frustrating computer issue, and searching the basement boxes for size 3T sweatpants, and I’m a bit frazzled by the time the food is on the table. After Caleb’s garbled prayer to give thanks for chicken nuggets, buns, and spoons (he thanks God for spoons twice), we eat with few words.  The company of family and the space to enjoy silence is a gift.

I feel myself unwinding from the frustrating parts of the day when it happens. Our sweet little girl winds up with a banana peel in her right fist.  I know she’s aiming for the weeds behind me, and I know exactly what’s about to happen before I have time to swallow my bread and speak a word.

She throws the peel as hard as her six-year-old arm can throw, and the peel smacks me in the center of my face.

Silent stares watch my face for a reaction, and in a split-second, I make a choice that will set the tone for the rest of the evening. I choose to unleash hysterical laughter.   We all laugh until our eyes water, and I consider throwing something in return, but I know where it could lead and resist.  The moment is priceless, and I’m thankful I chose laughter.

When the dishes are washed and the kids are busy making bubbles in the yard, I reflect on the banana peel. Something about the moment felt like I’d just encountered the heart of the Father, and I can’t put my finger on it.

For years, I’ve claimed Philippians 3:8 as my life verse: More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.

Thinking of the verse, I unlock the truth wrapped in the shriveled banana peel: I come to know Christ more deeply when I let go of my agenda, my rights, and my expectations of how circumstances should unfold. I come to know him more when I can laugh at the ridiculous and let go of what doesn’t really matter.

I recently read Emily P. Freeman’s post on 10 things she learned this summer.  Her words, combined with the banana peel incident, have prompted me to consider what we’ve learned around these parts this summer.  Her words remind me that sometimes the best way to close the chapter on one season and step into another is to reflect on the lessons learned.  This is my list:

1. Whenever possible, choose laughter over angry words.

“She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come” (Proverbs 31:25).  And this is the kind of woman I want to be – not the kind who takes herself too seriously.

2. When the pace of my life feels out of control, I have the choice to deliberately step out of the raging current and recalibrate.

We spent quite a few weekends in the hills of northern Pennsylvania this summer. For most of my life, our family’s hunting camp has been a place of solace for us.  Darrell and I have often discussed our longings to move permanently to a cabin in the woods somewhere.  It was while reading Shauna Niequist’s book Present over Perfect that I was struck with the truth behind our longings.  Shauna writes about similar feelings as her family regularly seeks reprieve at a cottage on a lake:

It’s at the lake that I realize how far I’ve come, or how far I have yet to travel. Both, maybe.  It’s at the lake that my priorities reshuffle, aligning more closely with my true nature.

I’ve wondered from time to time if we should move here, permanently, to this small Michigan town. But it seems to me that we’d bring our bustling and hustling here, and pretty soon we’d need a new place to escape in order to recalibrate.  Part of the magic of the lake is that it isn’t home – it’s away, and away allows us to see the rhythms and dimensions of our lives more clearly.

Shauna’s words remind me that I have the choice daily to decide if my life will be frantic and frenzied or serene and steady.  My pace is about a mindset, not a place.

3. My life is richer when I’m increasingly aware of the small miracles in my midst.

I was struck by this quote in a blog post called “Chasing Smallness” by Shauna Shanks this summer:

These past few years God has been re-ordering my life. Rather than bigger is better attitude, He has asked me to stop all the chaos, hand him over my crumpled-up mess I’d made, and start again. Smaller this time.

These words remind me that bigger, faster, and more glamorous are not always best.

4. Hard doesn’t mean wrong.

I’m inspired by the words of Tsh Oxenreider. Tsh and her husband embarked on a 9-month journey around the world with their three young children.  Before leaving on the trip, she wrote a note to her future self – the self that would be doubting the decision at the beginning of the trip.  The note read:

You’re in China, which is hard. But you can do hard things.  You won’t be here long.  This month is the foundation for the year.  Lean in to the struggles: give thanks for the easy times.  Hard doesn’t mean wrong.  You’re on the right path.

Her words remind me that difficult doesn’t always mean wrong.

5. Confidence and vulnerability can coexist.

My time at the She Speaks conference in July prompted me to question many things about calling, life, and authenticity. Greatest among the lessons from this weekend was the realization that it’s possible to walk into a crowded room of gifted women and be honest about the difficulty of the journey.  This kind of vulnerability might be the bravest and most confident way to live.  My confidence doesn’t come from my own gifting.  It comes from the One who created me.

6. There’s only room for a miracle when I am unable to produce the outcome on my own.

I’m currently reading Unashamed by Christine Caine.  Christine reminds us that we are unable to measure up in our carnal, human selves.  It is the power of Christ in us that is sufficient in our weakness.

7. I’m not defined by the outcomes I am able to produce in my life.

I could list twenty more lessons from the summer. For the sake of illustrating this final point, I’m stopping short.  I’m stopping short as a reminder that none of us are defined by the outcomes we produce in our lives.  Coming up short doesn’t classify a person as lacking, and every failure is an opportunity to grow.

As summer fades to autumn in the subtle shift from light to darkness, warmth to chill, and green to crimson, we will keep growing deeper roots around here.  We will keep laughing at the ridiculous and smiling at the future.  This is how we step boldly into the next season.

References:

Niequist, S. (2016). Present over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

http://www.shaunashanks.com/blog/2015/9/7/chasing-smallness

Tsh Oxenreider (2017). At Home in the World: Reflections of Belonging while Wandering the Globe, Nashville, Tennessee: Harper Collins.

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A Simple Strategy for Greater Joy

 

The multiflora rose bushes are exploding with white blossoms when it hits me: I’m living on autopilot again. We all have our own versions of autopilot – the thoughtless brushing of teeth and consumption of coffee, the drive to work that’s the same every day, and the daily routines that make up the foundation of our daily lives.  We push through our days with little thought, no margin time to notice beauty, thousands of stressors streaming through our minds, and a lingering lack of simple enjoyment.

I stop along the road and stare at the white roses. Never in my life have I noticed these invasive, injury-causing plants in blossom.  I’ve grimaced as their needle-like thorns penetrated my clothing and pierced my flesh.  I’ve clipped them away from trails and dug them out of the hedgerow.  But I’ve never noticed them in bloom.  I’m astonished that something so beautiful could emerge from something so menacing.

What if there is beauty awaiting me in countless unseen corridors of my life, and I’m too busy solving problems and worrying about thorn bushes to notice?

I smell the white roses. I literally put my face into the thorn bushes I’ve cursed upon and breathe in something beautiful.  I wonder how much joy autopilot has stolen from my life.  I wonder how many sunrises I missed on the way to work because I all I could think about was how to get the progress reports finished by Friday.  I wonder how many conversations I missed because I was too worried about raking leaves or logging miles or hanging curtain rods.

Is this the gateway to the joy and fulfillment I crave? Take my life off autopilot and refuse to slip back into this thoughtless way of living.

Jesus said it like this: “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). In him we have peace.  Trouble will come, but he has overcome it.  He wants us to walk in peace.

He also said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).  If autopilot is destroying my days, it is certainly not from the Lord.  His plan is that I will have an abundant kind of life.

The opposite of autopilot is intentionality. When I live with intentionality, I slow down to notice the people in front of me.  I slow to observe beauty in the architecture of my community, the wispy breaths of high cirrus clouds, and the jade buds sprouting from the spruce tree in the yard.  Embracing these things feels like actually living.

Tasting the food I eat, drawing on the sidewalk with chalk beside the kids, and lying in the grass while geese pass overhead are each gateways to joy. And somehow, opening my eyes to what’s around me feels like opening my eyes to God.  When I see the good in it all, I am drawn closer to his beating heart.

Joe Rigney speaks of this kind of observation in his book, The Things of Earth.  He calls it indirect godwardness: “a subconscious focus on God while engaging with the world that God made” (121).  He goes onto explain that indirect godwardness increases our direct focus on God “by creating new mental, emotional, and spiritual categories for our enjoyment of God. It keeps us from being vague and indistinct in our minds” (126).

I meander slowly away from the white roses and gather a bouquet of daisies along the roadside. A barred owl calls from the valley behind, and I’m thankful for having noticed.

 

 

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