Recently two of my closest friends reached out to me, aching for refreshment and renewal. Burnout hit them like a forest wildfire – decimating everything in its wake. I’ve been having conversations with them, not because I’m a guru who has mastered this subject, but I’ve been over my head frequently enough to know a thing or two about how to keep from coming to the end of yourself.
Busyness reminds me of my garage. We clean up every month or so, and before we know it, we’re knee deep in clutter bumping up against the cars again. How those piles creep in unnoticed is beyond me. You know? My schedule has the same tendency to start off so clean and orderly … and somehow one day I look down and there are pencil markings everywhere, reminder notes going off in my computer, and multiple daily alarms on my phone dinging to get me to go here or there.
I’ve spent years learning the fine art of simplifying and slowing. The more I grow, the more I realize my need for these disciplines and practices. Early on, when people commented on my level of busyness or how I needed to slow down, I took it as a personal insult and quickly explained that I could handle it all. I felt like I ought to be able to manage the magnitude of multiple demands, after all, I’m a capable girl. My long to-do list felt like a badge of honor. Sure, I stayed up too late many nights. Ok, sometimes I felt I was going to choke and lose it. Yes, I did occasionally lose track of commitments, forget things, and often felt someone was getting the short end of the stick. I couldn’t help the fact that my life was so crazy. That’s what I told myself.
Bit by bit I began acknowledging that my knee-jerk “yes” answers were ill timed, unfiltered and dooming me to a life of merry-go-round living. I realized I needed a change. I started exploring why I stayed so busy – unearthing the ugly truths behind all this commitment and responsibility. Over the years I built my muscle at saying, “no.” I learned that not every need around me has my name written on it. I read the book Boundaries, (Ohhh baby!) and I gradually stepped back from the fray.
Sounds easy and simple, right? Well, let me tell you. It’s a bit like deciding to pull over on the autobahn in Germany – cars whizzing by at 100mph while you decide it’s time to chill and slow. I don’t know why we call doing something difficult “swimming upstream.” I mean that’s what salmon do by nature. Slowing down and cutting back are NOT what we do by nature. These life-giving habits are hard to pursue and changing pace can feel lonely at times.
I cut back on my “yes” answers (Lysa Terkeurst, thank you). I also learned that whatever remains in my area of responsibility and commitment needs to be handled in a certain way. I call this spiritual ergonomics. It's not only the load you carry that can bog you down, but the way you carry it. Click To Tweet
You know what I mean. Your son comes home from school bemoaning his math homework. He whines and complains that he doesn’t know how to do the problems. You buy into the misguided idea that his success rides on your contribution. You proceed to spend the rest of the evening at the dining table alternating between the roles of substitute teacher, motivational speaker and potential executioner. First you instruct, then you cheer him on, then you want to kill him! In the process you forget that you already graduated from sixth grade. It’s his turn. Yes, you can provide support, but do you take on his homework and muscle through it on his behalf, or do you provide consultation while he shoulders his own load?
Let’s say the Children’s Ministry Director calls you on Thursday asking if you can sub in Sunday School this weekend? You say, “yes,” and when you get the lesson plan, you assess it as sub-par. You stay up late Friday night reworking the curriculum and spend a good part of Saturday at the craft store buying supplies to implement your new and improved idea of bible education for five-year-olds. Come Sunday you want to poke your eyes out from self-induced exhaustion. How do I know? Been there.
One of the biggest lessons I’ve absorbed could be summed up: “You can’t pour out from emptiness.” We tend to put ourselves at the bottom of our own to-do list. We shun carving out time to be replenished. We are jealous of friends who get massages, pedicures, go out with girlfriends and read good books. We think, “If only I had time for that kind of thing.” The hard truth may not be that you don’t have the time. It’s could be you haven’t stood your ground and made the time. No one is going to come knocking at your door saying, “Hey there, here’s a free two hours to yourself today.” We’ve got to learn to make time for ourselves.
My best self comes out when I am refreshed. I bet it’s the same for you. I find myself more able to think clearly to get jobs done after I’ve taken time away to relax and recharge. Contrary to what I fear – “If I take time for me, I’ll just get further behind!” – I find scheduling time to be filled makes me more pleasant and efficient. Who knew?
How about you? Are you drowning right now? Running on fumes?
Here are three simple steps you can take right now to make a huge difference:
- Assess your yes answers – allow yourself to say “no” more often. Ask yourself what you absolutely have to do. Are you really the only one who can do this particular thing? What can be cancelled, postponed or modified in your schedule – even just for this week? Are you saying “yes” to the most important things – those that line up with your goals and mission? or is your life filled with trivial pursuits?
- Look at the way you are carrying your load. Are you taking on more than your share? Are you trying to do everything for an A+ perfect grade with a Pinterest photo as proof of your excellence? Can you delegate, do less, give it adequate effort and be satisfied? Sometimes Our B- is good enough. Where are you carrying the lion’s share of the weight when someone else really should be shouldering their fair share? We need to constantly redetermine our capacity and availability and then plan our to-dos from there. What can you do to lighten the way you are carrying your load this week?
- Be filled. Take a look at the coming few days. What would fill your tank? How will you energize and recharge? What can be cut back so you can make room for the time you need to simply relax. It’s so tempting to use time we carve out to catch up and be even more productive. Don’t. Allow yourself time to pursue a hobby or to connect with a friend. Do what fills you so you have reserves from which to pour out into the lives of others.
I would love to hear from you – really and truly – about how you are changing your life pattern to slow down and recharge. What challenges are you facing as you do? Comment below, or join the discussion on the Hearts Homeward Facebook page.
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