A few years ago, my life was so packed with neccesities and non-creative tasks that I felt like my purpose was stagnating on some shelf somewhere out of my reach. God had spoken to me about thriving and was pointing me toward a life of creativity, yet almost nothing I was doing was moving me in that direction.
I expressed my extreme frustration to a wise and caring friend of mine and after a long pause, she said to me, "I wonder if what you have on your plate right now is enough? Maybe it is all you can really do." It stung a little to hear that, but somehow, I knew she was probably right.
I was in my early 30s and had four little kids. Going back to school for my master's degree was on hold, and all I seemed to do was laundry and grocery shopping and hanging out in the cul-de-sac with kids and bikes. Oh, and I was meeting once or twice a month with a young woman who began to call me her mentor. I looked at my plate again and thought....hmm! I have time with my kids and a little time mentoring, I even occasionally hide for an hour to write poetry and essays....I have good work to do. Actually--how on earth would I do more right now??
I did not have time to study, to volunteer at the foodbank, to volunteer anywhere, actually. I wasn't up to date on the news, we were not offering a home to a rescue animal, I wasn't leading anything anymore at church, the house was usually untidy. There was a lot I was not doing.
What is the answer to the sometimes overwhelming frustration of too many opportunities and desires, too little time? How do we fit it all in?? I believe with my whole heart that the only way out of that frustration is to accept that your plate is probably full of what you can do right now. (or maybe overly full- see below!)
I know you've already skimmed blog posts on simplifying and the importance of self-care, but I'm going to guess that you remain frustrated with your inability to fit it all in and be amazing like everyone else seems to be.
So here's an essential question to help you: Other seasons will come, but what season are you in now? I moved on from laundry, groceries, cul-de-sac....to adding: running reading groups at the elementary school, taking time to be in therapy, overseeing the prayer team at church...and eventually entering a two-year training program for Spiritual Direction and a preaching/teaching class.
What season are you in now? Are you a full-time student, part-time nanny and aspiring artist? That's enough! Are you a part-time student, activist, and aspiring self-care expert (in therapy). That's enough! Are you a young mom with a part or full-time job? That's enough! Are you starting your career, trying to find where you fit and training for a marathon? Enough Enough Enough!
I think that especially for Millenials (and the parents who raised them), this truth is hard to accept. One reason for this is that, as Anne Lamott says: We compare "our insides to other peoples' outsides." We often feel like we are coming apart at the seams, we are in therapy, we feel defeated......and we don't see that many of those around us often feel exactly the same way underneath the smiles and the constant activity.
Another reason is that if you were raised busy, then you don't know any other way of being. Yesterday, we were on our way home from lunch out and my 14 year old son began loudly complaining that he didn't want to go home, because it's so boring there. He had just finished an intense season of play rehearsals that took all his waking hours besides school, and the thought of quiet inactivity seemed to almost have him in a panic.
At first, that's how it can feel for all of us to slow down and embrace a sane pace. It can seem so empty and pointless....maybe nothing to show for today when my head hits the pillow tonight.
What are steps you can take to off-load frustration and accept that you can't cram it all in?
1. Identify your season....what is this season mainly about? Make sure that you are leaving yourself enough time and energy to do this season well. If you are a student, that is your number one priority right now, so protect that from other activities over-crowding it. If you are a young mom, do the same....you only get to do life once.
2. Figure out what else you really need to feel healthy in this season. Do you need to be writing or painting at least once a week? Do you need to have a leisurely conversation with a close friend or a therapy session regularly? At times, these things, which could fall under self-care, have been a pretty small percentage of my time. But as long as I consistently carve out some time for them, I feel healthy.
3. Prioritize time with Jesus. Our actions often show that we think a tiny investment in our relationship with God will be enough to help us grow and be satisfied. We know it isn't true, and then we plan our lives and crowd him out. His comfort, love, and guidance are essential if we want to move forward into the next season. I mean, we want to move into the next season that he would lead us into, right? Not the one that seems to make sense to a frazzled, overstimulated mind.
4. Selectively fail. I heard a wise former workaholic lawyer-turned-university-provost speak recently, and he shared a truth that, I promise, if you embrace it, will be like water to your parched soul. He said I encourage you to selectively fail. I encourage you to choose a couple of things in your life that you will not be amazing at. If you do not selectively fail, you will eventually randomly fail when doing too much catches up with you.
If you visit our home, you will see that one of my areas of selective failure is tidiness. I don't like an untidy house, but when I had to accept that I literally could. not. do. it. all. that was something that I could let go. Hanging out with my kids, time for therapy and Spiritual direction, time to nurture my marriage, time to really get to know Jesus and let him have more and more of my heart....these were not negotiable, but an embarrassingly messy house....well that wasn't going to kill anyone.
5. Finally, accept that you don't look amazing to people. The work of God is most often slow and deeply personal. Like a tree growing it's roots to gain a firm place to stand. Accept that if you pursue growth God's way, it may be a while before you land your dream job or create art that others love. With David, God looked and saw a King long before people looked and saw a King. Seek to know how he sees you and what he is equipping you for, and be willing to take the next humble step on that beautiful path.
I look back at the young mom I was-- when it seemed God had forgotten to give my life purpose. I see now that he sent me to the school of life-is-hard as well as the school of learn-to-BE-first-then-I-will-let-you-do. And slowly he has grown me into someone who is finally ready to steward my dream job. He knew how to prepare me, and I love the richness in my relationship with him as well as the richness in my life now. It took time, and I can tell you I have not looked amazing along the way!!! Life still feels hard, but in the context of knowing I'm deeply loved by him and feeling equipped to discern the next step he's asking me to take. It's worth it.