You blink, and then it’s over.
That’s what it feels like to me. Life. I just turned 37, and while many people laugh when I tell them I feel old, it’s not so much about the number, but about the speed of life. 37 isn’t old in the grand scheme of things, but those who laugh don’t know how I felt when I dropped my daughter off for her first day of high school last week. They didn’t see me standing on the school campus, lingering, worried that she’d have trouble finding her first class or get overwhelmed by her work load. They didn’t feel it when suddenly I couldn’t linger anymore; I had to leave as quickly as possible before I had the panic attack that it seemed like my daughter should be having, but wasn’t. They weren’t with me on the car ride home to see me cry.
It’s a dramatic, complicated feeling when you’re suddenly confronted with a mile marker in life. When did my daughter stop wearing her Dorothy the Dinosaur hat and start wearing makeup? When did my 7lb. 6oz. son get taller than me and grow constantly hungry?
Why do these moments jar me so much? Why does it feel sudden and shocking to be driving my daughter to high school when I’m with her every single day and I know perfectly well how much time has passed since she was born? Because busyness blinds me to brevity of time. I plan out my day, knowing exactly where I need to be and what I should be doing at each moment, but then I become a slave to that plan, unable to stop what I’m doing long enough to know what matters.
Pastor Doug Kyle, lead pastor at Green Valley Church in San Diego, California preached last week on making room in our lives for what matters. (You can watch that sermon for a limited time here.) He spoke to my soul when he said, “We can’t let the days blind us from the seasons.” We follow our to-do lists because we have to. We sign the kids up for lessons or soccer or scouts because we always do, every year. We drive 80mph in the 55 zone because if we don’t we’ll be late and then what would happen?
We just want to stop, but we don’t think we can.
Our culture has turned busyness into a benchmark for success and leisure into wishful thinking. Pastor Kyle spoke about our need for “breathing room,” for a margin of time in our days, our weeks, our lives for — nothing. God actually commands us to do just that:
Why do we need Sabbath? Why is it important enough to make it into God’s “top ten?” Because Sabbath is where we have our breathing room. Sabbath rest is about taking a break to regroup, to evaluate where we’re going and how we spend our time. It allows us to stop our forward momentum long enough to see what’s ahead on the path we’re on.
And Sabbath isn’t just for Sundays. Sabbath is a life rhythm, a perspective on the passage of time and life that gives us the opportunity to be mindful of where our choices are taking us and decide whether or not that’s where we want to go. Is my work allowing me to serve others in the way God designed me to? Do my parenting choices teach my kids the right values? Do I support my church with my gifts of time, money, and talent, and does it support me? This kind of evaluation takes time and clear-headed thought, and we can’t give it that in the carpool lane. In fact, we can’t give our faith and our values the attention they require without creating a space in our schedules for breathing room, self-evaluation, and self care.
The self care piece is critical. I know that I can’t accurately look at the big picture when my physical and emotional well-being is depleted. If I decide I’m too busy to eat lunch, for example, my body and mind suffer together. I become tired, get a headache, and can’t think straight or make choices very well. During moments of emotional struggle I predict only doom and gloom in my future and any positive possibilities seem remote at best. To prevent this I make self care a regular practice in my life on a daily basis. Granting myself the freedom to proactively care for my physical, emotional, and spiritual needs without guilt gives me the breathing room to evaluate the rest of my life and how I’m spending it.
Even though my daily self care time is comforting it’s never easy. Even after I say no to the kids, turn off the computer, walk away, and silence my phone, I also have to silence the cultural message of guilt that tells me I’m being selfish and unproductive. It’s there every time, even though I know that my self care isn’t selfish, it’s what allows me to be my best self for my husband, my kids, and my God. My self care isn’t unproductive, it’s what enables and motivates my periods of productivity to be focused on my main objective and the big-picture things that are most important.
Guilt is just the first obstacle. Even after I absolve myself of the guilt I have to decide how I’m going to care for myself. There are a lot of appealing options available to me, but not all of them rejuvenate my body or refresh my spirit, so I need to determine what I need in that moment. It helps me to think of my self care options like a tool box. Although all the tools are at my disposal some are better for the job than others and it depends on my needs. Banging a hammer against a cracked pipe isn’t going to help much, and similarly, going for a run doesn’t do anything good for me when I have a migraine, though it might when I’m feeling frustrated. So I need to remain flexible about how I care for myself and keep track of the things that are particularly soothing in specific situations.
Of course, I’m trying to encourage you in your self care journey, and all of that makes it sound complicated. So let me help you get started, whether you’re new to the idea of intentional self care or simple need some new ideas and perspectives. In the month of September — that’s less than 2 weeks away! — I’m offering you the opportunity to begin or fine-tune your self care and build your self care toolbox. I’m offering a series of articles that you can get right in your email inbox that I hope will inspire and encourage you to resist the temptation of perpetual productivity and create a space in your life for breathing room. I’ll also talk about how my self care practice has blessed me and helped me become a better writer, a better wife, and a better mom. Plus, just for signing up, you’ll receive a Self Care September calendar that includes one self care activity for every day of the month. Try these activities to see if you can benefit from adding them to your own practice.
Don’t allow the speed of life to take away your opportunity to live intentionally and mindfully. By committing to daily self care for an entire month you will gain the breathing room to live by faith, to more clearly see God’s blessings in your life, and to truly hear His call to rest. Sign up and stay tuned.