There is always more to do.
I’ll never forget talking with Helana, a foreign-exchange student from Honduras. She was commenting on how students in the USA have so many after-school activities. From sports to drama clubs to debate teams, she marveled at it all. I smiled, “Yes, there are many great opportunities here!” She looked at me like I was crazy. “Why on earth would anyone want to do those things? Why would anyone give up spending their evenings with their family? Some families here don’t even eat dinner together!”
I didn’t have an answer for her.
In 2004, American psychologist Barry Schwartz shocked the Western world with the ground-breaking book, “The Paradox of Choice- Why More is Less.” In it, Schwartz argued that having too many choices increases people’s stress and unhappiness.
I get that. I have way too many choices for my time. A few years ago, I noticed an unhealthy trend: no matter how I chose to spend my time, I always felt like I should be doing something else. If I was at work, I’d feel guilty about not spending more time with my kids. If I was with my kids, I’d think about all the work I should be doing. If I was exercising, I’d think about house chores that needed to be done. If I was doing house chores, I’d think about people’s messages that I needed to return. No matter what I was doing, I always felt pressure that I needed to be doing something else.
The tyranny of having untold options of what I could do kept me from enjoying the present thing I was doing. It wasn’t a fun way to live. So I’d revise my schedule again, and again, and again – always striving to find that perfect balance.
Yet trying to squeeze more productivity out of a 24-hour schedule left me uninspired. The new schedule always felt rigid and constricting. After many failed schedules, I finally prayed, “Lord, show me the rhythm You want me to have.” I was tired of guilt for not being able to run at the hectic pace of others. God created me; He knew what kind of rhythm I was wired for. So I programmed that one-sentence prayer into my phone & read it everyday.
Over the course of three years, God slowly showed me a rhythm of life that nourished my soul. He showed me consolation, what things caused me the most joy and peace. He also showed me desolation, what things caused me the most stress.
I was often surprised. Since I’m not a great cook, I always assumed hospitality was beyond me. Turns out I’m pretty good at throwing a party when other people bring the food! Being an introvert, I was shocked at how I love the energy of having a packed-out home full of friends. But mostly, my husband and I love how hosting fosters friendships and a deeper sense of community. So we began hosting a once-a-month party for as many local friends as we can cram into our home.
I learned that I loved taking walks in the fall, and bike rides in the spring and summer. I learned that I loved gardening. To be honest, the last fifteen years I haven’t spent a ton of time outside because my allergies were so bad. And yes, I’ve tried pretty much every allergy medicine known to man. But as I discovered how being in nature reduces my stress & helps me listen to God, my allergies increasingly disappeared.
I learned that there is one retreat and one leadership conference that I love going to every year. They inspire me, equip me, challenge me, and refresh me. So I committed to go every year.
I learned that I love volunteering one day a week in my kids’ classrooms. After days of working on a computer & problem-solving in meetings, there is something wonderfully refreshing about the simplicity of copying papers, cutting out crafts, practicing elementary math, and reading with kids.
I learned that some people who I dearly loved, were desolation to me. They just took and took, and sapped all my emotional energy. I learned to set boundaries and distance myself from them.
I learned that I love getting up at 5:30 AM. This is absolutely ridiculous because all my life, this night owl has struggled to get up at 7:30 AM (or 8:00…or 8:30…). But now I wake up wide-eyed at 5:30 AM. I’ve traded two hours of pointless TV vegging at night, for two hours of devotions, reflection, and exercising in the morning. Love It! Of course, I’ve tried to switch to an earlier wakeup time about a gazillion times in the past, but always failed. What’s the difference now? Praying every day for three years, “God, show me the rhythm You want me to have!”
I learned how to truly rest on my Sabbath day. My Sabbath usually was packed with busyness: church, chores, errands, kids activities & social engagements. After studying more about Sabbath, I became convicted that having a busy Sabbath was a sinful oxymoron. The Hebrew word “Sabbath” literally means “to cease and rest”! It took a year to rearrange schedules so our whole family could rest on Sabbath together…and be bored out of our minds! It took another four months to figure out how to enjoy Sabbath. Now Sabbath is everyone’s favorite day. For my kids, Sabbath is the day that mom and dad do no work, but instead play with them. We play games, have tickle & pillow fights, go on bike rides, read books together, and watch favorite movies or sporting events. For my husband and I, Sabbath is the day free from the pressure to be productive. It is the day when we wake up & find our schedule mostly empty. We go to church and then the rest of the day is free for spontaneity, which is great for our romantic life!
As I learned these things, a natural rhythm emerged. Apart from Sabbath, I don’t propose my new rhythm is for everyone – I think it is unique to how God wired me. It fits my temperament, my desires, my gifts, my life purpose. It has been so freeing to live by a flexible rhythm specifically designed for me!
So while you can’t copy my rhythm, you can copy my prayer: “Lord, show me the rhythm You want me to have.” Don’t expect dramatic changes all at once. God will answer, but the change will mostly likely occur at a gradual pace you can adapt to. You will find yourself drawn to certain things, and away from others. Most importantly, you will find your joy, peace, and contentment increase as you enjoy the abundant life Christ died to give you!