I sat at my desk with a line of anxious students all wanting their current assignment checked off before the end of the day. The chatter in the room was beginning to rise as the clocked ticked closer to three ‘o clock. You could nearly feel their antsy anticipation to jump out of their seats and beeline for the door the moment the bell rang. Finally, my students filed out my door, more like a herd of elephants trying to squeeze down a playground slide instead of the orderly fashion I had given up on after their return from spring break. I slumped down in my chair to take a quick sigh only to return to my to do list. I had to leave in 15 minutes and I still needed to tidy up my room, wash the whiteboards and set up the calendar and lessons for tomorrow. I had grading to organize and paperwork to drop off at the office, copies to get made before the morning and several parents to call. I rushed out the door and jumped into my car. Downing what little coffee I had left, pulling out a granola bar and plugging in the Waltz of the Flowers music from the Nutcracker. I had an evening full of ballet classes to teach that started in 30 minutes and I needed to review their choreography on my drive over (not something I would recommend doing while driving!) As I walked into the studio the girls were gathered around their lockers chatting and working on homework. I plugged in my playlist and began class at the barre. Three hours later, sweaty and starving, I made my way to my car and headed home for the evening. Now 8:30 in the evening I still had a dinner to cook for me and my husband, some laundry to fold, papers to grade and my poor feet were in need of some serious TLC. I fumbled into bed around 11:30 in time to do it all again tomorrow…
While I loved both of my jobs, I didn’t love my life, my lack of time and the way that I felt. I have shared how the Lord drew me into a season of Sabbath and invited me to let go of all the things I had on my plate in my previous post (When God Sat On Me). I shared how important it is to leave margin in our lives and to lean into God’s rest. But as God has slowly begun to show me what this looks like in my life I wanted to share some practical ideas that may help you in your journey.
KNOWING WHEN IT’S TOO MUCH
One of the first steps to finding a simpler, fuller life is to admit that some things need to change. These won’t be easy changes and some may even be painful. Walking away from my classroom was extremely hard and only through God’s providence was I able to do it. If you have a running list in your head of things you wish you could be doing in your life and you carry around a constant sense of guilt over time not spent on things you know are important, then you have too much on your plate. You may feel that you don’t have a choice, but let me just say that is not true. You always have a choice where to spend your time and energy. You may not have the choices that you want in front of you, but you do indeed have a choice.
KNOWING WHAT IT WILL COST
Giving up my job as a teacher meant that we had to make some big financial adjustments. Choosing to pursue a life that is so counter cultural to our modern society doesn’t come cheap. But we don’t want a cheap life, we want the life that Christ promises a life abundant and overflowing. In order to do that we have to be willing to give up money, job or social status, worldly titles or satisfaction, in order to have time and energy to spend on Him and in His word. Only then will we be truly satisfied.
SETTING YOUR PRIORITIES
This one is deceiving. When I sat down to write down my priorities they flew onto the page… God, family, friends, work, etc. But when I looked at the way I spent my time and money they were in a very different order. I knew what they were supposed to be, but my life did not mirror those things. This requires you to be brutally honest with yourself and to allow God to show you the condition of your life. Write out where the majority of your time and thoughts are going each day and it will be pretty easy to see what your priorities are. Then write down what you want them to be. Take your time on this, pray about it, marinate on it… this is your chance to align the things in your life with what God wants for you!
ONE CAREER, ONE COMMUNITY, ONE COMMITMENT
Now comes the hard part… looking at everything you have going on in your life divide them into these three categories: career, community, commitment. We often don’t even realize how much we have on our plates until we start to write it all down. So do it! Write it all down. Pray over each thing on your list and filter them through your priorities. Is this thing in my life helping me in keeping my priorities? If not… it HAS to go. I know it’s painful, but it must be cut.
One career… I know it is scary to let go of that second job, but we must remember that God is our provider, not ourselves. We are much happier on our one salary right now than we ever were on two. I know that everyone’s situation is different and you may need to have that extra job to make ends meet, just make sure that you have it because it is the work that God has provided for you and not because you feel you need it in order to keep up with the Jones’. Whatever your situation looks like just make sure your career stays a career. Don’t let it seep into other areas of your life. For most of us, this may require a lot of discipline to let things go and leave the office at a reasonable hour. One of the best changes I ever made when I was teaching was to never take grading home. At times it seemed like it was imperative that I do, but I kept to my plan to leave school at school and it made a huge difference. And you know what… somehow my grading always got done.
One community… You may feel much better when you have three groups of friends and five bible studies that you attend throughout the week. But I promise you that none of them are getting the best of you, and it is impossible to create deep meaningful relationships with people when you have so many communities you are invested in. Furthermore, if you are the person who has zero communities because you have had no time, it’s time to get one! The Bible reminds us it is crucial to have people to do life with. We are a part of a greater body of believers and will not last long on our own.
One commitment… This is where it gets very gray. A commitment is anything that you have pledged your time to on a regular basis that does not fall into normal work hours at your job or normal involvement in a community. That big volunteer job at church, extra projects at work, the jogging club you run with, the ministry you lead, the soccer team your son is on, your book club, your aging parent, your basket weaving class… you get the point. And I’m serious when I mean ONE commitment. I know, you are saying, “Aubrey you don’t understand, you don’t have kids, or aging parents, or a taxing career.” Well, let me qualify this by saying that this idea initially came from a mother of four that I met doing volunteer work together for Compassion. She homeschools and volunteers with Compassion while managing her family of six. But she had very clear boundaries. She and her husband moved out of the city to find a quieter life, she homeschools her kids so that as a family they have more time to do other things. Her children take turns doing sports every other year and they make the decision as a family, but most of their physical activities they do together. They took a huge pay cut in order to live on one income, including moving to a smaller town and into a smaller house. The one commitment she chose was to volunteer with Compassion a few times a year. In sharing her lifestyle choices with me she was so very passionate about encouraging others to guard their family and their time. She could not say enough of the joy and growth that the changes had brought to her kids and her marriage. So, while I may not understand your exact situation, God does. And He never wanted us to live in such a way, otherwise, why would He have said…
“‘Be still [cease striving] and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!’ The LORD of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our fortress” ~Psalm 46:10-11 (ESV)
The Message paraphrase puts it like this…
“‘Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at me, your High God, above politics, above everything.’ Jacob-wrestling God fights for us, God-of-Angel-Armies protects us.”
I find this so encouraging and the more I have begun to live this way the more I have found the freedom offered in Christ. Freedom from obligations to things of this world, freedom from anxiety and worry, from burn out and fatigue, from feelings of failure and inadequacy, freedom from materialism and the love of money, and from the many things that my culture tells me I need to be… and that is my prayer for you too!
Lord, let us be game changers and culture shakers, people who stand out in a crowd not because of our own significance but because of yours. Let us not look to our own understanding, but rather acknowledge you in all we do. Break our hearts free from the chains forged by our societies expectations and heal us from the pain we have caused by subjecting our lives to such oppression. Help us to take ownership of our choices, allow us to see the clear picture of our lives and the allegiances of our heart. Turn our eyes to you that we may turn our whole lives to gaze upon your beauty.