Once upon a time, a middle-aged woman took a break from work to rest and assess some health issues. For six months, she barely worked at all. Instead, she cultivated friendships, attended Bible study, exercised, read, wrote, and rested. For another six months, she gradually eased back into the working world. Through trial and error she learned what amount of work was enough and what was too much.
Or did she?
I’m entering my third year here at the little house by the river. That first fall I had so much time on my hands! My house was so clean and uncluttered! I prepared meals fairly regularly. I took time for coffee and lunches with friends. I traveled to see family regularly. I exercised several days a week. I started most days with Bible study and blogging. It was a lovely season.
I’ll admit I was a little bored.
I’m not bored any more.
My new challenge is to offer myself grace when my house is cluttered and in need of a deep cleaning, when my husband and I have to scrounge through the fridge to find leftovers — again, when I turn down one more offer to meet a friend for coffee, when it’s been
weeks months since I’ve seen some of my family, when I miss a full week of exercise, or when I’ve failed to make time for daily Bible study and prayer. Because, honestly, this has become the norm for the moment.
I know it’s just a moment. I agreed to a heavier course load for a semester — not forever. We are taking two international trips in the next four months, but then we probably won’t go anywhere again for years! It’s a season, just like many other seasons we have weathered. It’s just for a moment, but in the moments, it feels overwhelming.
So, instead of taking time to pause, reflect, and pray, I spend those moments online ordering travel pillows and earplugs. In place of going to the gym, I fit in an appointment for immunizations. Rather than meeting friends for coffee, I spend the morning grading papers and preparing for the next class. When I could take a day trip to visit family, I find myself on the couch recovering from another hectic week.
It’s a season, I tell myself. Yet life is made up of seasons, is it not? Do I wait for the next season, when I’ll presumably have more time, to fit in the disciplines and pleasures I love so well? Or do I adapt so that I can taste them even in this season?
Yes, that was a rhetorical question.
I’m in the sixth week of this semester. So far — yes, it’s Tuesday — I’ve managed to start my week off with worship, connections at church, a completed stack, time with my husband, a couple of prepared meals, an hour of Pilates, a physical therapy session, and, this morning, an hour of Bible study, reflection, prayer, and blogging. Ahhhh. Now, see, isn’t that lovely? Why don’t I keep this rhythm every day? Every week?
Well, because I am human. I am bound to be buried in the to-dos very shortly. After all, I am not only planning for tomorrow’s classes and grading yesterday’s papers, I am also preparing my students for the fact that I will be gone for a week. As if that weren’t enough, I’ve also planned to see seven private students this week and travel to see our granddaughter this weekend.
As my husband would say, “Every bit of it is good stuff!” I love being in the classroom! I love reading student writing! Watching students learn is what feeds me! And, certainly, squishing that little granddaughter is second to no other activity in my life!
Yet, I remind myself, if I want to be able to do all of the stuff that I love, I must take time to oxygenate myself first. I can’t be an effective wife, mother, friend, or teacher, if I let myself get completely depleted. And that’s what happens when I neglect my personal disciplines and my social interactions. Let’s be honest — the messy house isn’t gonna kill anyone. And, truly, there’s enough cereal and chunky soup in the kitchen; no one is going to starve.
I’m learning, guys. Something has to give. If I want to teach more and — gasp — travel, I’ve got to shift my expectations of myself. In the past, I’ve sacrificed self-care in order to maintain an orderly house and the appearance that all is well. What I’m learning is that being truly well is less about appearances and more about my daily disciplines and meaningful connections.
Hang in there with me folks, I’m shifting gears and trying to enjoy the journey.
I Timothy 4:8