I started to issue a Weekly Challenge this week, but decided there was a more important topic at hand. Don’t worry; the challenge will come next week. But before we get started on that, we need to take an assessment, if you will, of where we (you and me) are at in our lives in general.
As I sat here and pondered what to write about today, so many thoughts and ideas went running through my head. I am trying to not repeat myself, but some topics need to be revisited. And some are a little scary to approach. I never want to offend anyone by implying that what they are doing is wrong in any way or that it’s a “my way or the highway” kind of thing. So if something I write ever comes across that way, please let me know. I may get on my soapbox now and then, but I don’t want to stay there so long that I run people off.
Anyway, I finally decided on balance…that wonderful place that is somewhere between complete chaos and total perfection. When I began this blog, my goal was – and still is – to help you find balance in your life…in all areas of your life. Husband. Kids. Work. Volunteering. Church. Activities. All of these have a place in our lives, but it’s so easy to get overwhelmed and feel like we are spinning plates in the air and at any moment they could all fall and shatter…taking our hearts, our self-esteem, and our tempers with them.
Take some time this week to think – REALLY THINK – about what matters most to you right now at this stage in your life. Make a list. Really. Like…on paper. Then start to prioritize those things. Are there things that can go? Are there things that need more attention? Once you have your list, determine which five to ten things matter the very most to you. And I hope that they weren’t actually “things.” Your stuff will not help you find balance. Knowing your priorities in life and basing your decisions on them is the key to balance.
Here are my top eight things:
1. My relationship with God
2. My relationship with my husband and children
3. My relationship with the rest of my family
4. My friendships
6. My church (including my job there)
7. Health and exercise
8. Regular and intentional rest
“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” – Stephen Covey
No one wants to live in complete chaos all the time, though I have met some people who seem to thrive on chaos and drama. I don’t hang around with those people because they make me tired. And sad. Having kids in a house is drama enough (and, no, drama is not limited to teenagers). No one needs other people’s drama creeping into their homes and sucking the joy out of it. And it can happen…little by little so you don’t even notice. Then one day you wake up and you are smack dab in the middle of someone else’s drama. (“Smack dab” – a Southerner’s way of saying you are right in the middle of it, mister!) Do not let this happen to you. Choose your friends wisely.
Chaos can come in many forms. It could be a messy house where the people who live there spend half their time looking for misplaced things and the rest of their time blaming each other for the mess. It could be a calendar or schedule so jam-packed with activities, meetings, and appointments that you only see your family in the car travelling between those activities and appointments. There are no real conversations because you’re scarfing down fast food from the drive-through you swing by on your way to wherever it is you’re going. So many things can contribute to chaos: caring for young children; caring for aging parents; working extra hours; spending weekends catching up on household chores and not getting rest. And kids…terrible twos, teenagers, adult children still at home. Did I mention those already? The list is probably endless.
On the other end of the spectrum is perfection. Or perfectionists, I should say. Their houses are always spotless. Their kids are always spotless. They make it from Point A to Point B to Point C and are never, ever late. They have jobs at which they seem to excel. They take extravagant vacations. They teach Sunday School and sing in the choir. They drive expensive vehicles and have all the latest gadgets. So what’s the problem? I’m just guessing but I am basing my guess on my own personal experience here. Not that I’ve ever driven an expensive vehicle or have had all the latest gadgets. And Disney World is about as extravagant as I get. But I’ve done the perfect house, long hours on the job, busy stuff. So what do you not see when you look at this “perfect” family? You don’t see the credit card bills. Or the kids’ faces when you drop them at daycare at 7:00 in the morning so you can get to work early and get a head start on your day. (My daughter just recently told me how she felt abandoned when I left her at daycare every morning. Broke. My. Heart.) You don’t see how tired mom looks when she literally falls into bed at night. You don’t see her mountain of laundry because she keeps it hidden. You don’t see the cracks in the marriage because she and her husband are both so stressed from trying to keep up with the Jones’ that they don’t keep up with one another any more. (Apologies to anyone out there whose last name is Jones. Not saying it’s you.)
“Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people they don’t like.” – Will Rogers
So where is that balance? Where do we find contentment we so long for? It’s located about halfway between these two extremes. Where there is balance, you’ll find routines. Routines aren’t boring. They’re life savers. You’ll find schedules for household chores. You’ll find kids who participate in one outside activity at any given time, not three or four. There are weekends spent relaxing or doing fun things instead of ten loads of laundry. There are fewer extravagant things because balanced people live within their means. You’ll find calendars that have empty places on them – beautiful, empty places. You’ll find people who can say the word “no” and not feel guilty about it. (Some of you need to practice that word. It’s really easy to pronounce and it gets easier to say…even to your children.)
The definition of contentment is “satisfaction; ease of mind.” It’s the place where you find yourself smiling more often than you frown. You have time and energy to devote to your family in the evenings. You have time to sit and read and enjoy a cup of coffee because there aren’t ten pressing things that have to get done. Like now! You have an undeniable sense of peace in yourself because you know you’ve found your “sweet spot” in life. You may not be travelling to Europe. You may not be driving a fancy car. You may not have the most updated cell phone with all its bells and whistles. (I, for one, could probably never understand how to work all the bells and whistles anyway.) Your mind is at ease…it isn’t in a constant state of busyness and worry. Other people might actually enjoy being around you. You might enjoy being around them.
If you haven’t yet written down your top 5-10 motivators – the things that matter most – do it now. Physically write it on a piece of paper. Put it where you can see it. (If there’s something on that list that shouldn’t be on it, consider how to get it off of there. Pray about it and then take steps to remove it. Replace it with something that really matters.) Don’t miss out on the great things in life because you are too busy doing the good things. (Again, the word is “no.”) The things on your calendar should “fall under” one of the things on your list. If not, well….
…start making decisions – big and small – based on that list. Remember that things that don’t fit in with the things on your list likely don’t belong on your calendar. Remember that it’s alright to say “no” to people. Say it often. Begin to clear your calendar of unnecessary BUSYness. Don’t say “yes” to things just so you can say you have a busy schedule. Some people seem to think that having a busy and packed schedule is some sort of badge of honor. It’s not. They say things like, “I’ll have to get back to you. I have to check my schedule. I’m so busy this week.” Sorry to burst your bubble if you’re one of them. Joy and contentment…those are real badges of honor. Those say, “My life is under control. My house is under control. My kids are happy. My husband is happy. I have my priorities in order and I’m living them out.” That’s a badge I’d gladly wear.
The dictionary defines balance as “mental steadiness or emotional stability; habit of calm behavior, judgment, etc.” Steadiness. Stability. Calm. That’s where you want to be. If you aren’t there yet, I hope that through weekly challenges that will help you bring physical order into your physical chaos, encouraging you to remove things from your calendars that don’t benefit you in your top areas on your list, and – maybe most importantly – carving out some quiet time every day JUST FOR YOU can help you get there. And, yes, it IS okay to take a few minutes for yourself everyday. It’s not selfish. It sanity-saving.
You’ll really like that contented place. Good times are had there. Blessings abound there. If you’re on the path now, I’m excited to see you headed that way. If you’re still wavering about simplifying your life, I am here to encourage you to get on board. Before it’s too late. The time to enjoy life is now!