Q: I hear people use the term “self-care” all the time, but what does it really mean?
A: When we are practicing self-care we are engaging or disengaging in ways that are truly restorative to mind, body, and spirit. Often people confuse self-comfort (sometimes called self-soothing) with self-care and wonder why they are not refreshed after an evening spent binge-watching Netflix.
The true test of whether something is contributing to your self-care is the outcome: does this activity (or lack of activity) provide genuine rejuvenation? How do you feel during and after the activity? Self-care will lower stress levels and give back energy, focus, productivity, and emotional reserves. Many self-comfort activities may not exacerbate stress, but they act more as numbing agents than genuinely restful activities. They may be a type of blissful avoidance, but they will keep you feeling stuck or depleted if what you really need is self-care. In that sense, self-comfort is not a worthy substitute despite the fact that many people confuse these distinctions by using the terms interchangeably.
Foundational self-care revolves around eating nutritionally healthy food, getting adequate sleep, and moving your body. Neglect in these areas will certainly undermine your wellness, but self-care involves more than just meeting those basic needs. Common self-care practices include time in nature, prayer, meditation, journalling, meaningful connection with others, and/or artistic or creative pursuits. Therapy is often an integral part of a self-care regimen because it allows space for supported emotional processing and for thoughtful reflection. Psychotherapy nurtures healthy neurochemical connections in the brain and can alleviate the effects of stress and trauma. Therapy can help individuals establish and meet goals for improving the quality of their lives; often, therapeutic and interpersonal goals are dependent on an effective and intentional self-care plan.
While there is absolutely a place for self-comfort, – who doesn’t need a few episodes of Gilmore Girls and some Häagen-Dazs once in a while? – it is self-care that is essential to holistic wellbeing. Practicing authentic self-care is one of the best protective and restorative factors in overall health.
For more information on Sarah’s services as a Registered Psychotherapist or to send YOUR question for consideration in the next column, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you already knew that, chances are you grew up in a Catholic home or are affiliated in some way with a Protestant church that follows the liturgical calendar.
I’m not Catholic and I don’t attend such a church but I did attend an Ash Wednesday mass at a local Catholic church today. For many, this service is a normal spiritual practice to usher in the season of Lent; for me, it was new and intriguing and I sat quietly in my pew soaking it all in (especially the stained glass).
I have never attended a formal mass and so it felt a bit like an initiation into a ritual that is foreign to me. Except that it’s not. Not really. In the last few years I have been drawn to the contemplative traditions and more traditional spiritual practices and so I have already been practicing Lent. And I have attended services of one kind or another almost every Sunday of my life. But the idea of marking the start of this season of reflection and reorientation with ashes seemed fresh and profound and I wanted to explore it further. I felt compelled not to let this Wednesday day pass without due acknowledgement. So, I showed up and opened up to this experience.
“Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return.”
These are the words pronounced over each congregant as she receives ashes which are gently placed on her forehead in the sign of a cross by an elder in the church. This moment is embedded in a liturgy of song, prayer, and scripture which reflects on the importance of remembering our humanity and the fact that our lives are but a vapour (James 4:14).
Some might say that reflecting on one’s mortality is a depressing way to spend a lunch hour! Not to mention the confusion about why someone would willingly enter into a melancholy season of deprivation typically marked with giving up chocolate, caffeine, or – God forbid – social media!
But Lent is actually a season of joy! It is a time that marks the goodness of God to us in that we are offered a loving reminder to draw close again. To be set free again. To become dis-entangled with the weeds that have overgrown and smothered our lives. To come face to face with our idols and to cast them off. To make space again for the Holy Spirit to move and restore our dry bones.
Lent is a 40-day journey throughout which we can reaffirm and re-experience our needs being met fully in God. We don’t have to depend our fragile and fragmented selves to make us worthy of that divine gift. We don’t have to image manage or perform to gain our belovedness. We can lay down our anxiety and rest in the shelter of His wings where we are secure. We can relinquish our need for power and trust in the sovereignty of our Saviour to dissolve our illusion of control.
In this season of fasting and prayer, we are reminded that we need deliverance from a life of worldly passions and when we release our grasp on these things we will not be left wanting. We are not deprived. We are filled to overflowing with God. We have all that we need and this abundance leads to generosity.
When we reflect on our dusty origins we are reminded that Creator God forms us and His breath – the Holy Spirit – re-vitalizes us and brings us back into the land of the living.
“The Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Genesis 2:7).
Thus remembering that each life is but a breath (Job 7:7) is a healthy practice. Acknowledging that we came from dust and will return to dust grounds us.
My last blogpost was published on September 5th, 2015 (wow) and so much has happened in my life since that point that it is hard to even know where to begin as I sit to bring my thoughts back to the page. But, to have a new beginning, you have to start somewhere and so I am choosing to show up and turn over a new leaf.
In June of 2015, I made the bold and somewhat unconventional decision to retire from my 15-year career as a public high school teacher to pursue my Masters in Counselling Psychology with the goal of building a private psychotherapy practice. I called this my #midlifeopportunity because it came on the eve of my 40th birthday. This major shift in direction certainly accounts for much of my absence on the blog. Primarily because completing my Masters in a compressed timeframe meant reading and writing copious pages and that necessary focus used up every ounce of my thinking and writing energy. But that formal academic writing left a vacancy for me. I missed being here. I missed the creativity. I missed the reflection. I missed the part of me that found expression through writing freely.
Today, I am returning to this space after having studied, researched, learned, developed, and ultimately graduated and achieved all the requirements to become a fully licensed Registered Psychotherapist. For now, suffice it to say that it was quite a journey, fraught with many challenges to overcome and joys to celebrate. It is with a great sense of accomplishment that I look back on the last three and a half years and realize how my life has changed for the better.
As a part of fully conceptualizing my practice, I have renamed it (and, consequently, this blog), “A New Leaf”. This name encompasses so much about what this next chapter in my life represents both professionally and personally. Professionally, I am committed to offering counselling services that help individuals and couples envision and implement a new way of living that brings greater integration and health. Personally, I realize that I have turned over a new leaf and am showing up to a life that, until recently, I had not fully imagined for myself and my family. From a writing perspective, I am reconnecting with this passion and pleasure as part of my own new leaf journey. I believe in the power and potential of a blank page and know that each day – each moment – is a fresh opportunity to write a good story.
I know that writing is good for my soul. I know I need it to be part of my life again in a more consistent and thoughtful way. So, I intend to make space to re-prioritize it and to see how it shapes and brings clarity to my life again. I hope you will visit from time to time and be encouraged or inspired by what you find.
I’m not much for new year’s resolutions (I am into the #oneword movement – more on that later) but I do think a changing calendar naturally invites us to reflect on our past and look into our future. Perhaps you are thinking about a fresh start? Do you have a #newleafpractice? Can you identify one thing that helps you take a step towards greater wholeness in your life? How can you begin (or return to) something that feels fresh and invigorating even today? Comment below and let me know how you are turning over a new leaf.
As we wrap up another summer of freckles, sandy toes, and ice cream cones what wisdom can we take with us from our lazy days of reflection by the lake? Here are a few lessons that we learned (or remembered) this year at the cottage:
Less is more. If we can fit 6 people and all that we need to live for 3 weeks into a mini van we must have too much stuff at home. All the fussing about with our wardrobes and our decorations and our kitchen gadgets and, yes, even our bookshelves can be a distraction from the things that matter most (which are actually not things at all). Living simply allows us to be fully being present in the moments of our lives. Consider the true cost of the stuff you bring into your homes in terms of the time and energy it will sap from other worthy endeavours.
Water IS therapeutic. It turns out that the inner calm you derive from the sound of crashing waves on the shoreline physiologically and psychologically relieves your stress. We are more at rest when water surrounds us with its healing powers. Water also reminds us of the living water that is promised through Christ in Scripture and this elemental connection is no coincidence. As Canadians, we are blessed with beautiful waterscape that we shouldn’t take for granted as we cultivate #bluemind.
You are doing too much laundry. Although this may also be a positive byproduct of the limited options of a simple wardrobe (see #1), we manage to do very little laundry with limited cottage facilities and somehow we still have clean clothes. I don’t know about your kids but mine have thought on occasion that cleaning up their room meant putting every article of clothing that was on the floor into the laundry basket. In response to this sweeping and unnecessary overload of the laundry basket we instituted a new rule: unless something is stinky or stained it can be worn again. (Underwear and socks are, of course, always laundered – without inspecting stink or stains!) At the cottage, this rule is diligently followed; at home, it is a work-in-progress.
Wasting time is not a waste of time. My daughter recently purchased a shirt that reads, “I waste my time wisely” – isn’t that a great slogan? An extended sabbatical is a wonderful respite from the daily grind but we can’t always wait for a vacation to take a rest. Coming home to a Sabbath-rhythm is essential. Just be sure to waste your time wisely by filling it with the things that rejuvenate your soul.
Boredom fuels creativity. When my kids use the b-word I remind them that I am not their entertainment director and that boredom is a gift for their imaginations. I can’t remember the last time I was truly bored but I long for boredom because it is in those moments where we pause to be still that we open ourselves up to new burst of creativity. At the cottage, songs were composed and stories were written as the kids mined the beauty from the boredom. Just today my “bored” kids decided to set up a comic book studio, assigning appropriate roles to all siblings based on age and natural talent. I would not have come up with that idea as entertainment director, I assure you, and if I had rushed in with another suggestion, they would have missed out. And this is not just about children; each of us needs a chance to be bored in order to fuel our creative genius.
Art is imitation. When an artist attempts to capture the beauty of a landscape s/he is first inspired by the Creator’s canvas. Even the photos I took at the lake did not begin to capture the grandeur of the vibrant double rainbow or the vast starry sky – the scenes that took my breath away. Beauty and wonder surround us, no matter where we are. Look for it. Revel in it. And let even the most creative imitations remind you of the original artist.
Even rainy days are full of joy. The sound of rain on the rooftop or droplets dripping from heavy-laden leaves are further examples of #bluemind. But beyond that, on rainy days, or snow days, or any other days that the weather drives us indoors we have a valid excuse to stay in, to stay put, and to readjust our agendas. These days permit freedom from the pressure to “get out there” and provide opportunities to “get in there”. Instead of seeing inclement weather as a spoiler of great plans, choose to see it as an unexpected opportunity for a different kind of day, one that can be full of the joys of reading and reflection.
There is a song in the stillness. There is so much noise around and within us every day that we can’t enter into the quiet with much ease at all. On those rare occasions that we manage to hush the noise we’ll find that there are still sounds in the silence. A bird’s song, rustling grasses, and lapping waves -natural music that is muted by the usual cacophony – are rediscovered when our ears are tuned in. Life is so much richer when we rediscover the still small voice in the wind and can finally hear it again.
A different view offers a different perspective. When we take ourselves away from the things that we typically look at we begin to see our circumstances in a new light. There is something real and honest in our need to get away to regain perspective; a different visual space will promote a different mental space. Frequent breaks from our usual surroundings will freshen our outlook and help us to see things anew.
Families who play together stay together. My favourite moment in our entire vacation was the spontaneous outburst of the Covey a cappella rendition of Celebration – complete with back-up vocals and multiple harmonies. Though our Dutch Blitz game was temporarily interrupted by this flash mob, a fun-loving spirit that we had been searching to reclaim was revived by its energy. The fam jam on the porch overlooking the lake fostered the same closeness; banjos, guitars, vocals and a stack of chord sheets will set the stage for memories that last a lifetime. Play – games, music, sports – together and you’ll strengthen the ties that bind.
Rent is not a four-letter word. Too often we (in North American Society) see rental options as “throwing our money away”. We choose to rent our cottage and many people have questioned us in this decision; yet, it makes all the sense in the world to us. It functions like an all-expenses-paid family vacation: we budget a set amount and show up to relax and enjoy it. When you own a property you cannot get away from the obligations to furnish, maintain and fix. We go away to get away from all those obligations at home. Why would we want to double our to-do list at a time in our lives when keeping one lawn cut is a challenge? Rental options can provide a wonderful level of freedom that ownership does not. Besides, even the things we think we own are only borrowed for a time; they’ll all go back in the box.
Second breakfast is as important as first breakfast. Experts have always encouraged us to eat a healthy breakfast to start your day properly. But we really don’t hear enough about second breakfast. At the cottage, the day really doesn’t start with much activity until after second breakfast and this seems like a habit worth bringing home. Another expert on living well, J.R.R. Tolkien, put it this way: “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”
How did your adventures teach you about life this summer? What did you learn (or remember) that you want to apply at home?
Last year, I spent most of my – precious little – reflection time working on a Sanity Manifesto to identify key aspects of my life that need attention and focus. (I recently used Wordle.net to create a lovely visual collage of it. Incidently, if anyone knows how to get a downloadable digital copy of these lovely word clouds, please share your wisdom in the comments below. Suggestions for other fun apps or websites that will create such things are also most welcome.)
As part of my #40×40 project, I’m adding 10 more statements of intention to the 30 I previously crafted to create my #40×40 Manifesto. Here are the next 9 to bring me to a grand total of 39.
I’m saving #40 to see how the Spirit moves in the next year.
1. No guilt in life no fear in death. The truth is, I live under the weight of false guilt and irrational fear far too much of the time. I’m learning that God has a different plan for how I ought to live as His beloved child: forgiven and free of fear. This is the power of Christ in me.
2. For such a time as this. This is Queen Esther’s version of “bloom where you are planted”. Sometimes I forget that the positions and roles I have are at the centre of divinely ordained spheres of influence. Sometimes – though God doesn’t need me to accomplish His purposes – He gives me the privilege of bringing His voice into the conversation and the opportunity to be a part of his Divine Conspiracy.
3. Take it off the table. I have been exploring the importance of abstinence disciplines (fasting, solitude, silence, simplicity, frugality) as they are often neglected in the Christian life. For the sake of growth and margin, I am learning that it is liberating to take things off the table, to abstain from certain things – even if it is just for a time – to jolt me from my complacency. For example, for Lent this year, I am fasting from bread and wine and, recently, I have been contemplating what I can do – or NOT do – to break the hold that consumerism has on me. More on that in subsequent posts, I suspect.
4. Opt out to buy in. I’m learning that releasing some things I am holding onto too tightly will allow me to open my arms again to embrace the things that really matter. Instead of being worried about missing out, I’m opting out of lesser things to buy into joy. #jomo
5. There are no perfect decisions. Lisa Terkeurst’s, The Best Yes, has offered some timely wisdom in my life of analysis paralysis and people-pleasing. I am learning to make “wise decisions in the midst of endless demands”, as her subtitle encourages. I’m learning that sometimes I just need to choose and not be worried about it being the perfect choice because “not making a decision is actually a decision. It is the decision to stay the same.”
6. Live like an overcomer. I often live defeated, as if I have no choice about my behaviour. I don’t feel much like a new creation. However, when I succumb to this temptation, I am believing a lie. We have been promised that old things have passed away and that the power of the Holy Spirit is within us to give us hope. So I do NOT need to live as a slave to my weaknesses, I’m more than a conqueror. Lord, give me strength to live the overcomer life.
7. Work the slight edge. I believe I have dangerously underestimated the impact of small steps in the wrong direction. Though it may seem like those little choices don’t add up in the short-term, in the long-term small increments add up to large outcomes in the direction of your choices. As my friend Bob Wiley would say, “if you’re baby-stepping, you’re doing the work!” The slight edge offers encouragement to those of us who might be afraid we are incapable of making big changes because the big decisions seem overwhelming.
8. Be thrifty. There are many good reasons to shop at second-hand or consignment stores, not the least of which involve the stewardship of environmental and financial resources and the lessening of one’s slavery footprint. (I am saddened by the estimate of how many slaves work to support my lifestyle and I want this to change. Determine your own footprint by answering the survey here.) Most of my house is furnished and decorated with free or thrifted hand-me-downs (or salvaged items on their way to the dump). With very few exceptions, my living room is decorated with someone else’s cast off items and I find it quite warm and inviting, don’t you? The truth is, I don’t have to spend what I often think I have to spend and I want to remember that new is overrated.
9. 65, stay alive. At Queen’s, we had this slogan to remind us to keep our priorities in check and not let school work steal our lives away; as long as we maintained a 65% average, we could stay in our programs and on track, academically. Giving 110% is basic over-spending in the energy department and it is not a sustainable plan if I want my relationships to have priority. Andy Stanley’s small but mighty book, Choosing to Cheat: Who Wins When Family and Work Collide?, offers important wisdom to those of us who need to learn to cheat properly. Work is not the place to spend myself. 65% is reasonable. 65% is good. 65% is enough.
So, those are the updates as I head into my 40th year.
Can you relate? Any suggestions for my 40th intention? What are some of the statements that you would include on your manifesto?
On March 1, 1976, Kiss released their single Shout it out Loud while The Four Seasons topped the billboard charts with their catchy tune, What a Night. Coincidence? I think not. Clearly both hits were proclaiming my arrival to the planet.
Readers, this bit of trivia means that I turn 39 and enter my 40th year of this blessed life, tomorrow. I realize that this shocking news to most of you since I don’t look a day over 38 but, it’s true: the big 4-0 is only 12 short months away.
In order to approach this milestone birthday with the right a better frame of mind, I’m deciding to go with “personal project” rather than “pity party”. I think that embracing this looming date as the impetus for some needed changes sets a tone of anticipation rather than dread. I’m preparing to enter the second half of my life with increased strength, clarity and focus and am setting some goals to help move me in that direction. (As an aside, for inspiration about living #clearbraveandstrong follow Cathie’s blog here.)
My #40×40 goals:
1. #Publish40: Publish 40 blog posts by my 40th birthday. I find that I begin many posts and then get distracted and never quite get around to hitting that daunting “publish” button. This is my year to go public and form a better habit for my writing by floating at least 40 ideas into cyberspace.
2. #Lose40: Lose 40 pounds by my 40th birthday. I have always struggled with over-indulgence and have written about it before. I have set goals and failed (207 is still a sad reality) but I’m choosing to set a new goal and not give up. Hitting 40 as a healthier and stronger person is a POSSIBLE and hopeful prospect.
3. #Thank40: Offer specific and personal thanks to 40 people by my 40th birthday. There are certainly more than 40, but I feel the need to acknowledge at least 40 who have significantly impacted me on my journey so far with a sincere word or token of appreciation.
4. #Read40: Identify the titles on my Essential 40 Bookshelf by my 40th birthday. I have read many books – far more than 40 – but reflecting and narrowing the list down to the 40 that have changed me profoundly over my lifetime is an inspiring endeavour for a book nerd like me.
5. #Live40: Add 10 points to my 30 for Sanity Manifesto to create my #40×40 Manifesto. I have realized the motivational power of setting a vision for my life and I want to continue to live according to my 40 intentions. Because, as Annie Dillard explains, “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
So, there you have it, folks: 5 goals to motivate me in my 40th year.
Do I have any teammates for this #40×40 plan? Cheerleaders?
Comment below with your advice or experience related to turning 40. How did/will you approach this milestone birthday?
Just for fun, a few trivia highlights from 1976: Apple Computer was formed by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, Happy Days was the most popular TV show, Rocky took home the Oscar for best film, and the Montreal Canadiens won the Stanley Cup.
I recently challenged my “moms monthly” group to develop a personal manifesto to capture their intentions for living, particularly because, as moms, it is so easy to lose sight of our hopes and dreams amidst the chaos of a busy life that struggles to find work-life balance. I have used manifestos in a variety of ways as a classroom teacher (and often do workshops in my classes to help in the creative process) but I rarely take the time to reflect and package my own thoughts in this way, though I believe very strongly in their value. Having a visible reminder in your home that summarizes your thoughts about how you wish to live can help to orient you to carry out your intentions in day-to-day living.
Although my blog version does not look like the lovely side panel of a Lululemon bag, AnnVoskamp’s 25 for Sanity Manifesto is the inspiration for my decision to revisit this concept. That woman is so wise and, well, inspirational!
Perhaps, I can get some sort of creative designer to make my manifesto look like this:
but, until then, we’ll all have to settle for this lesser words-only version:
My 30 for Sanity Manifesto (in no particular order):
Fashion a home sanctuary. I’m not the greatest at caring about physical spaces as I live mostly in my head (scary, I know); however, space does impact well-being and I have come to understand that an organized, simplified and tidy home can help to bring calm to the mind. The peace may be an illusion but external chaos certainly doesn’t help internal chaos. Keeping my space clear helps to clear my head space. #WWAVD? (What would Ann Voskamp do?)
The interruption is the opportunity. I’m notoriously bad for becoming irritated by interruptions to my best laid plans. Choosing to see the change of plan as a divine appointment is something I am mindfully working on at work and home.
Take it bird by bird. Anne Lamott’s brilliant book reminds writers – and all people, really – to take life in manageable steps. Whenever I begin to muse about anything beyond the next step I instantly feel overwhelmed. Wisdom: Do the next right thing. Repeat.
Embrace freedom. Though I am ashamed to admit it, many of my choices and decisions are a result of fear. It seriously needs to stop as it is a defeated and deflated way of living. Daily, I’m going to claim the promise that perfect Love drives out all fear.
Share. When our family accepted a sermon challenge to develop a “family mission statement” we agreed on this simple but meaningful word. We are committed to share all that we have been given – hospitality, resources, insight – because that is what it means to be a Covey.
Let it go. (Don’t worry this is NOT an allusion to Frozen; please stay with me.) “Hello, my name is Sarah Covey and I am a control-freak and a security junkie.” If I could join a 12-step program to recover from either of these addictions, I would. Because it would provide a PLAN. I’m obsessed with plans. Have you ever noticed, though, that plans often change? I need to let go of my compulsion to have everything fall into place as I had orchestrated or expected and hold my plans loosely. Letting my agenda go for the sake of something better seems much more fulfilling. See #2.
Give presence as a present. I am easily distracted and struggle to focus on one thing at a time but I have learned that multitasking sabotages relationships by undermining the authentic connection that can come from active listening and attentiveness in the moment. This undivided attention may be one of the best gifts I can offer my loved ones.
Pray first, think later. I tend to make my requests known to every other person in my life before praying. Better to pause and start with the Big Guy so that my thoughts are formed in the context of spiritual strength and wisdom instead of human weakness and stupidity.
Book daily stillness appointments. For some time, I have been committed to Sabbath-keeping but it is not enough to only rest once a week if every other day is a flurry of activity. There have to be moments in each day where I can pause, be quiet, and catch my breath. Thinking a gentle reminder on my cell phone for some adaptation of the Seven Sacred Pauses is going to help promote this daily discipline.
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow. This classic hymn lyric has been a daily mantra, reminding me to trust in the One whose joy IS my strength.
Nourish with the right bread. I’m a stress eater and I need to be a stress reader. I desire to be the person who goes to the Word to be nourished by the Bread of Life instead of trying – always unsuccessfully – to satisfy my hunger with Lays Potato Chips.
Seek ways to touch a soul through the touch of a hand. When you don’t know what to say or do, resort to snuggle therapy. Physical touch has healing power. I know this to be true. Sometimes a loving touch can transcend words and render them unnecessary.
Let nature nurture. Being surrounded my nature instantly calms my anxious heart and allows me to return to a life-giving rhythm. A long walk on the beach, a quiet moment on a park bench, or a cup of tea beside a glassy lake does restore my soul.
Play music. Making a joyful noise helps to lift my spirits and channel my emotions. Listening to music can set – or change – the tone of a room with very little effort. Impromptu dance parties are always a good idea – and they tend to work better with a soundtrack.
Cultivate creativity. Find ways to express myself creatively – through music, art, crafts, writing, decorating etc. I really think that” it is not how creative I am but how I am creative” (to adapt a common phrase), given that I am a child of the Creator. I need to make space for that aspect of God’s image in my life.
Match time and energy to priorities. I’m pretty adept at managing my time but I’m not so great at managing my energy. I need to pace myself so that I retain some of my get-up-and-go for my family. Though they are my priority, they tend to have their time with me at the end of a long work day when I am depleted and weary. Saving some energy and/or sharing high-energy times with them when I can is a way to communicate how important they are to me.
Moisturizing matters. This may seem like a rather trivial intention but I am the worst person for letting my very sensitive skin become parched. A little ritual of moisturizing with a rich cream is a mini-luxury that I really can’t afford to forgo. Baby steps, though. My facial care regimen needs a total overhaul but that is an adventure I’m not ready to face (pun intended).
Let restlessness give way to rest. When I find myself striving and itching to do, sometimes the best thing is to stop and release the struggle and the full mind to the rest of God. This can be extremely liberating for my Type-A compulsive tendencies. Slowly, I am learning to let go of the need to accomplish something and to embrace the art of being. Unplugging from the noise in my mind and in the world can be a soul-enriching experience, right?
Consider the value. It is not uncommon for me to spend money without thinking and this poor stewardship is disheartening. If I simply pause to consider whether a particular purchase is truly worth it I would avoid a lot of impulsive spending in the name of retail therapy.
Let words and The Word sink into the soul. Clearly, I am a lover of language but, like many things in life, less is often more. Rather than skimming words, I want to savour them, to let them sink deep into my soul and change me. I want the words to become a part of who I am.
Leave work at work. I have been able to set better boundaries over the years in terms of physically carrying work home but I’m always in a battle for my head space. Choosing to disengage from my professional life and to reengage with my personal life is essential to the healthy balance I am trying to achieve.
Choose gratitude to frame the day. It is easy to recall my day in light of complaints and problems but I’m convinced that the antidote is noticing the good and giving thanks. This orientation to daily blessings diffuses the power that a negative outlook can have over our souls. (Again, it’s what Ann Voskamp would do!)
Speak and spread kindness. Actions can speak louder than words but what I say matters, too. Random acts and words of kindness can go a long way in a world that can be cruel and inconsiderate. I try to model kindness because it is possibly the most important character trait that I wish my kids to emulate.
Always kiss each othergoodnight. This saying is on a plaque in my bedroom and it reminds me to make my marriage a priority. I am blessed to have each day end in the arms of my best friend and I never want to take that love for granted.
Make best intentions a reality. I have these little instincts and inklings that I can’t explain that compel me to be in touch with a friend or to reach out to someone in need in some way. I have never regretted following through with those promptings but I have felt that ignoring or putting off responding to that inner voice has resulted in a missed opportunity to make a significant difference in someone’s day. I resolve to put my love into action.
Meet perceived needs. All of us are needy but we may not be aware of deeper soul-needs because we are blocked by the tangible needs in our lives. Someone may ultimately need a restored relationship with Jesus but s/he may only be able to see the need to resolve conflict in a personal relationship. If I can help meet the need on the radar of the person in my sphere of influence, meeting that need will provide the opportunity to continue to speak about deeper truths. Like the saying (attributed to St. Francis of Assisi) goes, “preach the gospel and, if necessary, use words”.
Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Another clever Covey suggested that this is one of the habits of highly successful people. I think about it in these terms: when you enter a room do your words and actions communicate, “here I am” or “there you are”? I want to be a “there you are” person who considers others first.
Eat less, move more. My first formal manifesto was created as a result of my intention to live a healthier life. The specifics are here and they still hold true. This expression makes it feel manageable though, so I cling to it’s simplicity.
Eat a frog before breakfast. This principle has been popularized in the business world but is solid advice for managing daily tasks and avoiding procrastination: get the thing that you are most dreading out of the way first thing and your day can only get better!
Blog it. Maybe I won’t always want to post my entries for the masses but processing my joys and challenges “on paper” is cathartic, creative, and clarifying. Reflecting and writing is time well spent.
So, what intentions might make your top thirty? Have you ever considered creating a manifesto? If so, what prevents you from following through? Leave your comments below – I love to hear from you!
I’ve been struggling lately with a bit of a spiritual funk. I feel as though I am weary from all the striving and trying to live up to unrealistic expectations (most of which are self-imposed). The demands, or at least perceived demands, on the average person these days is enough to put anyone over the edge. We are overworked and over-scheduled and we live overwhelmed and overdone. It’s a vicious cycle that people cannot thrive in so they settle for survival. But I don’t just want to survive. Do you?
It seems like just trying to live day-to-day has become a challenge tantamount to climbing Mount Everest. If that is the case, I’d rather actually climb Everest and have something to show for all the effort rather than the lack of satisfaction that comes from a mundane, sleepwalking existence that may, in fact, be equally draining.
When everybody wants a piece of me, I am pulled in so many directions that I often feel there isn’t enough to go around. This living fragmented is tough. Really, it’s broken. It’s certainly not the way to wholeness.
I’m trying to get back to the basics, to weed through all the extra stuff and make sure that my focus is where it ought to be. I know it is distracted and distorted and I want to get back on track but I feel like the usual paths are not getting me there. Sometimes even the doing of the right things just adds more to a to-do list that is already a mile long. The things that I have done in the past to reconnect are not working.
Perhaps the secret is to stop doing. To become undone, so to speak.
Jan Johnson, in her excellent book, Abundant Simplicity, writes of the abstinence disciplines such as fasting, solitude, silence, and simplicity as “breathing out”. The modern church seems to be focused on all the engagement disciplines (study, prayer, worship, fellowship and service) which are the “breathing in” and has, by in large, excluded the rest.
The trouble is you need both to have a complete breath. The constant inhale will not work. Much has to be exhaled to keep things in balance. This is wisdom that we are largely missing as Christians in the North American Church, if my experience is any indicator.
I need this undoing. I need fewer pieces and more peace. I need to breathe fully the breath of God and experience that divine restoration because the expectations I have for myself will never be satisfied and I will continue to deplete without His strength.
Johnson also quotes Paula Hudson on the subject of living with a singular focus: “interior chaos subsides; the psychic battlefield goes calm and silent. People can experience themselves as whole and at peace instead of fragmented.” SO. WANT. THAT. A holy fixation that realizes that I’m not enough but He is and that is okay. That is enough.
A little bit of thoughtfulness can go a long way. I have made it part of my personal mission statement to act on those divinely-inspired impulses as they come to mind – right in that moment – if I am able. Otherwise, the moment passes, and the opportunity is lost to forgetfulness.
But…I tend to be better at practically sharing the love with friends and neighbours than I am with my own crew. This school year I’m determined to be more responsive to the day-to-day opportunities that arise but I also think it is important to add some intentionality to my plan.
As far as my kids go, I recognize that I can have all the best intentions in the world but unless I make a commitment to actually put those ideas into action, they just bounce around in my brain and leave me feeling like a neglectful parent. Don’t ya just love false guilt?
I have also learned (from experience) that parenting goals need to be simple and realistic. It is easy to get overwhelmed trying to live up to the impossible expectations that I have set for myself. So, in an attempt to be deliberate AND reasonable I am narrowing my focus.
I am working on a parenting manifesto but since it is in process, I decided to at least get rolling with a few accessible goals. (For a beautiful and inspiring example of a parenting manifesto – and a multitude of other glorious things – click here.)
As we embark on another busy school year, I’ve designed a little experiment to connect intentionally with my kids and I’m using the 5 Love Languages as a guideline.
With four kids, we have determined that all the Love Languages are identified in several combinations so I’m trying to cover all the bases in equal measure. We have other routine things in place (like shared journals, gratitude books, and a prayer wall, and highs/lows at dinner) but I need a few new ideas to keep me motivated and connected to my crew.
So, here’s the plan to fill up those love tanks:
1. Words of Affirmation: Little Love Notes
I’m going to make a special point of writing down the wonderful things that I am noticing in my kids. Handwritten notes of encouragement are a great way to celebrate growth in character or to communicate support or caring.
A classic spot for these little love notes is in their lunches. I have found that Super Sticky Post-Its are fantastic but I am also a big fan of the new Rice Krispies prepackaged treats that have a label built into the wrapper. Keeping some blank pages of printable address labels handy might work as a quick way to stick a quick message onto a granola bar.
We also have an “inbox” (a hanging wall file) for each person in our family. These are organizationally functional spots for important school papers and artwork but I hope to also claim them as a little in-house mail system. I can also leave a Post-It note on the back of their bedroom doors, on the bathroom mirror, or on their headboards for them to see first thing in the morning.
2. Physical Touch: Snuggle Therapy
Physical contact is so important. I wrote about the importance of Snuggle Therapy in a previous post and firmly believe in its power to dissipate tension and work through particularly emotional days. But snuggles can come in many forms:
sharing a story
praying together wrapped in a prayer shawl
holding tight when tears are inevitable (theirs or mine)
slow-dancing to a quiet song
alternating foot rubs
Basically, I’m consciously choosing to linger in those opportunities for physical touch because even a few moments in a warm embrace goes a long way, doesn’t it?
3. Quality Time: Sunday Morning Breakfast Dates
With four children and both parents working full-time, it is hard to get that one-on-one connection as often as you (or your middle child) might like. My husband and I both decided that we had to reclaim a time in our schedule that was rarely disrupted and make a commitment to create a rotation to go on mini-dates with each of our children.
Sunday morning seemed to offer the golden opportunity; while both parents were around to trade-off babysitting we could also go out inexpensively for some quality time with each child. We often add a little walk to a coffee and muffin date to extend the opportunity for conversation (and to add a little activity into our weeks). Each kid gets a date with Mommy or Daddy every four weeks. 4. Acts of Service: Chore-Free Gestures
Every so often, I’m going to try to take something off their to-do lists. We have very specific age-appropriate daily and weekly chores for all members of our family – it’s the only way we survive in our busy household!
Because this is my primary love language, I understand the impact of someone taking something off of my endless list so I’m going to try to do the same for them. I’m going to target times when it would be particularly helpful like after a tough or tiring day at school or when they have extra homework or an extracurricular commitment.
I also want to surprise them, on occasion, with a clean room (although, admittedly, this may be motivated more by impatience than any feelings of love).
I may write out a little “get out of a chore free” coupon to give them a choice once in a while about how and when they want to cash it in. 5.Receiving Gifts: A Token Trunk
I already have a “gift cupboard” where I house lots of little gifts for a variety of occasions (hostess gifts, kids birthday party gifts, encouragement tokens and the like). I’ve decided that I need a separate bin of little treats, toys, craft supplies, and wrapping to pull out just because.
I’m generally quite skeptical about the dollar-store-loot-bag kind of treats that break before the end of the first day but I don’t want to spend a fortune so I’ll have to get in the habit of grabbing some bargains when I see them and tucking them away. I’ll look for sets of things that I can split up like 4-packs of PlayDoh or Crayola Stampers Markers.
I’ll look for ways to surprise them with a little token. Maybe I’ll leave one in a coat pocket. I could hide something under a pillow. (Who says the Tooth Fairy gets to monopolize that location?) I can place a little gift in a backpack to be found later. I could get a few and set them our on their breakfast or dinner plates.
Of course, free or homemade gifts (like home-baked cookies, a new playlist, a craft or a photo) can be wonderful and personal options as well.
Another part of the experiment is to carefully observe how my kids react to each of the love gestures. I have my suspicions about their primary love languages but this should help me to examine my hypotheses.
I am curious, though; do you have any plans or practices for showing love to your kids in the everyday busyness of life? If so, would you share them with me?