A couple years ago we took our girls to Greenfield Village near Detroit. We saw replications of, and in some cases the actual, homes and workshops of Henry Ford, the Wright brothers, and Thomas Edison. Particularly fascinating was Edison’s shop, where he and assistants worked to refine his incandescent light bulb. Standing there in his shop, I concluded that Edison may be entirely responsible for our hectic pace of life more than a century later.
That we can work all hours into the night, instead of retiring to bed with the setting of the sun, is largely due to artificial light. I write this in a dimly-lit coffee house staring at a back-lit LCD screen. Even the keys on my notebook computer are softly lit. Actually, I love technology. I’m not so much interested in the nuts and bolts of how things work, just how they can work for me. It’s when I begin to work for them that I become concerned.
In this post I’ll focus on simplifying and embracing rest, and in my next post I’ll offer some tips for tackling your to-do list.
Recently, the leaders at my church read and began implementing the principles we learned from the book, Simple Church, the result of intense surveys of churches in America. The authors repackaged the book for individuals, also based on extensive study, and called it Simple Life. To move from complexity to simplicity, the authors offer a strategy including clarity, movement, alignment, and focus.
Stress is a leading cause of many health problems including heart disease, obesity, depression, sleep disorders, and high blood pressure. The demand of too many activities bears on our families, and the lack of time together strains marriages. How can we alleviate stress and get back our time? Try this:
- Write out your typical day in time increments. Example: 6:30 am – get ready for work, 7:00 am – get kids ready for school …
- Write down your priorities. Example: God, family, health, work. For me, I’d add music and writing.
How does your typical day line up with your priorities? If your aim is to raise a professional athlete (football, hockey, and baseball), a musician, and a Rhodes scholar, then maybe your schedule works for you. If not, some changes may be in order. My objective in life is to lead others to a closer relationship with God, most importantly my wife and children. How I do this can vary from one season to another. The next two aspects address what can conflict with our purpose.
There will be hindrances to simplifying your time, including self-absorption. We often feel like we have to keep up appearances. (This is definitely the case for those in church leadership, because we’re supposed to have it all together, right?) But we have to ask ourselves what is genuinely necessary and what is just an outflow of our ego.
I’ve joked on Twitter/Facebook about an older woman in my neighborhood who mows her lawn and uses her leaf blower almost daily at six in the morning. She must have a light on her lawn mower like a vacuum. Just the other day, here in January, I heard the leaf blower. Perhaps she has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Whatever the case, her front lawn and porch are immaculate, and there isn’t a leaf within a block of her house.
I quip, but in many ways we’re the same way. We strive to keep up just to impress others, or at least not disappoint them.
Something else that gets in the way of simplifying is how we view the past, as well as the future. They are our competition. Often we overcompensate for past mistakes or try to achieve similar successes. Further, anxiety over the future can drive us beyond healthy limits. We need to pick out the barriers to simplifying and start to tear them down.
I know few people who loved tests in school, especially those state assessments, where you’d fill in the bubble—completely and not outside the lines. But regular assessment is necessary for growth. We need to check in and ask: Are the activities that fill my day aligned with my goals? Are they fostering or hindering the process?
In all this, we still need to remain flexible. Life is not static. There will be days and weeks that demand changes and adjustments. But we don’t want to look back on months and years of misalignment.
Probably the hardest thing for my church, and many other churches, is this step. You have to be willing to let go of those activities that may be good but that don’t fit your goals. Serving in children’s ministry, for instance, is admirable and definitely needed, but may not work in your season of life right now. Seek God together with your spouse and ask God to reveal whether you should continue your current activities: small groups, Bible studies, serving at church, serving other places. If you’re so busy you don’t have time to eat well and rest, then something/some things need to trimmed.
One of my family’s highest priorities is dinner together. We eat together at the dinner table just about every day. I love this time. The girls talk about their day and what’s going on with friends and the games they’re playing and books they’re reading. The boys don’t say much, since they’re young, but I can tell they enjoy the time spent at the table. (I say spent but I should say invested.) We guard this time the same way I guard Saturdays.
I work pretty much six days a week, though my schedule is rather flexible. I start my day at 5:30 but sprinkle it with family moments. Saturday is for sleeping in a little and maybe pancakes or waffles. Often we’ll go shopping or just hang out together. Because my boys are not old enough to rally with me and overtake the remote, football isn’t common in our house. (Be careful, men; sports can rob your family.) Naps may be in order on Saturdays and definitely on Sunday afternoons.
I view rest perhaps a little differently.
- Rest may involve sleeping, which thankfully I’ve never had a problem with. Six solid hours works for me, because they’re deeply restful hours. I can even squeeze in a 15-minute nap in the afternoon.
- Rest is spending time with family. Wrestling on the floor with the boys, cuddling with my girls.
- Rest is spending time with friends. Meals together, an hour for coffee maybe.
- Rest is playing games. If Farmville is your thing, then I’m glad that’s your outlet. Just don’t ask me to plow anything—that sounds like work.
- Rest is reading. Along with the nonfiction books I’m reading, I always include some fiction.
- Rest is watching TV and movies.
- Rest is working out at the gym. Yeah, that’s weird, I know. Because my job isn’t physically demanding but saps my creativity and intellect, I like something purely physical.
- Rest is __________. What is it for you?
Be careful not to become lazy, though. Somewhere there’s a balance between the workaholic ant and the slothful grasshopper.
During his life on Earth, Jesus led a simple life. He showed compassion for others, but not all were healed and most remained in their graves. Jesus focused not just on healing the afflicted but defeating the afflicter. He did this when he died on the cross then overcame death. I also get the sense he enjoyed restful moments like hanging out with his friends and celebrating a new bride and groom.
In my next post, I’ll share what’s worked for me in taming my to-do lists.
For more on rest, see my post, “Sunday Kind of Music.”