There’s something so delightful about being productive and checking all the tasks off your to-do list. Western culture celebrates productivity and the ability to get it all done, hold it all together. But deep within us, a longing for a slower pace cries out. We yearn for rest, but find it hard to step back from the demands of our responsibilities. These four tips will help you balance your life and find the rest you need, while still getting things done.
When I was in the sixth grade, Field Day was a highly anticipated event. On a sunny day during the last week of school, all the kids in our grade would head out to the grassy field with our teachers, volunteer parents, and coach. We competed in jump rope contests, relay races, obstacle courses, and freeze tag. But the grand finale was the tug-of-war with a thick and sturdy rope.
First, it was classroom versus classroom. Then it was teachers and parents against the students. But the most dramatic matchup of all was girls against boys.
I can still feel the rope burns on the palms of my hands. Straining with all of our might, we knew that bragging rights were on the line. And the losers only had grass and mud stains awaiting them. We planted our feet, dug in our heels, and pulled, teeth clenched towards the sky.
BALANCING THE TENSION
On any given day, my wants and needs compete against each other in much the same way. On one side of the rope is my to-do list. My freshly caffeinated morning-self is ready to tackle it all. I want to stay on top of all the housekeeping, child-rearing, work tasks, errands, and whatever else pops up in my day. I roll up my sleeves and pull.
But on the other side of the rope is my desire for a slower and more soulful pace. I want to be present in the moment, to savor the little joys in my day, and to linger in the presence of the people I love. I want to claim rest as a right and not treat it as something to be earned. So I plant my feet firmly in this longing and pull back.
At the heart of this tension is my desire to honor God with my time.
When I became a mother, my perception of time completely changed. Sometimes it slowed to the point of stopping. Hours dragged by and days were empty oceans waiting to be filled as I learned to spend my days with an infant in tow, then a toddler. Also true: Whole months and even years went by in a flash. I look at my 8 year old now and try to find any evidence of his baby self in his face.
Moms learn quickly that time is shifty—sometimes for us, sometimes against us. And we understand how important it is for us to steward our time well. Not only must we tend to our own use of time but we are often in charge of the family calendar, the kids’ schedules, the tempo of our homes.
THE WAY FORWARD
The pandemic that took the world by force in 2020 revealed to many of us the frantic pace we had set for our families. It was as if a giant mirror reflected back to us how we’d been spending our time.
Amidst all the grief and loss of those months, the silver lining was what we learned about simplifying and slowing. As the world reopens, how can we balance our to-do lists and our responsibilities with our desire for rest, presence, and a slower pace? These four principles can help guide our way forward.
1. Guard the white space in the family calendar
There’s nothing I love more than a brand new planner at the start of the year. I have high hopes and dreams for what will go in those blank white squares. But over time I’ve noticed how easy it is to pack those squares with all the things. Like a lobster put in tepid water, everything seems fine at first. Then the heat is gradually turned up—I commit to volunteering, I say yes to birthday parties, I accept new responsibilities—and suddenly the water is boiling and only then do I notice the pain. I’m rushing, always a bit stressed out.
There’s a simple fix, though it’s not always easy: Say no. Decide what’s important to you and your family in this season and decline invitations and opportunities that would take way from that time. When you set your intention upfront, you’ll have more clarity in your decision-making. Guarding the white space in your family’s calendar ensures that you’ll leave room for the things that matter most.
2. Pick your priorities and let go of perfection
Our to-do lists will never go away. The reality is that there are daily tasks we must accomplish for our households to run smoothly. In an ideal world, I would have the time and energy to do all the things I want to do, as well as all the things I feel I should do. But I have found there is freedom in limiting the daily tasks I tackle. Beyond the non-negotiables, I only add one or two items to my list. Letting go of all the “shoulds” lets me focus on what I know I can accomplish. When I eliminate all those extra tasks, loosening my grip on the tidy, spotless house I want, I create more margin in my day, allowing for the possibility of going slow and choosing rest.
3. Untangle your productivity from your self-worth
The good news is that God’s love for us isn’t based on our accomplishments.
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ … For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, no powers, nor height nor depth nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 8:35a, 38-39).
That phrase “nor anything else in all creation” includes all of our striving and accomplishing, our mistakes and our failures, the state of our house and our waistline—none of that can stop God from loving us. Let’s embrace the freedom in that truth and stop punishing ourselves for not measuring up to some impossible cultural standard.
4. Harness the power of the pause
At times, I fall into the trap of believing that the faster I get things done, the better I’ll feel, that efficiency breeds contentment. When I make that my goal, I end up feeling rushed and restless as a result. Instead, being mindful in the midst of the mundane has yielded more contentment in my day. I’ve found that when I’m intentional about pausing—taking a few deep breaths between activities and reorienting my heart toward God—I’m more likely to cultivate a healthier rhythm between doing and being. Choosing to pause naturally slows my pace. It opens more opportunity to be present, to savor, and to linger.
REDEEMING REST AND RESPONSIBILITY
Balancing my responsibilities and my desire for a slower, more soulful pace no longer feels like a tug-of-war when I keep these four principles in mind. Instead it feels like swinging across the monkey bars, both arms working together, taking turns between work and rest to get to the other side.
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