This week on Facebook, I shared a story about a little peach tree growing in my father-in-law’s yard. I talked about the lesson God revealed to me in it; which, essentially was: while we all want to be fruit-bearing trees, there are natural limitations we must respect or we can become dangerously overloaded with good fruit.
This small post was shared, liked, and commented on more than any other post on my writer’s page and that told me one very important thing: while all of us are busy doing good, even kingdom-focused things, many of us feel we are stretched to our breaking point but we don’t know what to drop.
The Story of My Life
If you’ve read my story, you know that my lifelong struggle is doing all the good things and then completely burning out. In January of this year, I was at that burn out point once again. I was exhausted and disenchanted. Feeling very much like that bent and burdened peach tree.
So, when everyone was picking their ‘word of the year’, God graciously gave me mine: my word of the year was ‘No’. If you missed that post you can read about it here, but basically, God made it clear that 2018 was going to be a year of pruning and for the last six months that is exactly what it has been.
Learning to Say ‘No’
My mom is one of the wisest people I know and because I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by this idea, I asked her how I could begin pairing down my life. I was doing so many things I loved and a lot of things I didn’t love but felt were good opportunities to serve those around me. How would I know what to drop? As a first step, she suggested I make a list of everything I was involved in. Everything. Here’s what I came up with:
In case you don’t want to count, that is twenty-five responsibilities I had sitting on my shoulders. No wonder I was exhausted! Being a wife and a mom was enough- much less the other all the “hats” I had created for myself. You may have noticed the little plus and minus marks next to each item. Now, no judging here, because I’m bearing my soul to y’all a bit; but, the plus marks are things that gave me life and the minus marks were things that drained me (even if I enjoyed them).
Once I had these items written down and categorized (did I ever tell you my spiritual gift is administration?) I stepped away from what I was doing and prayed a for a while about what I wanted to be doing. The answers came easily enough:
- I wanted to focus on my family when I was home
- I wanted to spend more time writing
- I wanted to create margin in my schedule for unplanned “God Moments”
In and Out of Season
Armed with those three wants, I looked at my week and created some boundary lines. Because my kids are young, this was relatively easy to do. There were only two days a week that my babies were not with me. So it was clear that everything that wasn’t a “family” responsibility had to fit in those two days- twelve hours to be exact. Clearly, most of my commitments had to go, so I took my list and started slashing. I started with the activities that I didn’t like and that drained me. Then I moved to the activities that I enjoyed, but were still draining. Finally, I looked at what was left and asked myself if I could fit those things into my twelve baby-free-hours.
This was hard because these were things that I loved and filled my cup. I didn’t want to slash any of these activities. But when I did an honest assessment, I knew if I wanted to write more and still have the margin to spend time with those God dropped in front of me, some of these things would have to go.
So, I asked myself, “Which of these things are out of season?” What I meant by that was, which of these things are good, but they just aren’t good for me right now. Right now, when my babies are home. Right now, when I’m trying to get traction as a writer. Right now when I really need to dig into the people God is placing right in front of me.
Walking It Out
With that prayerful perspective, I cut the last few remaining responsibilities. Feeling proud of myself, I sat back at my newly lightened load…and realized that now I actually had to do the dirty business of telling those responsibilities they had been cut. Cue the anxiety.
I am a people pleaser and feel hopelessly loyal to things/people. So, this was going to be no easy task. On top of that, I knew that some of these responsibilities were things I couldn’t just quit. They needed to be allowed to run their course and simply not picked back up. While this was easier on my confrontationally-averse self, it was hard to know that my schedule would lighten slowly, and I would have to learn to manage until they ended.
So, I took a deep breath and quit what I could and prayed for the grace to manage the rest until they naturally ended. Please don’t let the simplicity of that statement make you think that the last six months have been a cakewalk- because they have not been. Opportunities have come my way that I have really wanted to take on. And a year ago, I would have. But I clung tightly to my new vision of my life and ran everything through that grid. If it detracted from my family, took away from my writing time, or shrank my margin for God moment’s, I took a hard pass.
Six Months In
My pride and need to please cried out many, many times these past few months as I began to let things go and let people down. But in response, my soul began to breathe more deeply than it had in months. I felt lighter, more sure of myself, and more in tune with my family.
Last week I dropped the second-to-last item on my list. I still have one major role to drop before I’ve slashed everything. And I need your prayers, because I really don’t want to let this one go (thus the six month lag time). But I’m passionate about the vision the Lord has given me for my life. When I think about it, I hear His promise that His yoke is easy and His burden light (Mt 11:30). Six months ago, my life felt anything but easy and light. He’s rescued me once again from myself and I pray this time I have learned my lesson. But if not, I can trust in the persistent grace of my God to draw me close and prune me back just one more time.
Do you see yourself anywhere in my journey? Are you weighed down with all the great things you are doing and unsure of what to drop? I am passionate about helping you fight the hustle and find your peace, so I am currently working on creating a worksheet that will walk you through the steps I just discussed. My prayer is that this resource will help you live out the life God has for you. *Unfortunately* that resource isn’t quite ready yet! If you’re already receiving my newsletters, you’ll be among the first to know when it’s available, and if you’re not you can subscribe here to be sure you don’t miss it!
As always, I’ll be live on Facebook this Friday (6/8/2018) to talk more about the process of dropping the good things. I’d love to hear your thoughts and ways you’ve paired down in the past. I’ll see you there!