How many times have you laid your head to rest at night, replaying all of the day’s events and beating yourself up with all of the things you’d wish you’d done better? How many times have you said yes to something without really thinking about it, only to later regret your decision because that thing ended up draining you of your time and energy? How many things have you done out of obligation, just to end up with it robbing your joy and peace?
Me, too, girl. Me, too.
It’s the shoulds of life, am I right? “I should sign my kid up for soccer because it would be good for him.” “I should volunteer for the PTA because that’s what all the involved parents do.” “I really should go to that family reunion because it’ll look bad if I miss.” “I really should call so-and-so to check up on her, even though I know it will just turn into a gripe-fest.”
Beware of that sneaky little word. Should usually signals to us that this thing isn’t our jam, but we feel obligated to do it. And obligation is more times than not unhealthy. It’s the shoulds in our life that usually drain us more than anything else. Who is it telling you that you should do that thing? Who is adding pressure to your already crammed life? I would bet money it’s probably not God.
Here’s the thing: when we say yes out of obligation, or even as a knee-jerk reaction, we aren’t acting out of love. Obligation and love are not the same thing. Sure, sometimes we do things for those we love that we wouldn’t necessarily choose for ourselves, but the constant saying yes to unending demands that leave us tired and keep us from doing the things that build us up is not allowing us to offer ourselves fully out of love for that other person. They don’t get the best version of ourselves.
I personally don’t believe we were created to be so busy, our schedules and our closets so chock full of extra. I believe that margin is very much a spiritual principle.
I plan to write more on this soon, but one day I just went through the Bible and found all of the verses on rest, and then I copied them down. Friends, I had pages of verses before I was done. It was clear that God is a fan of rest, of not being so doggone busy, and the truth is we cannot fully rest until we trim back the excess out of our lives. We do this by being intentional.
Haggai 1:5 “This is what the Lord God Almighty says, “Give careful thought to your ways.”
Over time, this has become sort of my life verse. I’ve discovered it has endless applications, and as I go about my day, the Holy Spirit whispers this in my spirit, especially when I am beginning to float into autopilot mode.
I came across this verse a few years back when I was leading a small group at my church based on the book Made to Crave. At the time, I was struggling as a mom of three little ones to find self-control and discipline in my diet. But I had just discovered that my son had Celiac, and I had a host of food sensitivities, so we had to overhaul what our family ate. The crazy thing was, even though I knew these foods were harmful to my body and would make me sick, I didn’t have the willpower to cut them completely out of my diet. I would do well for about a week or two, and then follow that up with a weak moment where I binged on all things gluten. And then I would pay for it for several days with debilitating symptoms. So the small group was a perfect opportunity to throw some accountability in the mix, as well as a chance to seek after God’s heart for my health.
Since then, I have used this verse as a guideline that has shaped every aspect of my life and ultimately has led me to adopt more of a minimalist lifestyle. It’s characterized by The Pause, a moment I take before making a decision, taking on another commitment or activity, or buying a new little something to wear and think carefully about my decision. Why am I saying yes to this? Is it going to add value to my family and me? Is it going to nudge me closer to the Lord? Will it drain my energy/resources? Can I do without it?
I think so much of what we do as a culture is done without much thought. We are out running errands and feel a little hungry or tired, so we veer off into a drive-through for an overpriced coffee or fat-laden combo meal that eventually fuels our exhaustion and hunger. Our child turns five, so we sign them up for the community soccer league and spend our afternoons shuffling our brood from practice to practice. (FYI: I’m not saying soccer is bad; I’m just saying it’s something we thought about and decided at this time, it wasn’t worth the added stress and hurriedness for our family.) The kids finally went to bed, so we grab the remote for some Netflix and chill before falling asleep on the couch and dragging ourselves to bed at midnight for another day not fully rested. And we don’t think these decisions matter much. It’s life, and we’re all just along for the ride.
My life changed drastically when I started really giving careful thought to my ways. Instead of making the convenient choice, I try to pause and think about what is the most beneficial thing in the long run. Some of the ways this plays out practically are:
- Choosing the salad at Chick Fil A because that will fuel my body instead of chicken and fries just because that’s their specialty.
- Washing the makeup off my face at night instead of falling in bed and saying I’ll do better tomorrow.
- Making do with what I already have in my closet instead of running out to buy a new outfit for an event.
- Saying no to that get-together that I know will be uncomfortable and only cause me anxiety.
- Taking my own water bottle with me everywhere I go, and choosing reusable over disposable products where I can to cut down on waste.
Part of adopting a minimalist lifestyle is simplifying our schedules, and we can’t really do that until we begin to notice the things we do on autopilot. Only then can we really take stock of the things in our life that truly benefit us and others. Taking steps to being more intentional can greatly reduce the amount of stress and guilt we take on.
Want to become more intentional in your own life? Here are a few things you can do today:
Put down the phone. For a week, limit social media to under an hour a day (that’s generous; bonus points if you completely eliminate it), and instead keep a journal. Write down ideas, plans, worries…just whatever comes to your mind. Give your thoughts somewhere to go besides inside your head. This is especially helpful before bed, when our thoughts tend to crash down on us and keep us from getting shut-eye. Speaking of…
Go to bed early. Shoot for two nights a week at first, and go to bed when the kids do. (If you don’t have kids, just set a goal bedtime of 9 p.m.) This alone can be life-changing. For the last hour of the evening, take time to prepare for the next day. Lay out clothes, prepare lunches, whatever it is you need to do that you would normally do after the kids are in bed…do it before they go down. Then go to bed after they do. No Netflix, no phone, no screen time of any kind. If you have trouble going to sleep, adopt a wind-down routine that signals to your body it’s time for bed. And hey, I’m not against sleeping pills.
Water first, veggies most. Get into the habit of drinking water first thing in the morning, before each meal, between meals, and before you go to bed. Add a few extra servings of vegetables to your meals. Instead of feeling overwhelmed with idea of a diet overhaul, try these two things first.
Reuse. Carry your own reusable water bottle and/or coffee cup with you during the day. Instead of buying water bottles or getting your coffee in that disposable cup, keep your own. Water should be free, and it will be if you provide your own bottle. Most coffee shops will even discount your order if you supply the coffee cup.
Give your body some attention. Spend the first five minutes of your day doing a few simple exercises. You may not struggle to fit exercise into your daily routine, but if you do, try this: when you get out of bed, do 20 push-ups, a 30-second plank, and some stretches.
Intentionality leads to intentionality. I think you’ll find that, once you start being intentional in one area of your life, it becomes easier to make well thought out choices in other areas. Just focus on small steps—one careful decision after another, over the course of time, leads to a life of focus and simplicity!