Rediscovery

I read books because I love them, not because I think I should read them.

-Simon Van Booy

For as long as I can remember, I have been a voracious reader.   Our local library always had a summer reading program where kids were rewarded based on the number of books they read.  In the summer between my 5th and 6th grade year I read thirty books.  Mostly Nancy Drew.  I walked around my house with my nose in a book, artfully dodging furniture and objects on the floor without ever taking my eyes from the page.  I read myself to sleep, awakening the next morning with the book still open.  On my face.

I LOVE to read, but as the years have gone by I realized something important and disturbing about myself.  Though I continued to compile a library of books and would tell you that one of my favorite hobbies was reading, the truth is I was reading very little.  In fact, it would take months to get through a book.

I wrestled with this, at first blaming busyness and the season of life that I was in.  Sure, that was part of it.  But I had to take a long, hard look at how I was using my time and be brutally honest with myself.

I spent more time on social media than I spent reading good books that blessed my heart and mind.  I could tell you what Susie had for dinner last night and that Jane was now low-carb.  I could also tell you that Carrie’s toddler refuses to wear socks and that Mary’s son is a star pee-wee football player and sports a custom pair of cleats.  Nothing wrong with any of these things, right?  Except that they were gradually eating away something that had always been very important to me:  Immersing myself in a beautiful book filled with rich language and beautiful prose.  Allowing my eyes to rest from the blue light of a computer screen and settle on the Times New Roman font evenly spaced across the off-white pages of a novel.  Feeding my imagination with images of cities far away and encouragement to live simply and live well.

Instead, I was scrolling mindlessly, taking in tidbits of information that would be forgotten within days and training my mind to operate on what I believe to be a very shallow level in the interest of being “connected” and “in the know.”

So I stepped back.  I didn’t delete the apps from my phone or deactivate my accounts.  Extremes have never worked to break bad habits in my life.  Instead, I began to replace the bad habits with good ones.  It started with keeping a book in my purse.  At first it was largely ignored as I checked my phone in waiting rooms or parking lots, but the mere presence of that book literally called to me.  Eventually, I put the phone down and reached for the book.  It felt silly, at first, to have to be so intentional about this but that is exactly what needed to happen.  I had to make a choice.

A simple choice.

Over days and weeks the choice became easier.  Reaching for the book began to feel normal again.  Reading in my easy chair became my go-to.  My desk, now organized, has become a place of study and journaling and creativity that it had failed to be for several years.  And the result of making one choice at a time, of slowly replacing a bad habit with a good one, is that my stress level has dropped tremendously and I have the head room free to enjoy silence and give God a blessed chance to speak.

And speak, He has.

My relationship with Him is growing every single day as I make one choice at a time.  My prayer life has deepened and the Word of God has come alive.  I have read more books in the past three months than I had read in, probably, the last three years.

Social media no longer sucks me in like it used to.  I can put it down.  In fact, I am more hesitant to pick it up because I can feel the difference in myself after and hour in a good book vs. an hour of mindless scrolling.  Facebook does so many good things, reminding me of birthdays and anniversaries and helping me keep in touch with dear friends who I would have otherwise lost touch with many years ago.  But it is also addictive and endless.

And there are few things more satisfying than reaching the end.

We are now in the midst of the most beautiful season of the year, where we stop and give thanks to God and prepare to welcome anew in our hearts our Savior.  Nothing is more important right now than really immersing ourselves in the wonder and glory of the Holidays!  But if we are not careful, we can allow distractions to suck away precious hours that we can never get back.  It’s not worth it.  I want better for us, don’t you?  I want my kids to see the value of meditation over the crazy beautiful story of the Nativity and get lost in the shadows cast by the candlelight in our family room.  I want my life to be filled with music and poetry and scripture so that it drowns out the lies the enemy throws at me in weak moments.  I want God to be honored in how I spend my time, down to the precious minutes of “down time” He sprinkles throughout my days.  If I’m always looking down I will miss it and I will miss HIM.

So here are a few tips for making the change from screen to page:

  1.  Be honest with yourself.  How much time to you really spend on social media?  Don’t give in to the temptation to “round down!”
  2. The best way to stop a bad habit is to replace it with a good one.  What do you know you should be doing when you habitually reach for your mobile device?  In my case, it was read.  So bring along whatever it is…book, planner, etc.  Keep it near you and convenient so that you don’t have an excuse.
  3. Ask yourself why you keep going online?  Ann Voskamp has a printable that I posted on my refrigerator with suggestions for things to do before clicking.  It was convicting to realize how five minutes here and there can truly make a difference in the level of productivity I achieve on any given day!
  4. Turn off your notifications.  This really helped me!  Something about what I call “the little red drops of blood” with flashing numbers screaming, “Attention!  You have posts to read!  Hey, you!  Look at me right now!” would make me crazy and I felt like I had to keep them cleared out.  So I turned them off.  Simple.  And that goes for your email inbox too.  That thing can be a beast.  If I had a nickel for every minute I spent deleting junk mail…
  5. Start each day early, making time with the Lord first priority.  Open your Bible before you open Facebook.  Linger over the Word of God, read different translations and compare, maybe creatively journal the words that God uses to pierce your heart.  But keep it simple.  Prayer is not complicated, and neither is reading the Bible.  It’s a love letter, not a textbook.
  6. Work before play.  An old friend told me this was what she taught her kids when training them to clean up after themselves.  (She was much more successful at that than I have been, by the way.  Judge away.  It is a parenting fail I humbly own.)  As adults we can model that adage by choosing not to “play” (go online for pleasure) until all of our work is done.  House clean?  Dishes done?  Laundry put away?  Quiet time spent with God?  Great.  Then reward yourself…but resist the urge to go straight to screen time!  Start with a good book.  Light a candle and wrap up in a soft blanket.  Get really comfy in that big chair and see if, an hour later, you still care about what Susie made for dinner.  Chances are, your book is much more interesting.

Now go.  Feast and rest and love and enjoy all the beautiful bounty of this season!  Look your loved ones in the eye and be all in, not wasting a single moment.  Don’t give in to distractions and complications.  It’s not worth it!    Have a blessed and SIMPLE Thanksgiving!

You Can’t Hold It All

We left the hotel room in a flurry of bags, blankets and collected “treasures” from a week in Texas.  Since I tend to get sleepy when driving past mid-afternoon I was determined to get on the road by 7:00 am.  The kids, though, groggy, were on board with the idea.  They were as ready to be home and in their own beds as their mama!

As we paraded down the sidewalk to the parking lot one of my kids began to leave a trail.  A shoe.  A shirt.  A book.  Frustrated by the delay, I looked back to figure out why they were dropping all of this stuff, expecting to find an unzipped zipper or something like that.  Instead, I realized this child had thought it would be faster just to wad all of their loose belongings into their bathrobe and carry the awkward bundle to the car where, I guess, it would have been deposited on the floor and stepped on for the next eight hours. My child carried an empty backpack that was fully capable of holding all these things securely.

I scolded them, explaining why failing to secure the belongings had only resulted in delay and frustration and wouldn’t it have been easier to just throw it all in the bag instead of leaving a trail of clothing from the hotel to the car that you now have to go back and pick up?  And if we hadn’t looked back and noticed the stuff on the ground we would not have known what the heck had happened to all those clothes!

Then God gave me a spiritual flick on the head, nudging me to listen to what I had just said and, in turn, listen to what He wanted to tell me:

We have so many things we are asked to carry.  Our relationships, our homes, our jobs, finances, families, our health and spiritual disciplines are all responsibilities we must juggle.  But what we often forget is that we don’t have to carry all of them up front all of the time. What we need to hold in our hands changes constantly.   It can feel so overwhelming but we must intentionally keep the main thing the main thing!  The rest can be stowed away temporarily.

Think of the Holy Spirit as our great Backpack.  (I know…this is a big stretch!  Bear with me here!)  The Bible says the Holy Spirit is our helper.  (John 14:26)  It also says Jesus brings rest in the midst of the difficulties of life, promising not to “lay anything heavy or ill-fitting” on us.  (Matt 11:29)  So as I imagine this, I see myself…when walking well in faith…with Jesus by my side.  He is wearing the backpack that holds all of my “stuff.”  As my day progresses and my family needs to be front and center, I reach into the backpack and take them out, giving them my full attention and tending to their needs.  Then, a little while later, I get an email and a bill is due.  I can temporarily entrust my family in Jesus’ care as I take out the “financial” burden from the backpack, tending to it while my kids entertain themselves, read, play, etc.   Then the dog throws up.  ALL the stuff goes in the backpack at that point because…well…dog vomit.  Ugh.   Then the afternoon continues and my husband comes home.  I put the stress over what I just cleaned up in Jesus’ backpack and focus on this man that God has given me, greeting him with a smile and kiss and offering him dinner and a chance to rest.  Again, all of my responsibilities are nearby and available to be tended to as needed, but they are not all up front and overwhelming me all at the same time.  (And thank goodness for that because who wants dog puke front and center all the time!  Sorry…I digress.)

Does this make sense?  I think one of the biggest mistakes we can make as human beings is the same one my child made.  We don’t trust that there is enough time or energy to get all the things done so we refuse to put ANY of them down and soon they are spilling out all over the place and nothing gets done well.  But Jesus is right here by our side with an empty backpack and He is not only fully capable of holding every single one of our burdens, he WANTS to hold them.  It doesn’t mean He takes the burdens out of our lives completely, but He does take them out of our overfilled arms and off our backs!

As a woman, a wife, and a mom my life has gone through many seasons.  There are years where my biggest accomplishment was that I took a shower and the kids were still alive at bedtime.  There are others where I was more productive in keeping home, relationships outside my home, and serving.  Some years I have been a prayer warrior, others I have barely breathed out two or three words of desperation to God while trying to bring down a high fever or handle an epic tantrum.  We cannot do everything all of the time. And when we try, we will generally not do any of them well.

For example:

It’s OK, young mama, if your babies are demanding all of your time and you had to order pizza for dinner two nights in a row.  But make eating pizza an event!  Light candles! Play music!  Thank God as a family for that convenience and celebrate it!  You will have more time to cook as your kids grow, I promise.  And when you do, it doesn’t have to be Pinterest-worthy.  And please don’t wish away their little years by longing for things that would bring you more accolades.  In these long, exhausting years do your very best to be satisfied with the approval of the audience of One.  Your Heavenly Father sees and knows every sacrifice, every bottle cleaned, every diaper changed, and every exhausted kiss you give your husband.

My dear sister who is caring for a very sick loved one, maybe you stayed up later than everyone else last night and watched Netflix instead of doing the sink full of dishes.  That may not have been the most productive use of that hour…but then again maybe it was. You have to build rest into your day in order to survive.  Sabbath.  Call a friend and ask her to bring you coffee.  Offer up breath prayers when you are desperate and know that God hears them just as clearly as longer, more eloquent offerings.  Just be in His presence.  You don’t have to say a thing.

My single friend, you may long for husband and a house full of kids.  (Or maybe you don’t!)  God has not given you that “burden” to carry in life and you may feel like a third wheel at social gatherings, but you are very needed and useful.  Serve Him.  Serve His people who run around like chickens with their heads cut off and be an instrument of peace and rest in your community and church!  Use your freedom to go where young mothers cannot in their season of life.  Pave the way for us who will, one day, be empty-nesters and join you on your adventures!

Most importantly, friends, seek the Lord.  Ask Him what he wants you to hold in your hands at this moment.  Then don’t give in to the temptation to carry anything more.  That may sound simple, but you know as well as I do that it is not.  Do one thing at a time and do it well, then put it in the “backpack” before taking out the next thing.  This skill we work so hard to instill in children when learning to care for their belongings is just as useful to us as women as we navigate the busyness of life!

Gosh, I’m thankful for the lessons God teaches me through my kids.  I would love to hear from you if you have anything to share in this area!  You can comment here or email me at alifeofsimplejoys@gmail.com.  I so enjoy interacting with you and learning about the ways you seek to keep life simple!