Pacing Out Life: Lessons from the road.
Just one breath.
For me, it's the power of being by the sea. I'm not sure if it's the salty air, the rhythmic pounding of the ocean, or the view of the straight and steady horizon but in one breath standing by the sea, I feel refreshed.
As a wife and mother of 3, postgraduate student, and full time pastor, pacing life at times feels challenging, and even at times impossible. Unfortunately I've hit the burn out road before, more than once if I'm honest, and have had to learn the hard way what balance looks like in this season.
Knowing God's desire for diligent fruitfulness (Prov 13:4, Col 3:23) but also for restfulness in Him (Matt 1:28-30, Heb 4:9-11), balancing of the call to 'go' and the call to 'abide' seems to be key (Jn 15:1-8). Michael Gorman's uses the image of a mobile vine:
"a community of centripetally oriented love that shares that love centrifugally as they move out from themselves, all the while abiding in the vine, the very source of their life and love, the source of their power". (See full source here)
It's a powerful picture of a community of God's people, abiding in God as they go forth, moving out into God's world. So while we might try to divide work and rest, internally in us, and in our communities these should be a connected and integrated whole.
As I seek to live this out, individually, and connected within community I have found the following 5 practices to be helpful to pacing life, and 'going forth' from this place of 'abiding'.
1. Set your Rhythms
Our bodies need physical rhythms. This means regular sleep, physical downtime, and times of exercise. Our bodies are not made to run 24/7 on adrenaline. Regular sickness is a sign this is out of whack. This I have learnt the hard way.
Rhythms includes rhythms of Sabbath days weekly and time for holidays. We have an annual holiday as a family, that is never less than 3 weeks. I find I need one week to disconnect from work and physically recover, and the following two weeks to enjoy family relationships, reflect, and begin dreaming positively about what lays before us in the next season. We have a mini one week break 6 months after our annual holiday, and two weekends off between holidays to break our year into four shorter sections. This helps us have space to reflect on our physical, emotional and spiritual health throughout the year.
We also need emotional rhythms. Times of rest and reconnection with friends that energise us, times of reflection and debrief to process the emotions of the day and sometimes help to do so. Suppressing emotions in the middle of a business meeting might be the best option at the time, but we need to make space to process what arises. This might be daily for you, or it might be weekly.
We also need Spiritual rhythms. Daily patterns of refocus, whether its a typical Christian 'quiet time' in the morning, or like me, a prayer walk around my neighbourhood in the morning as I reflect on scripture and a process of reflection at the end of the day. We need disciplines to refocus us, for the days we think we can go it alone.
2. Know how you rest
If you have ever been on holidays with others, you will know that people rest differently. I rest through time around water, it's life giving. I rest through reflecting in coffee shops, reading books, and active activities like wake-boarding, bike riding and playing basketball. Some people who have come to 'rest' with me have felt the need for a holiday afterwards! Part of resting well, is knowing who you are and how you rest.
Knowing yourself well is powerful. Tools like Enneagram and Myers-Briggs can help, but 'tasting and seeing' is just as effective. Plan three or four different days out. Record how you feel before you go, and how you feel when you return. Listen to other's ideas, but grid them through who you are. I'm often told to 'rest' in other people's styles, and while I love the heart these people have for me, and their desire to see me flourish, I rest differently, and that's ok.
3. Unapologetically seek life-giving moments
This is a relatively new habit for me. When I'm in the middle of a busy season, and there are many people and tasks vying for my time, I don't always have the privilege of a whole day to rest and refocus. Sometimes I have an hour, and that hour is squeezed between a drama drop off and presenting at a meeting. So in that hour, I've learnt to seek life-giving moments.
I ask myself, 'What can I do with this time that would energise or refocus me?' (usually on abiding with God in the busyness). Whether it's a quality cup of tea on my own, a walk around the streets before school pickup, a phone call to a friend, or finding a beautiful place to read and reflect. I've learnt the value and the life giving nature of the little moments. Try it when you feel the imbalance sneaking in.
4. Know and Share your Flags.
I spent significant time after a season of burnout talking with a professional and working out what does exhaustion look like for me? What does it look like to be burning out? Everyone has flags, but again, depending on your personality they differ. There is value in reflecting on those hard times, and working out what was it that you could have seen and recognised. Do you withdraw from those around you? Do you respond differently to challenges? What are the key emotions that surface?
Once you work these out, share them with someone you trust. I guarantee they will see your flags before you do. It's one of the benefits of community. Choose someone you know won't use them against you, but will work for you, and seek to help you flourish in whatever God is calling you into.
5. Slow the pace.
Our world is fast paced. Where possible, slow the pace. Walk where you can. Limit the kids after school activities, they don't need to be superstars at 10 different sports by the time they are 10yrs old. Take time for relationships, make time for those you meet on the street. Have friends around to dinner, leave space to enjoy preparing the meal, praying through the evening to come, rather than schedule three meetings or events around the meal. 'Busy' is not a badge to wear with honour, seek balance instead.
As I sit by the sea today writing this, snatching my own little life-giving moment, it's my day off, but today it's being juggled between work, and family commitments. I'm the first to acknowledge I don't always get these things right, just ask my husband, but I am trying. I am making a conscious effort to live differently, to live balancing work and rest, seeking to abide as a go.
I want to be more present, at work, with family, in my community. I want to be more rested, to hear God clearly, to respond obediently, and to life joyfully.
You are more than welcome to join me as I seek to pace out life. Please post any suggestions you have for a balanced life below.