The Bare Bones of a Semi-Balanced Life. {And Permission to Lie Down.}

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{This is Part 2 of Figuring Out Your Priorities. When You’re Bad at Figuring Out Your Priorities.}

I spent four and half years as a graduate student, surrounded by some of the best brains I’d ever encountered. The 17th floor of Patterson Office Tower was home to tenured or soon-to-be-tenured History scholars who spent days and nights cultivating their minds, furthering their research, instructing the masses, overseeing T.A.s, presenting papers at conferences, and scrambling to get published.

I loved these people. I still do. Fascinating and novel and incredibly generous, professional academics have a way of bubbling with an ambition and enthusiasm that’s contagious. I’ll admit, it rubbed off on me during those years and I was gunning for that kind of career. The life of the mind seemed a wonderful sort of vocation.

But dialed down just a notch.

Here’s the thing about those brilliant and prolific scholars. {Keep in mind I’m generalizing here.} They were not always the most well-rounded of folks. Their life was their work and their work was their life. Many weren’t married, though a number of them had tried it.

Over time I noticed that family relationships seemed strained and commuter marriages not uncommon. The younger female professors were panicking to get tenure while pumping breast-milk in their offices. More than one of these academic moms confessed to me that their houses were a disaster and they constantly struggled with guilt.

And while I wanted this to be my life, I got a little scared that this could actually be my life.

Though I did mostly love these marvelous people who mentored me so well during those sweet and intense years, there were some sizable egos on the 17th floor and we all knew who to avoid. Academia can be a vortex of pride, ambition, brains, and sub-standard social skills. Not to mention a complete wasteland of fashionable attire. It was like drowning in a sea of earth tones, coffee-stained oxfords, bad suits, and awkward small talk

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God taught me many lessons during that time in my life, most of them having nothing at all to do with academics. I learned that when you focus solely on furthering your strengths and avoiding your areas of weakness, you may be a rock star academic but a half-hearted spouse.

You may be an impressive crusader but a worn-out parent.

You may have the respect of your colleagues but no real friends.

Now before all the professionals get mad at me, it goes the other way too.

You may be killing it as a homeschool mom but your marriage is merely cohabitation.

You may be queen of the school volunteers while those who matter most get the leftovers. 

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These are simply the obvious outcomes of an unbalanced life. That’s because we’re human. And humans are finite.

I’ve been guilty from every angle.

  • When I was first married, I made an idol of my husband to the neglect of my own self.
  • Later on I focused too much on career to the detriment of my marriage.
  • I’ve put my best energy into being a stellar teacher and been bankrupt of energy for my own young children.
  • Then as a homeschool mom, I gave the best of myself to their education but had zero left for my husband and other relationships.
  • Even now as a stay-at-home-mom / writer, I can easily give away my prime energy to projects or ministry or hopeful pursuits while swatting away the questions of my children or ignoring the presence of my husband.

 

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So what’s the solution?

I don’t have it figured out. But I’m trying to dig through it and words help me do that. Here’s what I’m trying.

1. Anchoring my mind and heart in truth. As I’ve wrestled with these issues of prioritization and balance, God’s impressed certain Scriptures upon me. They’re his words to me that say, “Look, you don’t have to figure this out on your own. I’ve given you a compass. Meditate on these things and walk hand in hand with me through your days along my bedrock path of truth.” Here are some of my anchors.

 

2. Writing down the bare bones. And I mean, the really basic stuff. Just write it on a post-it and stick it on your bathroom mirror. I’ll go first. During this season of my life, the list looks something like this.

  • Love God.
  • Love my husband.
  • Love my children.
  • Take care of myself. {Self care for me includes everything from rest and solitude to margin and creativity.}
  • Manage the home and life that God has given us.
  • Love those who God places in my path.
  • Trust God to provide for our needs.
  • Trust God to help us provide for others’ needs.
  • Be available with my gifts, seeking God’s wisdom.
  • Be available with my weaknesses, seeking God’s strength.

 

You’ll notice that I did not write down: figure out vocational stuff, read more books, be more available to others, be more involved in my church, etc.

That’s because I’m talking about the bare bones here. And the bare bones vary from season to season and from person to person.

Right now I’m in a season of needing to be very available for my family. My kids are getting older and busier. They need to get places and I’m the one who can take them. They eat more than they once did and I’ve found that procuring and preparing food is a bigger deal than it used to be. Their emotional lives are wider and deeper than when they were little and as a mom, this is way taxing. Way.

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In the midst of these needs, I still have a marriage to cultivate. I long to do more than simply keep it on life support during these very full days and years of raising kids.

When my own ambition is nipping at my heels, when the tornado is swirling with blog post ideas and book proposals and laundry and other people’s expectations and other people’s accomplishments and helping out with this ministry and Marian needs a nap forthelove, I have to stop the world for a moment.

Or a long series of moments.

I have to flee from the chaotic land of All The Things and return home to a place of simple trust.

This is so much harder than I make it sound. I can write these things one minute and be in hot pursuit of something unscripted the next minute. I don’t believe that the bare bones rule out all of my personal endeavors. I hope and trust that God will allow them to fit into the small gaps as they should but that forcing them into cramped spaces squashes overrides the bare bones.

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In thinking through this issue for yourself, here’s a helpful question, one I’ve heard others ask as they’re establishing priorities:

What are the things only you can do?

Here’s what I’m talking about.

Only I can be my husband’s wife and my kids’ mom.

Only I can reflect the workmanship of God with the one-of-a-kind combination of strengths and weaknesses and backstory He’s given me. This means I choose to prioritize studying and writing, beauty and continued healing. They are the ways I reflect the world around me, give voice to the world within me, influence the community that surrounds me, and bring glory to the One who created me.

Though I’m the designated domestic engineer for now, the reality is this: Other people can prepare our meals {like the deli or a restaurant.} Other people can be hired to clean my house or get the groceries. Right now we do these things ourselves but another season may come along when I give more to a vocation and we hire out the tasks I currently provide.

What I can’t outsource is a wife for my husband or a mom for my kids or a heart that communicates exactly like mine. Though I’m tempted to think someone else would be far better at those first two, I trust that for better or for worse, I’m the one they’ve got. I might as well show up for the job like I mean it, less than stellar track record and all.

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If your own life feels topsy turvy, if all the things and all the people seem important all of the time, coming back home can be as simple as pen and paper:

1. What are my truth anchors?

2. What are my bare bones?

3. What are the things only I can do?

4. How has God gifted me and how can I honor those gifts right now?

5. What are the daily non-negotiables, even though they highlight my weaknesses? Might I pray to honor even the weaknesses, to lean into the everyday less-than-loveliness, knowing that God comes in with his strength, grace, and yes, even joy?

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God has placed you in a unique place, in a unique time, surrounded by specific people, and equipped with one-of-a-kind gifts. He invites us to trust him with everything — our big ambitions and our seemingly small days.

When we begin to get angsty, envious, or discontent, we may find that it’s rooted in a lack of trust.

A funny thing happens as I humbly acknowledge that there is a time for everything and every season and therefore I will surely not squeeze a lifetime’s worth of endeavors into this one season…

Instead of frustration, I actually find freedom.

And also a place to lie down.

I suggest you find one too. Because Marian is bossy about naps and knows that rest is often the most fruitful thing an overwhelmed gal can do.

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Though I’m grateful to live in a time of so much possibility, I’m easy overwhelmed by … so many possibilities.

What are your thoughts on staking down your priorities, living a quiet life, and focusing on the bare bones in a world that invites you in a hundred different directions at once?

 

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Comments

  1. Lena Uhren says

    I literally read your post yesterday and then exploded on my husband last night b/c we have been unbalanced for a long time now. I am thinking back to your posts about homeschooling moms needing to pay themselves and realizing how little of that we have been doing. I am racked with guilt whenever I need time alone just to PLAN for school…let alone time for me…Thanks for this post. Am making a list today!

  2. says

    Thank you for this. I am currently here asking the Lord to help me get things in order in my life. A transition into a new season (four kids instead of only three, among other things) has me reevaluating. It’s good. Just hard at times. “Though I’m grateful to live in a time of so much possibility, I’m easy overwhelmed by … so many possibilities.” Yes! That explains me right now.

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