Missed Part Eight? Click here.
Getting “un-busy” is hard work. If it was as easy as cancelling a few non-essential events or crossing a few items off our to-do lists, wouldn’t we have done that already? For most of us, it’s actually quite complicated. Our lives are intertwined with the lives of our spouses, our children, our extended family and friends, as well as the agendas of our employers, our churches and a host of other organizations who (unfortunately) cannot set their schedules based upon ours. Our best intentions at living out our priorities can be thwarted by sickness, weather, babysitter cancellation, or mechanical breakdown of automobile and/or major appliance.
My busyness is not like your busyness. It can’t be. Why? Because my life and all the things and people who affect it are not your life and all the things and people who affect yours.
Getting un-busy means getting to the root of the matter. It means examining our hearts and asking God, “What kind of busy person am I?”. (If you missed that post, you must read it. I command you.) It means looking at everything on our plates and asking the really hard question:
Who put this here? God or me?
It means letting go of some really good things, for the sake of better things. It means letting go of better things for the sake of the very best thing. It may mean not doing some things we really love, if only for a season. It usually means ticking some people off.
I told you here that I was walking this road along with you, and I wasn’t kidding. Since starting this series, I’ve done some major renovations in my schedule. I’ve dropped some things, and hired some people. I’ve had a heart to heart (or two) with my sweet husband (whose schedule affects me more than any other) and asked him to make some adjustments, too. I’ve had to set aside some things I love, trusting God will allow me to pick them back up when time allows.
And because I’m sometimes not the sharpest knife in the utensil drawer, I’ve had to consecrate 40 days of prayer and fasting to this issue.
Like I said, it’s hard work.
So, where do you start? How do you know where to cut, where to add and where to maintain? Well, if you are super busy and are living on caffeine and Tums (as one sweet commenter confessed), I highly recommend starting here:
1.Go on a fast. I know, we all hate fasting (says the girl who has eaten nothing but vegetable soup or salad—or, glory, soup AND salad—for every lunch and dinner for the last month.) But it works. Plain and simple. Setting aside times of prayer and Bible study while I’m simultaneously denying my self-centered flesh what it craves is a perfect environment for me to hear God speak.
2.Know your priorities. In Matthew 22:37-39, Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.”
As a new Christian and a young wife, I was often confused about my priorities. I’m often confused about a lot of things, so no big shocker there. But it caused me to over-schedule and over-commit, often to the detriment of my marriage and my health. Once I understood, Biblically, where God wanted me to direct my attention, it helped me in a general sense to prioritize my days. Here are my general priorities as God revealed them to me years ago. I use this as a guideline when I need to re-evaluate my schedule—and as The Message so appropriately puts it, “a peg from which I hang everything else.”
a.God: Prayer, worship, Bible reading, seeking His will and direction for my life, listening for His voice, allowing Him to conform me to His image. God has impressed upon me emphatically that I cannot function in the fullness of His power without making this top priority every single day. It’s not always the very first item on my schedule, but it is a non-negotiable. I must make time for this at some point in the day. Even Jesus did this. As the crowds pressed on Him, He withdrew to pray. (Luke 5: 15-16) This is not the same as church or church-related activities, which you may be surprised to find way down there at letter “g.”
b.My physical well-being: Diet, rest and exercise. I will be completely useless to building God’s Kingdom if I’m sick and tired all the time. This is often a thing people allow to fall way down the list—usually somewhere after “watching The Bachelor” and “cleaning the top of the fridge.” But God has directed me to be a good steward of my physical body so I can properly care for the people around me and be most effective at doing the work of the Kingdom.
c.My marriage. I’m the only one who can be Jon’s wife. (Titus 2:4a)
d.My children. I’m the only mother my kids have. (Titus 2:4b)
e.My home: Not just cleaning it (uuuggghhhhhh!) but creating a peaceful and nurturing environment for my family and friends. Since I stay at home, I am also the primary home manager, responsible to keep the bills paid, the fridge stocked and the laundry clean. (Titus 2:5)
f.My job: In my case, that’s my writing and occasionally my teaching.
g.My spiritual growth: This is not my daily time with God, but rather, the additional things I do to enhance my spiritual growth, like church attendance, small group participation, group Bible studies and retreats.
h.My ministry activities: These are things I do where I use my gifts and talents to be an active part of the Body of Christ. For me right now, that’s singing on the worship team.
i.Other activities: These are recreational things I do that keep me balanced. Unfortunately, I’m very unbalanced right now, so I don’t have anything to put here. But I hear that some women actually play tennis or join book clubs.
j.Extended family and friends.
k. Everything else.
Before we move on, here are a couple notes about that list.
i.In the event of an emergency, the list gets thrown out the window. Heaven help me if I have a critically ill family member (letter “j’) and I decide I can’t be at her bedside because it’s laundry day (letter “e”).
ii.Many items on this list overlap, so tending to one is usually not at the exclusion of all others. For example, I spend the majority of my time with friends while I’m also doing ministry or spiritual growth activities. Because my children are small, letters “a” through “e” are all merged together on most days (spending time with my husband and my children at the same time, praying while my children are there, exercising while my children are there, grocery shopping while my children are there, sleeping while my children are there. They’re pretty much there all the time).
iii.My list might not be your list. In fact, it probably isn’t. So, ask God about your list.
iv.Contrary to popular belief, the time you devote to your tasks is not always indicative of the place it holds on your priority list. I know, for example, that I’m more important to Jon than his job. However, he must often spend more of his waking hours at work than he does alone with me. Bummer.
3.Know your gifts and talents: (I Corinthians 12) This has been one of the most liberating revelations I’ve ever received. For years, I felt obligated to fill every gap and tend to every need presented to me. Because I could adequately perform many tasks, I thought I was mandated by God to do so. But as I spent more time getting to know God (my highest priority), He began revealing to me His specific purpose for me. Writing and teaching are a huge part of that. This is why I can, with a very clear conscience and the blessing of my husband, spend 20 hours or more a week writing. This is why, with a very clear conscience and the blessing of my husband, I can say no to other volunteer opportunities.
If you have never taken a spiritual gifting test, I highly suggest you do so. Another resource that helped me pinpoint my place in God’s kingdom was Max Lucado’s book Cure for the Common Life. Read it. I command you.
4.Understand your season: As a new mom, I had several older women remind me that my husband, not my new baby, was my top human priority. That really confused and frustrated me. I’d think, “The baby is not my top priority? If I don’t feed my baby, he’ll die. If I don’t make dinner for Jon, he can walk into the kitchen and make a sandwich. “ Then, one very wise, older woman, reminded me about seasons. She assured me that my babies would only be babies for a little while. And, while it was true that my marriage is my top priority, it was essential that I spend a disproportionate amount of time caring for my babies for a season. God designed it that way. Babies are absolutely helpless. I didn’t need to feel guilty for taking the majority of my days caring for the babies. As the season changed, so did my distribution of time. I’ve gone through other unique seasons too:
a. Seasons of grief, where I did little more than exist
b. Seasons of change, where I spent time laying foundations and establishing roots in a new city
c. Seasons of growth, where I spent an exorbitant amount of time reading and studying, laying a foundation for future ministry
d. Seasons of healing, where I spent months in counseling
e. Seasons of ministry, where I spent months preparing for and teaching Bible studies
Identifying your season will liberate you to focus on certain things temporarily without confusion or guilt.
5. Get help. This week, I hired a maid. After five years of cleaning (or attempting unsuccessfully to clean) my house all by myself, I decided I needed help. For me, it wasn’t a luxury. I was losing my mind. Sinking in the sea of dust bunnies. Living in a dirty house really bothers me. I can’t function. So I either I had to get rid of half our stuff and move to a smaller house, or I had to get a lobotomy and remove the part of my brain that is bothered by dirt. Thankfully, with my husband’s blessing, I instead brought two angles into my house who cleaned it from top to bottom. For the first time in the history of my house, the entire thing is clean at once. It’s glorious. I want to roll on my carpets and eat vegetable soup and salad off my kitchen floor. And they will be back to do it all again in two weeks.
A few weeks ago, I started a babysitting co-op with my friend. Once a week I watch her sweet baby, and once a week, she watches mine. That gives me six kid-less hours a week. Oh, what I can accomplish in six kid-less hours!!!
Last week, I also convinced my husband to pay someone to cut our lawn, so he could take those two hours a week and be with me and the kids. It’s a small price to pay to have Daddy playing volleyball in the backyard instead of riding the mower.
6.Simplify. Getting rid of stuff is one of the easiest ways to clear up your schedule. Less stuff means less stuff to care for, which means more time to do other things. Since the middle of the summer, I have literally taken three van-sized loads of donated items to Goodwill. And two van-sized loads to the dump or the curb. I was brutal. I purged like nobody’s business. I’m quite serious about my simplifying.
7.Get organized. Cleaning out closets, drawers and cabinets saves time looking for things. Planning meals saves time shopping and cooking. Planning your day saves time driving. I’m naturally organized, so this is pretty easy for me. But if you aren’t, find someone who is and pick his or her brain. Read books. Find websites. Pull out some tips that resonate with you, and get to work. It’s worth the time and effort to do so.
8.Make rest a priority. I know it sounds counterproductive, but it isn’t. I can’t tell you how many times I burned the midnight oil in an attempt to finish a project, only to be toast the following day. And I can’t tell you how many times I disciplined myself to go to bed early, only to wake up the next day and multiply my productivity. Trust me on this one. Rest was God’s idea.
Next time, I’m going to take you through a multi-step process to regain control of your schedule and shed the weight of busyness—hopefully, for good. It will be our last post on busyness, so you won’t want to miss it. And no jokes about how you’re too busy to read it. I command you.