Tuesday, August 16, 2011

lining up.

 Yesterday, author Shauna Niequist posted this question on her blog:

“What’s present in your life today that’s not in line with what you want for tomorrow?”

And I thought: Oh, dear.

Because unlike a lot of people, I think I know exactly what’s in my life today that I hope won’t be there down the road.

The problem is that I’m not entirely sure how to eliminate these “nonessentials,” these things that I know I don’t want roaming around my life long-term, but that have somehow followed me around for months and years.

Really — and here is what I hate admitting publicly but which I know very well to be true — I hate saying no.

You have no idea how badly I don’t want to be that person: that “yes man,” the girl who says yes to activities and commitments and phone calls and church functions and leadership roles, all under the guise that it’s purposeful and meaningful and wonderful.

But I do it anyway.

Just last week, I received an invitation to attend a “spa party” (read: Tupperware party for bath products) at an elderly woman’s home. The woman attends my church, and although I had no desire to go — and in fact, had other plans already set in stone — I still felt ridiculously guilty for missing it. I had visions of the woman looking wistfully out her window, glancing fretfully at the clock, waiting for guests to show up. I just knew I had let her down. (This is, I recognize, completely irrational and bordering on insane.)

When did the definition of a full life become synonymous with a busy one?

Because I want a full life. A life with sweet friendships and good food and the care of orphans and widows. I want to commune with believers and reach out to the hurt and hungry. I want a life full of laughter and tears, loving family, and a quiet and peaceful home. I want an out-of-this-world relationship with my husband and an intimate understanding of who the Father is and who He wants me to be.

Why do I think that any of that would require a list of things to do?

Here is what I know: Lately, I do not want to answer my phone. I ignore texts and calls and emails, because I feel like if I do one more thing for one more person, I will implode on myself like a dying star (Office reference? Anyone?).

In the meantime, I go to bed too late and wake up too tired. The simple life I long for disappears behind a cloud of commitments, and I wonder: How on earth did this happen?

For years, I have been the girl who could juggle it all. In high school, I balanced numerous activities that I loved. In college, I did the same, maybe more. I only experienced a handful of meltdowns, and I look back on those years with little to no regret.

But just because someone can do something, does that mean they should?

Just because I’m good at juggling it all doesn’t mean I should add more balls to the mix, does it?

Because right now — in the essence of full disclosure — here is what my life looks like. (I’ve included Jordan’s activities on here too, since, let’s face it, we’re in this thing together.)

Supper club
Book club
Adopt-a-Student program
Monthly activities for college students
Church website
Teaching on “Faith Lane,” our church’s children’s ministry
Friendspeak, a Spanish-speaking ministry Jordan runs
Full-time job
Graphic design projects
Wedding planning
Flag football (this is Jordan’s)
Small group Bible study

You may not know me very well, but surely you know this: 14 activities do not a simple life make.

A full life does not necessarily mean a busy one, and I am tired of buying the lie that it does.

I want to protect my life and my marriage from these activities that masquerade as callings and purposes.

One glance at that list, and I know what needs to go, what must be removed if I really truly want a full but simple and purposeful and meaningful life.

Unfortunately, the tricky part is actually saying no. Risking hurt and frustration from the people I have to tell. Because there’s another thing I’m learning as adulthood marches on: Most people like being miserable. And they want you to be miserable too. Everyone likes complaining about how busy they are. We like comparing full calendars and moaning about never having time for a vacation. It’s easier, I think, to pretend our life is full than to actually take steps in that direction.

I’m ready to stop. I’ve said this before, but as I look again at that list of commitments, I realize that I’ve failed. I haven’t worked hard enough at maintaining a balance, at living simply and creatively. I’ve become tired and stressed and overwhelmed, and the answer isn’t a multivitamin. It’s to quit.

Quitting is hard for me. But if I want the life I’ve always dreamed of, I’ve got to take the steps to make it happen.

For now, that’s going to mean saying no. It’s going to mean settling down, seeking refuge in my home. It’s going to mean placing the Father at the top of my list and His work — or rather, what I’ve confused for His work — at the bottom.

Wish me luck.

"He has showed you what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? 
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."
- Micah 6:8

* print by Kal Barteski, available here


monster cakes said...

Oh my kindred spirit, what is wrong with us? haha Once you figure out the answer to saying no and slimming down your list, pass it my way. Good luck friend! I'll be sending "simplifying" thoughts your way.

ps. In all seriousness, we can do it. You can do it. Remember that if you don't take time to refuel your marriage and spiritual life, you won't be at your full potential to help people anyway. So really, you are doing everyone a favor by saying no and shutting your phone off every now and then.

hannah singer said...

what a great question!

i was always a "yes girl". to a detrimental fault.
honestly, it took us moving across the country for me to start fresh. i still sometimes struggle with the need to oblige requests, but have gotten in the habit of saying "i'll think about it". then after thought, answering what is best for me.

amen. a full life is the desire of my heart, too. and i love the distinction you've made-that full doesn't mean busy. so true and so crucial to remember!

great post. happy tuesday! xo

sherri lynn said...

I think learning to say no is such an important part of finding a good balance. This past year, our first year of marriage, we've made a point to say no to things to make sure we are getting good, quality time together. We are both so thankful because we think it's built a good foundation for our marriage. We've learned to eliminate the non-essentials and focus on the majors for each week: church, Bible study, each other, and reaching out to others. It's helped us to develop a good pattern for each week. Then when something extra comes up or there's an invitation to do something, we have more freedom to say yes because we've said no to other things along the way.

Elizabeth Dean said...

I think people understand when you pull back. Maybe you should treat it like Coco Channel, when you look in the mirror take off at least one accessory.

But don't take off Bible study! I guess evaluate things in terms of relationships; which one nurtures you and your relationships?

Laken said...

Have you ever read the book Boundaries? I've never read it - but Ty's sister in law has and she said it was great (and about this exact topic).

At least the bright side is, you know exactly what needs to go. I'm not sure I know that -- I feel like I take on so many things because I'm not exactly sure what I want my life to look like down the road.

Sydney Davis said...

Good for you for being able to recognize and put into words what you know to be your truth. That is more than half the battle, truly. What an inspirational post! I wish you nothing but good luck and excellent internal guidance.

Anonymous said...

Oh Annie, I love you.
I have this dialogue in my mind, often, when confronted with just "one more thing to do".

Two things play over in my head, at the onset of a new commitment:

1.) If I say YES to something, I am going to have to say NO to something else (generally family time). Is it worth it?

2.) This quote:
"Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing." -Thomas Edison

In essence, I believe that each thing we do (be it small or mighty) should have an extreme purpose. We can't do a million things and expect them all to have a plan and divine purpose. That is just silly.

So, I must weed.

whitney johnson said...

sometimes i feel like i should be saying "YES" to more things because i feel like i am not busy enough, but you're right about everything. a busy life is not always the most fulfilling! wishing you good luck and hoping you find the balance you're looking for :)

chet said...

"Because there’s another thing I’m learning as adulthood marches on: Most people like being miserable. And they want you to be miserable too. "

I was just talking about this to someone today. Apparently it's not just a plague to punk/hardcore subcultures.

Alynne Leigh said...

I love your verse, at the end.
You'll sort everything out in time. I think you've made a giant step towards your goal of a simple and beautiful life by recognizing what you need to do. (:

Sabrina said...

Take small steps Annie! You have been working on saying no to commitments on and off for a while. To me that says that obviously it is important to you.....but the implementation is also challenging. As a good friend, I would say that though I love reading your blog and you LOVE writing....taking a little hiatus or changing the writing schedule has never hurt anyone....and those of us who are true friends and fans will be right here waiting when you get back:) In fact it would be lovely to hear about what transpired during the break. Whatever you decide to do....Good Luck!

Annie said...

If only we could all realize that a full life is not curated by having a busy one! I usually spend my free time at home, watching television or with a good book. It can be frustrating to schedule time with friends because many of them are busy and trying to find space to fit me in. And yet I buy the line that a busier life is a fuller one, too, so I wait eagerly on the weeks that I'm running crazily around myself. But honestly, I like being able to tell people that I'm free all this day, just tell me when and where you want to do something. I'm realizing my favorite times are the moderately busy ones, where I'm busy enough to be productive, but still have a free enough schedule to be flexible.