“… Become a student of your own developing self. Pay attention to what moves you, what you love, what makes you angry, what makes you exhausted. There are no right answers to those kinds of questions, but if you don’t pay attention, you may find yourself several years down the road, living a life that looks good on paper, but doesn’t ring true to the deepest parts of you. That’s a terrible place to be. Become a student of what you love, because what you love flows out of the way God made you.”
– Shauna Niequist
I believe it is okay to admit when you are tired, when you are weak, and when you are struggling. These truths don’t mean I am depressed or hurting or in trouble. They simply mean it’s time for a break.
My life — like yours, I’d bet — moves in seasons. Sometimes, life is slow-paced. My home functions well; Jordan is happy; our jobs require just enough of us to keep us interested; our church is a place of haven and rest and purpose. Other times, though, life becomes a bit more complicated. Our health isn’t the best; the house is a mess; the cars need repairs; Jordan has to work late; our purposes at church begin to crowd our life at home. When those seasons come (and I’d wager for me, they come about once or twice a year), I am faced with the knowledge that I must give something up. A blog post I read last week described this phenomenon as the widening and narrowing of margins.
Sometimes, in life, our margins are narrow, meaning life as we know it is filled to the brim, and we only have just enough breathing room… Yet somehow, it works. Our life is full in the best kind of way, and we’ve pushed our margins just as far as they can go.
Other times, though, the margins need to become wide, and the “stuff” we have filled our lives with have to be removed, at least for a little while. We need room to stretch and rest and grow.
Some people won’t understand that.
Only I can decide what season I’m living. Only Jordan and I know what kinds of margins we need and when.
Today, this month? We are living in a season requiring wider margins.
Let me assure you that this isn’t a season of unhappiness. I’ve gotten a lot of comments and emails concerned with my stress-level and my well-being. I need you to know: I am not unhappy. But I am tired, and I do need rest. It’s simply a season to step back.
We both have a couple of health issues we’re trying to get under control. (Nothing major, but anybody who has ever been less than perfect in the health department knows: Personal health is a serious business, and it’s something that has to be paid attention to in order to be maintained.)
My car’s air compressor is broken, resulting in 90-degree temperatures and a very sweaty ride to work. Jordan’s car has its own issues, leaving us with that ever-present question: Which do we pay for first?
After months spent flying “under the radar” at our church, we’ve both taken on some new roles and ministries, and you know what? It can be a little overwhelming. Those boundaries and margins may need to be tightened again.
We’re currently on the hunt for a house to rent. Our tiny townhome is busting at the seams, and all I want to do these days is sit in a front yard that at least feels a little bit like mine.
The past three weekends have been spent out of town, away from home.
Last week, Jordan spent Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday working at the office until midnight. I, too, was at home working on freelance projects and ministry requests.
This isn’t a season of unhappiness, but it is a season that requires “no.” When I say “no,” it’s not to hurt feelings or to break promises or to place all the work on someone else’s shoulders. It’s just to reevaluate my life and my commitments. And although I may say no during this season, I may be able to say yes later. That’s how margins work.
Author Shauna Niequist has a lot of great things to say to people in their 20s, but her recent words, spoken at a commencement ceremony for college graduates, really resonated with me.
“Become a student of your own developing self,” she said. “Pay attention to what moves you, what you love, what makes you angry, what makes you exhausted.”
That’s what I’m trying to do. That’s really what this season is about. It’s more than just saying no to commitments so I can lounge by the pool (although, honestly, I hope a lot of pool-lounging happens). It’s about discovering what moves me, what makes me happy, what causes me to crawl into my bed in the middle of the day to get away from it all.
I love being a student. It’s possible nothing thrills me more. It’s why I like to read, why I like to travel, why I like to try new things. I’ve forgotten, though, to be a student of myself. In my 30s, I want to really know who I am. I want to one day be a confident, loving parent. I want to be the best possible wife to Jordan, part of a most excellent marriage. I want to decide where my boundary lines are drawn, and I want to have a community of people surrounding me who help me with that. I want to be fulfilled and purposeful and happy.
I think I’m well on my way to accomplishing those things, to becoming those things. But I don’t want stress from over-commitment to get in my way, to cloud my vision of how great this life really is.
My step back will, for this season, be my salvation. It will help me see more clearly.
It will be good for me, and I believe, in turn, it will mean good for the people around me.
photo by Karen Wise for Design*Sponge