And a Gold Star to You!

On Thursday night and Friday of last week I attended something called the Global Leadership Summit. It was a great time of hearing teaching from excellent speakers, my favourites being Carla Harris and David Livermore (I’m sure you can find them on YouTube). Each of the speakers spoke from their wheelhouse, the things they were interested in, the things they are passionate about. Most of it was amazing and I’ve been left with many things to chew over and apply to my life.

But there was one thing that got my goat, that went against what I believe in, and because that thing is my thing, I’m going to talk with you about it here.

One of the speakers was a pastor of a church with a large congregation that meets in many different places at the same time. It’s a church that uses technology well. Again, I want to say that I agreed with much of what this guy said, I loved a lot of what he said, but he told one story that made me worried for him and for the workers at his church.

He told us that Friday was his day off, but that often he would find himself heading to the office for some reason at around 430 or 5pm on a Friday. Now, as soon as he said that, alarms started going off for me.

I much prefer Eugene Peterson’s approach. Peterson set aside Monday as his day off, his sabbath. He wrote a letter to his congregation informing them of this and asking them to respect that day off. He stated that if there was a crisis then they could contact him, but for anything short of imminent death could they please wait until Tuesday? He would send that letter out annually just to remind his congregation of the importance of a day of rest.

Pastors have one of the most emotionally draining jobs on the planet. People can feel like the pastor is their property and should be available at all times. But no one can live that way, and even God took a day off after creation. So if a pastor feels that he has to ‘drift back’ to the office on his day off as a regular thing, I think there is something wrong.

Now, the other part of setting up this story is that the pastor (talking at the GLS) told us that the church workers were allowed to go home early each Friday. That gave them time to pick up their kids from school, go to the doctors, all the stuff that you can do with a couple of extra week day hours. That is great! I think it’s wonderful that they built that into the workplace.

However, when this pastor would drop into the office on a Friday afternoon he would find some people there still working. They were working unpaid overtime.

Now this pastor is a great guy, he really cares for the people that work at his church, he’s a good leader. So he started to show the workers his appreciation. He would go around and give them a fist bump and say ‘Gold star!’

This meant a lot to the workers and their spouses would send him notes to say how much they appreciated the fact that he showed his appreciation. This made him more inclined to say thank you to all the people who were working when they could have been at home.

This situation continued and built up. And now when he heads in on a Friday afternoon he takes a bag full of little gold star toys and hands them out, yelling, ‘Gold star to you! Awesome job! Gold star!’ He showed us a video. The staff were so happy to get these toys. It means a lot to be appreciated.

And it’s lovely that he appreciates his staff. That’s great.

But wouldn’t it be even better if he told them all to get out of the office and go home? Wouldn’t it be great if he enforced the rule of rest, rather than encouraged overwork and overtime?

Insane busyness is a sickness of our age. I feel the church is called to be counter-cultural in this area as in many others. We need to be careful not to add to the busyness of our congregations by adding too many ‘good religious activities’ to their already overcrowded schedules. We need to remind people that it is God that provides our needs, not our work, nor our boss, however that looks from the outside, and that God has directed us to take a day of rest each week.

I have tested this and found that God will help me with my work in the rest of the week if I dedicate a day to resting. No-one has yet died because I took a Sabbath.

Even if you are not a believer, studies have shown that taking a rest will lead to better and more creative work later. And that not resting will lead to less effective and poorer quality work. The universe works on this rule of resting one day in seven.

I’m not sure how you’d do it, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if this man, this pastor, could give the same encouragement that he gives to his overworking staff to his staff when they left the office, went home, built relationships with their families and reached out to their friends and neighbours on a Friday afternoon?

gold star 2

Gold star to you – you played in the park with your kids!

Gold star to you – you read a novel (and therefore increased your empathy for mankind)!

Gold star to you – you stacked the dishwasher and filled the washing machine and gave your wife the couch, the remote, and a glass of wine!

Gold star to you – you invited your neighbour to go watch a movie with you!

A big gold star – you took a nap!

I encourage you to make time to take a rest this week. And if it helps, give yourself a big gold star when you do it.

For more on Eugene Peterson’s ideas on the sabbath, listen to this

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Rest

This week I’ve been reading a book called Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. I had heard it highly recommended on a podcast so I toddled along to the library and placed myself on the hold list and got hold of a copy. I was number 2 on the list for this book, not number 60 like I am for a book called Educated by Tara Westover. You might get a book report on that one too but you’re going to be waiting a while.

Anyway, Rest is one of those books that looks at the science behind resting – fMRIs and studies of various student groups, and all that kind of stuff. It also looks at the lives of great achievers through history – great politicians, authors, artists, and scientists – and shows us how they incorporated rest into their lives, encouraging us to do the same.

When Alex talks about rest, he’s talking about sleeping well at night, napping, walking, vigorous exercise (like marathons, or rock climbing), and immersive hobbies (like chess or building an 18 ft robot giraffe). All of these are aspects of rest and help renew our minds so that we can work better and more creatively.

He nowhere mentions watching TV or movies or surfing social media as aspects of rest.

When Moz and I were first married we lived in a little granny flat out the back of a friend’s house. For the first few months we had no television. (And no computer. Almost no one had a computer back then. It’s really crazy to think about that.)

We didn’t miss it very much at all. We read, we chatted, visited with friends. It wasn’t a problem most of the time. But there were some days I remember coming home and really wanting to sit and stare and be entertained. So I think that TV has its place in the list of restful activities.

But I also think TV-watching has a very limited ability to refresh us. It is so easy to keep watching, keep flicking to the next Netflix show, when it would be much better for us to either sleep, or walk, or read. Any of those things would be ultimately more refreshing. I can spend a day watching TV and be more exhausted at the end than I was at the beginning.

Social media is similar. I love to just scroll through my feed when I’m feeling tired. But the scroll can become never-ending and you can end up more tired than when you started. And more disturbed and emotionally unwell too, depending on the content that comes up.

It’s important for our brains to feel boredom. To spend a little bit of time not being entertained. The flickering low-level entertainment of TV and social media is a short-term gain but a long-term loss for our well-being. I’m sure you’ve heard this before, I’m not saying anything new. But maybe it’s important to check what we are doing when we’re trying to rest, and see whether it actually helps us to feel rested or not.

It’s easy to read Rest and to add a checklist of new activities that you now have to tick off in order to achieve greatness. To feel pressure to add more of these ‘restful activities’ to your week. But I’m sure that’s not what Alex Pang intended.

Instead, if you’re feeling like you should be working more and more and harder and harder to get things done so that you will achieve what you are made for, this book will give you good scientific and historical evidence that making time to rest is essential for good work. And it will give you some good suggestions for what this rest could look like.

Rest, after all, is included in our instruction manual. Let’s include it in our lives.

 

Are you missing some of my blog posts? Sign up to follow the A Quiet Life blog on WordPress, or you can sign up to my newsletter on www.ruthamos.com.au  and you will receive every post straight to your email inbox. You will also find my book ‘My Year of Saying No’, and any short stories or other books will be up there as they come along.

Overwhelm

Well, it finally happened, and it only took two and a half months. But for the first time since I went freelance I have got too busy working for myself and this weekend I found myself suffering from overwhelm.

The deadline for a big client is drawing closer and the work is increasing in panic, it was newsletter week last week for my fiction business, I’m leading church this Sunday, I’m trying to get a podcast off the ground and that means (gasp) inviting people for interviews, I know that next week a full day is taken up travelling to Launceston with Moz and while I’ve arranged that and I’m looking forward to it, Friday of this week came so quickly I didn’t even see it coming and having a four-day week for all the work next week is frankly quite scary. Not to mention all the wonderful events that I could attend (and possibly even should attend) like the People’s Library exhibition, my friend’s band gig, the Tamar Valley Writers Festival, and the author talks at my local library…

On Friday afternoon I was exhausted and I was worried. I decided that I’d have to work on the client job on the weekend. There was no way I could get everything done. The Sabbath, the rest I usually have once a week, it would just have to be put off.

On Saturday I woke up near tears.

I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t face anything. It was all too hard.

There is only one thing to do at this point. I needed a day off.

I needed to trust God that he’d take care of deadlines, that he’d look after the speed at which my businesses grows, that he had it all in hand.

And this overwhelm and tiredness wasn’t going to be solved by just any day off. There was no way I could go with a just-do-the-housework day off, or a lets-go-out-somewhere day off. I needed a real and total rest.

The weather was in my favour. It was blowing a gale and raining sideways. It was the perfect day for sitting in front of the fire and reading.

So that’s what I did. I made a fire, I found a library book about shepherding in the Yorkshire Dales that required very little emotional energy, and I sat. Later in the day as I felt better I read some of The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard and thought deep and prayerful thoughts. Then I wrote some silly poetry exercises about what I wanted to eat, and what I could hear and see outside the window. Later I watched some TV. There was a little Facebook in all that too.

Late in the afternoon we had to head down to church to set up for Sunday but that meant that I got out of the house for a short walk and that in itself was good for me.

Soup and toast for dinner and a really mindless movie topped off the day.

I found I was much more able to face things Sunday morning. The list didn’t seem so big or difficult. My energy levels had increased. I could cope again.

I am learning to budget my time so I don’t get so overwhelmed in the first place. That’s obviously the place I want to be. But I’m also learning that when I am feeling overwhelmed, sometimes I need to chuck it all and sit for a while in faith that the world will keep turning without me.

I love a quote from The Messies Manual by Sandra Felton: ‘When I works, I works hard, and when I sits, I sits loose.’ Saturday was a day for sitting loose and now I am refreshed and able to work hard again.

I know you’ve heard this sermon from me before. I’ve written a book about it, for crying out loud. I wish I could learn it so deeply that I didn’t have to relearn every few months. But for now, I’m just letting you know, I’ve learned it again.

A day off is a necessary part of every week, no matter how busy I am. I hope you can also find this rhythm of rest and work in your own life.

Reporting Back

I’m sure you’re all desperate to know how my time-management went last week.

But first, I want to tell you about an interview with Brené Brown that I read during the week. It’s a good article and I encourage you to read it.

Here’s the bit that stuck out to me. She was talking about words that wholehearted people were using when they were talking with her. The words that describe what we want life to be like.

These were the words: Vulnerability, authenticity, creativity, rest, compassion, boundaries, joy.

These words describe well what I want to get out of my writing life. These are the things I want in my life. I couldn’t have said it better myself, and so I’m not. I’m pointing you to Brené.

There was another list of words too. Words that we want to stay away from: Comparison, perfection, status, exhaustion.

These two lists sum up why I have changed my lifestyle to be what it is now. But these bad habits, these bad aims are not limited to university life, or to any kind of life. These are habits and attitudes that can creep in on anyone at anytime. And the good list are things that can be part of any life, no matter what you are doing or where you are working.

I just love these two lists. I want to write them out and stick them up where I can see them regularly and be reminded to stop comparing myself to others, beating myself up with perfectionism, or looking for status, and to start exercising my creativity, allowing myself to rest, setting good boundaries, living in joy, being authentic and vulnerable.

 

And now to the time management.

Having two hours for writing blocked out in my calendar worked really well from Monday through Thursday.

On Monday in my writing time I wrote an ode to the blank page, then I remembered my dream journal (I write my dreams in it and it sits next to my bed) and I leafed through it for inspiration and came up with a story idea. On Tuesday I started writing the story, taking my time (I had two hours to fill), and concentrating on things like describing all the senses – how did the room look? Smell? Was it cold or hot? And so on. On Wednesday the story took hold of me and changed dramatically from where it started. After Thursday’s writing I had a very exciting idea about a plot twist. It was really wonderful to see the story take shape, to see that I can have ideas, to enjoy the process.

On Friday I was so tired I went back to bed in my writing time and just slept.

The same with the editing business time in the afternoon. That worked really well. The work I’m doing at the moment doesn’t require all that much brain power so I listened to an audio book while I worked. It meant that I got a lot done because the plot of the story pulled me along. Again, Friday didn’t work so well, but I still got some done.

The thing I’m having difficulty with is the in-between time. The big jobs are getting big time allocations but the smaller jobs are still fiddly and annoying. And while I love writing, I get tired after churning out 2000 words first thing in the morning, and then it’s hard to give the attention to, say, the emails that I really should read, or to paying the bills. Still, I mark last week down as a success and I’m working towards a similar plan for this week. I’ll keep working on how to fit the little fiddly things in. It has to happen.

I guess the two parts of this blog are not unrelated. It has been wonderful to put boundaries in place, to turn off the wifi to my computer and dedicate two hours in the morning to unlocking my creativity. And to give up on perfection in the story I’m writing and to not compare myself to others but just to enjoy what was coming out as I allowed myself to be authentic, vulnerable, and creative. And also, to rest on Friday when rest was what I needed most.

May you also have a creative and restful week, with good boundaries, and much joy.

Sabbath

Indispensable

When I started working at the university on short-term contracts, I had a plan. I would say yes to as many things as possible, and make myself indispensable, and then they would have to keep renewing my contracts and my employment would be as good as permanent.

I didn’t say it was a good plan.

You see the problem with thinking like that is that when the time came this year when I really needed to take a break, I didn’t feel like I could because I had made myself indispensable. I felt like things would fall over if I took so much as a week off. And so I came close to exhaustion.

I think it must be a personality-type thing for me or something. I like being friends with people, but what I really like is being needed. I love being the one people turn to in a crisis. I love it so much … until I don’t. I love it until I am tired and I really need a break but there’s no one else who can take the load.

It’s pride, people. Plain and simple.

None of us can carry that burden.

I’m not meant to be the one solving everyone’s problems. I am not meant to be the sole provider of friendship to people, or the sole dispenser of wisdom. It works much better if everyone does their little bit than if I feel (even mistakenly) that it all depends on me.

One of the things that can help stop me from continually falling into this trap is the practice of regularly taking one day off a week. It’s a discipline that helps put everything back into order. That gives a regular reset of the brain.

When I was working full-time, a Sabbath for me meant a day when I didn’t do any paid work. I would make sure I didn’t do any work at all on that day as a statement of faith that God would either make it ok that the work didn’t get done, or make me cope with the fact that disaster happened.

It was amazing how little disaster actually happened. In fact, I can’t think of one time when taking a whole day off work for the week led to a crisis. What it usually led to was a rested, more competent, more peaceful me. And that was a very good thing.

Now that my ‘work’ consists of two days paid work and the rest of the time trying to get my own business off the ground I think I might find it a little harder to take a break. Harder to trust that it will all be ok. But I want to all the same. Because I want to remember that it’s not all about me, about my business. I don’t want to disappear into the rabbit hole of entrepreneur burnout.

So what does a Sabbath, a weekly day off, look like?

I don’t believe that a Sabbath needs to always be taken on a Sunday. I don’t think that we need to spend the day sitting quietly and reading religious texts. I love the idea of preparing meals and such beforehand and not doing any work at all but I don’t think that is achievable for most of us, and for some of us doing housework and cooking is a way to relax – a different way of being than we have for the rest of the week at work.

When Moz and I were doing missions training (back in the day, before we were married) we took Sundays off. We would go to an early church service and then we would just spend time together, chatting, maybe exploring the neighbourhood. We didn’t even have to cook meals because we were living in a missions community. It was a true day off.

Last Saturday for me the day off meant that I did a whole lot of washing, and went grocery shopping, and spent a few hours in the kitchen cooking up a proper meal for my family. I tried out a couple of new recipes and I enjoyed the creativity. I read a book. And I topped the day off by watching a mindless chick-flick.

Eugene Peterson describes his Sabbath in his book ‘The Pastor’. When he was a pastor he would take a day off each Monday, and he wrote to his congregation to explain what he was doing and why. He and his wife would pack a lunch and go for a bush walk each Monday (or a hike I guess, he was in America, here in Australia we would call it a bush walk). For the morning they would walk in silence, just taking the time to process the week that had come before. But when they broke for lunch they would talk to each other and they would keep talking all the way home.

Kris Rusch just happened to talk about her weekly day off in her blog this week. She writes that she takes the day off from work and that she has a no screen rule with that day off. ‘No email, no iPad, no laptop.’ She writes. ‘Phone with me but set on do not disturb except for the handful of people who call in for an emergency.’ She also writes, by the way, that once she started doing this kind of resting her productivity increased because her stress levels went down.

Perhaps if you are parents of small children your day off would include meeting another family at a park for a play – or possibly taking your kids to one of those indoor play centres so that you can sit and read with a nice coffee. Perhaps it means using disposable nappies for one day a week so that you can take one day off the washing.

There are many options and it’s not a one-size-fits-all deal. But however you put it together, I encourage you to take time off somehow to rest and rejuvenate each week.

How do you take a day off? What would your perfect Sabbath look like? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

This is the second-last of these posts on Saying No. But the blog will continue afterwards, don’t worry. If you would like to make sure you never miss a post then feel free to sign up here on WordPress. If you would like to read my regular newsletter about my novel writing then drop me a line at rijamos@gmail.com. And the amazing work of our artist Caleb is always available on instagram @deteor42.

Saving your time

Pumpkin time

Saving money is really hard. I mean really saving money – for the future. Not for a holiday or for next week or for the next time that we run out and need to buy something, but for the long term future. It’s hard. I find it hard. But it’s necessary. It’s a good thing to do. It’s good stewardship, delayed gratification, healthy and wise.

In the same way, I need to put aside time to rejuvenate myself. This is time where I have nothing booked, time just to be. Time to invest in myself and my energy so that I have energy in the future.

It is difficult to block out time for this because it doesn’t have a label attached to it. It’s not exercise, or doing something for someone, or cleaning the house, or working. It’s rest time. Just rest.

It’s easy to eat into it – “Yes, I can do that – there’s nothing booked into my calendar.” Maybe there should be “Nothing” booked into your calendar so that you don’t book anything else in. I plan to do nothing. Just to be. To read, to think, to write in my journal, to go for a nice walk, to sleep.

It is investing in your future.

My husband Moz has found that this principle applies very well when it comes to sleep.

A few years ago you would have found me heading to bed at 9:30pm and Moz would be an hour or a bit longer behind me. I have to go to bed at 9:30pm – that’s when I turn into a pumpkin.

One evening a few years ago now, I came home from work, totally fruited, at about 7:45pm, and Moz heated up my dinner and served it to me on the couch (home made pizza – yum!) and at first I didn’t want to do anything but watch the box and chill out. But after a little blob time I was ready to surface and we both decided to turn off the box and connect with each other. We talked about the day – how his work went, how mine went, interesting things that happened, interesting things people said. Then we started talking about our plans for the future, little bits and pieces, lovely conversation.

Then, in the middle of conversation, DH looked at me, read my body language, looked at the clock and said, “Yep, it’s nine thirty. Pumpkin time.”

You see, I need a lot of sleep. About 9 1/2 hours a night does me beautifully. I am probably more of a morning person than an evening person but I’m not the kind of morning person who wakes at 5am refreshed and happy and ready to  start the day. No-siree-bob. I am the kind of morning person who wakes very slowly and becomes an intelligent being by drinking a cup of coffee in bed. I am so incredibly privileged to have a husband who is happy to get up in the morning and bring me a cup of coffee in bed. Perhaps it’s because I’m just totally useless without it.

Moz used to see me to bed once my brain stopped functioning and then he would stay up for around an hour, playing on his computer, learning things, reading articles, and then he would come to bed at 10:30-ish and – here’s the thing – try to immediately fall asleep so that he could get his 8 hours before the alarm went off in the morning.

Have you ever tried to immediately fall asleep? It adds a little stress to the scenario. Each ten minute interval that you’re not sleeping is a drama. You know that waiting ten minutes to get to sleep means you’ll want to wake up ten minutes after the alarm goes off next morning and you’ll therefore wake up groggy and grumpy.

When Moz was coming to bed at half past ten, woe betide me if I asked him to head back up stairs to turn the heat pump off, or to check if my phone was plugged in. He needed to fall asleep right then. Straight away.

A little while ago he decided that this was silly. Now, when pumpkin time hits and I go into the study to say goodnight, he says, “Is it bed time?” turns off his computer, and heads to bed too. We turn off the light early and he gets his eight hours. Actually, he’s worked out that he needs seven hours and fifty minutes sleep each night.

So he sleeps for seven hours and fifty minutes and wakes up naturally between 5:30 and 6 am. He gets up, heads to the study, and does the things that he would have done at night. He plays computer games, reads interesting articles, and learns things. At 6:45am when the alarm goes off he makes us a cuppa and brings it down to wake me up. He’s accomplished something already and he’s had a restful night’s sleep.

They used to say about daylight savings time that it’s daft to cut one inch off the top of the blanket and put it on the bottom and say that you have a longer blanket, but it looks like that very strategy has worked for Moz. He’s a happier, healthier person because he is investing his time in sleep.

I have another friend, Trish, who blocks out an entire month of every year to go on a retreat. She is a minister, and this is her way of investing in her growth and prayer life. She goes away, stops all of her commitments, and spends the month reading, writing, praying, retreating. It’s saving, investing in her future.

What do I do? I make sure that I don’t block up every time window in my schedule. I make sure that I am not out in the evenings more than twice a week and that Sunday evenings are kept free so that I can use to get my head together for the week ahead. And I only work four days a week. I give myself half a day to visit with people, and half a day to be by myself, to do whatever needs doing to rejuvenate. Sometimes that means writing, sometimes reading, sometimes I lie on the couch and watch TV, it’s time to invest in me.

I couldn’t always do that, of course. When you have small children there is not much chance of time alone. Sometimes life circumstances just do not allow the space that you need. But sometimes we bring it on ourselves – the busy-ness.

Is there something in your schedule that you can cut out to allow yourself some time just to be? Is there some time-savings that you need to make for your future?

The good book says, “Be still and know that I am God.” This time-savings idea has been good advice for a very long time. I highly recommend it.

This post is part of a series I am writing about what I have learned about saying no. I’d love to have you join me on this journey. If you want to make sure you never miss a post, you can sign up on WordPress and the post will be sent to your email address every week without fail.

You’ll notice some special art in this series. If you want to see more of it you can find the artist on instagram @deteor42