I’m writing this after a tough month. I’m wiped out. Sort of. I am really tired. I just got home from a boy scout camping weekend. I came home early because I have a charity event tonight. And before I could start working on this episode, before I leave for the event, I laid my head down and took a 10-minute-power nap. I’m tired. But not as depleted as I expected to be after this month was over.
That in itself is a glimmer of improvement. I knew talking about rest all month was somewhat ironic as it was a really draining month. But, it underscored the importance of the topic in my life and it helped me along the way as I had a busy schedule and a lot of stressful events.
We talked about sleep early on and my sleep has improved. I’ve darkened my room and I’ve noticed a difference. I’ve made a point to go to sleep earlier and it’s made a difference. I’ve paid attention to how sleep affects my decisions, my patience and my ability to think. I’ve noticed, for example, I make terrible decisions about food when I’m tired. Things I normally would be able to resist, I eat when I’m tired. And by “things” I generally mean cookies and chocolate and anything with sugar. For breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Here are a few more things I’m working on to get more and better sleep. I’m setting myself a bedtime of 10:30. I’m terribly inconsistent right now and that will help a lot. I’m getting my bedroom in order and redoing some of it. I moved out a TV that wasn’t even hooked up and I never use in the bedroom. I realized it had been driving some decisions about furniture. I’ll be replacing my mattress and bed soon as well and turning that room into something that feels more like a personal spa.
That’s the easy part. The attitude that sleep is expendable is a harder mental habit to break, but I’m going to try. I’m starting the 10:30 bedtime tonight, and it’s 10:15 right now, and I really wanted to have worked out all the details for this episode to happen before I go to bed tonight, but that’s not going to happen if I head for bed. I’d also chosen to shut down anything with a screen at 10 pm. I’m going to have to start that tomorrow because I already blew that tonight.
Sleep is pretty simple to deal with, at least in the planning stage. Execution is harder. But, rest itself, that’s another story. Sleep is only one side of the equation. Last week we talked about what rest is and how it affects us. Here’s how I’m going to approach applying that knowledge. I plan to make some changes to create a rhythm of rest in my life. Here’s how that breaks down.
This might be where you assume I’m going to list a major vacation, but I’m not going to do that. I’m not considering vacations to be part of my rest plan. Partly because their effects don’t last that long and partly because, I’m going to try to rely on shorter, quarterly breaks instead for rest. I may take a longer trip (at least I hope so anyway), but I won’t rely on that time as the only way I’m recovering. I’ll use it as a treat and a memory-maker, but not the most important rest activity in my life.
I’m going to plan a quarterly long weekend trip. I’ll be headed to Toronto in June and Philadelphia in July for conferences. I plan to add a few days to those trips for sightseeing and rest. I’ll be in Florida in November for an extended family vacation. And, I think I’ll add a few weekend camping trips on the calendar as well. Plus, I think I’ll let my son choose one long weekend getaway trip.
It's so easy for us to schedule so many activities that our lives become overfull. This is a discipline issue. There are a million good things out there to do. We’re not able to do them all. We have to live within our limits. Different seasons of life call for different levels of activity. So, what works for a newly married couple might not work after kids come along. It seems obvious but it’s easy for circumstances to change gradually (not the having a baby circumstances necessarily, but others) and not really connect the dots that our schedule to change as well.
We tend to think in the US that we can do everything. But we can’t. We can’t have it all. We can’t do it all. We can’t be it all. We need instead, to do, have, and be what’s best. Jim Collins’ “Good is the enemy of great” statement really applies here.
One of the things I try to do (I’ve gotten away from it) is to hold at least one weekend a month completely unscheduled. We might decide to do something at the last minute. Or not. We might decide to do a home project. But, we might not. We can use that weekend however we like at the time. It’s a monthly recovery weekend.
Right now, I’m working six days a week because of ministry and career work. The seventh day tends to be eaten up by volunteer hours, family activities, and errands. It’s just the “stuff-that-needs-to-get-done” day. But, that leaves no time for rest. I’ve been doing that for about a year now and it’s taking its toll. If you’re a Christian, it’s also disobedient. We’re supposed to rest. And for good reason. I have a writing commitment ending this week and have a meeting about how to make my position on a church team more sustainable. Creating a sustainable schedule will help a lot.
Weekly is where another factor comes into play. Remember last week, we talked about how hobbies or activities can function as active rest? That rest and recovery are more than just lying around? Activities or hobbies that require mastery, practice, and learning are a hugely important avenue for rest. They’re active, but they allow our mind and body to be used in ways that give us an emotional and mental break from our work and life. They also often develop complementary skill sets or mental attitudes. What could you learn or do weekly that’s absorbing and somewhat challenging? For me right now, that’s art time. I’ve been away from art for about nine months and I need to be spending consistent time in my studio, whether that’s collage work or quilting work…I need to be creating with my hands. Writing is creative, but it doesn’t offer the same kind of mental break, because it’s too similar to my normal work.
Sleep is an easy daily recovery rhythm to point to. But, there are a few others to think about as well. Exercise is a vital recovery tool. That sounds weird, I know because it can be hard work. It’s important for keeping your body healthy to handle your life, but it can also be used as a recovery tool. Two types of exercise especially are helpful…consistent active exercise like walking, running, swimming, soccer, etc. And contemplative exercise or movements like yoga or tai chi. Right now, I’m walking a lot in the mornings, about four miles a day. It’s become critical for my sanity. If I walk or run, it’s active, but it’s also a way to rest my body and mind from its normal activity. I miss yoga, though, I can tell both my body and mind need it.
I’ve mentioned this periodically before, but another daily rest habit is mindfulness. I find that when I’m focused on the sensory experience of what’s happening in the moment, my mind is freed from the need to worry, rehearse, talk negatively, plan, or be anxious. How does that work in real life? If I’m in the kitchen cleaning up from after dinner, I can be rehearsing a conversation with a client, thinking about what my son needs to accomplish that evening, pre-working on a writing project and worrying about an upcoming deadline. Pretty much all at once.
Or, I can be focusing on how pretty a stack of white dishes is in my cabinet when the light hits it. How lovely it is to have warm water I didn’t have to carry in and heat up. How happy I am to hear my son’s laughter in the next room and how the smooth, cool, clean silverware feels in my hands. If that task lasts between 15 and 30 minutes and I’m thinking about life in the present, sensory experiences in the moment, It’s like a rest from my daily thoughts. You can actually do that all day long. Choosing to focus on the present moment instead of worrying about the next can go a long way towards keeping your mind and emotions refreshed.
That’s a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and yearly rhythm of rest. If you rely on a once a year vacation to handle the whole rhythm, it just won’t work. It won’t be enough and it won’t be when you need it. Consider ways that you can work the ideas we’ve been talking about all month into a personal rhythm for yourself.
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