Granted, a huge part of this journey towards a lifestyle of rest over the years has been about my overall spiritual formation.
I’ve been changing the entire way that I do my life, the way that I think, and the way that I relate to others. That process has had everything to do with dealing with my sin (the things in my life that bent away from love), identifying my blind spots (areas of my life and relationships that were crap), sorting out the lies that shaped my sense of identity, as well as dealing with lingering unforgiveness that was robbing me of my joy and my freedom.
As a result of those steps, the part where I noticed the biggest change in my overall quality of life was when I began to align my habits with my priorities.
What does that mean?
It means that I had to ruthlessly shed old habits and in their place, I adopted some of the practices of Jesus. They changed my life and realigned my priorities so that my ‘loves’ were properly ordered. From that point forward, it’s as if my life caught on fire.
As a follower of Jesus, I completely agree with and try my best to adhere to this Biblical priority model:
- My kids
Here’s what this looks like for me in real life
1) God First
In my day-to-day life, putting God first means I actually give Him my time before I give anyone or anything else my time.
That means every single day before I turn on my phone or interact with anyone else in my life, I spend quality time with Him in prayer, reading Scripture, in listening prayer, prayer of examen, in silence, in solitude, and in reflection. This is not even close to legalism or checking off some to-do list. This is my life-source.
Putting God first literally in my day doesn’t compete at all with my other relationships. It actually protects them because one of God’s top priorities in His relationship with us is teaching us how to love the people in our lives. This daily morning habit is how I stay connected to the Holy Spirit’s resources of wisdom and understanding to define my relational priorities and boundaries.
In giving God my first thoughts and my tired morning energy, He is showing me (over time, one day at a time) WHO I’m supposed to be, WHOM I am supposed to be connecting with, and HOW to build and protect those relationships.
All that I know is that when I do not do this practice of beginning my day in the presence of God, something suffers inside me and within my family.
It is like clockwork enough now that I will do anything to protect that sacred time spent in the mornings with God because its effect and its power follows me into the rest of my ordinary day.
What that looks like is that I make a choice to sacrifice some sleep in order to maintain that time. Does that suck? Yes. But again, the discipline is worth the personal cost because of the spiritual payoff. Time always pays dividends in the Kingdom of God.
Never one day have I ever regretted getting up early to spend time with God. No matter what schedule I’ve ever had, I prioritize this into my day. I used to have a job where I had to be on site at 4:45 am and I would still wake up early to have at least 10-15 minutes with God before going about my day. At this point, I spend no less than one hour alone with God which is hands down the most important part of my day. These days I wake up between 4:30-5:00 to accomplish this before my kids wake up.
2) Win The Day — Application
When I wake up in the morning, I do not look at my phone.
I go straight into my kitchen and brew my coffee. I sit down with it in my old gray chair in the corner of our sitting room. I place my phone on the other side of the room and I will not even look at it until I have spent a full hour with God.
I begin my time in silence for a few minutes while I open my heart and my mind to the reality of God and what it means to have a brand new day.
Even though I do not typically feel thankful quite yet as I am groggy from just waking up, I intentionally thank Him for a fresh beginning in order to set my will towards the heart-posture that I know I want to have.
In my thoughts (which turn into prayer), I invite the Holy Spirit to come and be with me during my time alone. Then I begin to journal every detail of my prayer (what’s happening in my head and heart) and my reflections from the day before. I write down answered prayers.
I pray through the list in my head of people I have felt God ask me to pray for. I write that all out. Every single day.
I pray over my Husband first, in whatever detail that comes to mind. I pray over my daughter and my son next, sometimes long detail and other times just a word.
I ask the Spirit of God to come into my brain and my heart, to expand me and challenge me, and then to bring into my mind’s eye any thought-thought-patterns or ways of relating to others that are not in line with the life and teaching of Jesus.
He usually shows me at least one or two areas I am still in process. I confess those and stay attentive to what else He may want to show me about WHY I do the things I do. Basically, I ask him to show me my ugly sides so I can confront them, confess them, and change them with His power working in me.
I ask him to soften me and make my heart grow to feel deeper, to see people through Jesus’s lens, honoring both their complexity and their progress.
I ask God to bless the work of my hands and to give me wisdom.
I ask him to expand my territory, to send His Spirit out before my conversations of that day, to keep me from evil, and to not allow me to cause pain.
I ask him to protect my home, my driving and to provide me with the thoughts and the ideas for what he has for my every move in the day ahead.
This process takes me roughly one hour. Then I shut my Bible and my journal and I go attend to my kids, trusting in His presence to be with us as we go about our normal, ordinary day. Usually, by this time it’s somewhere between 5:30-6:30 am.
We do breakfast and baths and we get ready for school or Bible study or a walk depending on the day. I try very hard not to rush my kids and to keep any sense of stress at a minimum because I know they sense it and feed off of it. Sometimes we are running late and I turn it up a notch, but I’m trying to curate an environment that is intentional but is also peaceful.
Lots of days, it doesn’t feel like peace all. Some days I lose my patience and I yell at my kids. A lot of days they don’t behave and it’s total chaos. But day after day, over time, I keep pointing my heart, my practices and my life towards my goals. I can sense the changes happening within me over time that allow me to respond instead of react better with each year, no matter what’s happening in the exterior of my life.
Our mornings are full of the normal toddler arguments, complexities, injuries, spills, diapers, yelling and crying like anyone else’s. But there is this undertone of Presence that helps to keep the peace in my mind so that I can address them and their lives at peace.
It doesn’t always look or feel like peace but over time, day in and day out practicing the presence of God, it does more often than not. Again, it’s practice because it does not come naturally but it is by all means possible.
3) I do not do any work or any of my own business tasks while my kids are awake.
I wait until my kids are sleeping (naps/mornings) or until they are completely self-entertained together to work on anything else.
So while they nap, I work and then the moment they wake up I cease. I love that time with them right when they wake up because we get to snuggle and connect. That is some of our most special time in the day, both first thing in the morning when they wake up and after they nap. While they’re sometimes grumpy and still waking up, I pray for them in the silence and just love on them. It’s always a tender time that I look forward to each and every day.
Naps will end eventually and then I will carve out time while they are awake but while they are playing together or are having their own independent time to themselves to accomplish alone tasks. I’ll adjust my life and schedule in each season with wisdom and healthy boundaries.
I do not believe in worshiping my children in that they do not dictate every move of my day. This is part of prioritizing for me.
I care for them deeply obviously, but I do them no favors if I convince them from early on that the entire world revolves around them. So sometimes, we do things they hate. And other times, we do things that they love. That is part of being in a family and caring for a home and caring for each other that requires sacrifice and chores and boring and that is okay.
I don’t mind if they’re mad or if they’re bored. IN fact, I NEED them to feel boredom because it’s an opportunity for creativity. I invite their big emotions and anger about whatever it is to surface because it’s usually an opportunity for deeper conversations about what it means to care for each other well and for the things we’ve been entrusted with. Maybe they won’t hear it with open ears now but I know the effect over time is worth it. I will always invite my children to do hard things.
4) We have dinner together at the table every single night.
No TV. No Phones. This is part of honoring the priority for each of us that is family by setting this daily rhythm that everyone plans on and counts on. This time together is priceless.
If Bryan is away for an evening, for example, the kids and I still sit together, pray before our meal, and my kids help me to the degree they’re able to with clean up. Sometimes that’s easy and sometimes it is a chore and really frustrating. But it is becoming our rhythm whether they fight it or not because I need them to be responsible for their messes and for their own heart-posture. When someone else provides a meal for them, helping to clean up is a response that makes sense because of love and gratitude.
When bedtime comes around (finally!!) we tuck them in and say prayers with them, sing a song or two, do all the smooches and then we let them know mommy and daddy will spend time together because we love each other and want to prioritize our time together. They rarely like that and sometimes they scream.
It’s so sweet actually that they want us to stay for prolonged amounts of time in their room, but the reason that we move on intentionally from bedtime once we’ve done our bath, books and snuggle time with them is that we also need our kids to see us prioritize each other.
We need them to see our boundaries and to see us love each other with the remainder of our time each day. Bryan and I usually have one hour together before we go to sleep since we have early schedules.
5) I NEVER work at night because I choose instead to honor my husband with my time.
Saying yes to that time with him means that less is “accomplished,” business-wise. But I have found that as I continue to honor my priorities, something supernatural happens in my days. I’ll get to that.
If I don’t put God first in my day, my relationships pay the price.
In the same way, if I don’t prioritize my time with Bryan each night, gradually we will lose our connection and there will be a relational breach that could have been avoided. This aspect of marriage is keeping our love on towards each other. We value our time by creating boundaries even with our own kids.
If Bryan and I are not firing on all cylinders because we have neglected our relationship, our kids pay the price because the peace in our home is disrupted usually, and we are not acting like the best version of ourselves.
I think it’s fine for our kids to see us deal with our real-life problems and conflict together. It’s important to me that they realize that conflict happens even and especially for people who love each other a lot. But some conflicts can be avoided when love is ordered and prioritized properly. Those are the conflicts we aim to avoid.
6) Saturdays are preparation for Sabbath (Sunday)
Saturdays are our free day to accomplish things around the house, to prep food, to go out and do our hobbies or shopping or whatever we want or need to do on that day.
It’s a preparation day for the next day. I clean the house (because I love it), I do laundry, we take the kids to the park, we play and stock up and eat out, etc. But by the end of Saturday night around 7:00 pm, I shut my phone off until Monday morning. This is how I usher in REST because if I am still connected to my phone then I have not actually stopped.
I have to force myself to stop because it does not come naturally. The beauty of it is that in doing so, I am blessed with a sense of renewal for my whole body and mind to begin each week fresh and ready for whatever it brings.
We are trying to be better about “Keeping it holy,” by doing ONLY that which is life-giving on our Sabbath day. It means actually stopping. Being still. Taking naps together. Eating! Drinking! Having sex! Being super intentional with our kids. Resting…
This Sabbath order (rest prioritized) is built into creation and it is also a gift for us to have one day to rest. But if we do not take God up on his offer, something suffers. We begin Monday begrudgingly if we have not had actual, true margin for rest; For our souls to catch back up with our bodies.
That has been my experience at least. It’s like God knew exactly what we needed but we have to trust Him for it. Then when we do, it’s a game-changer.
When you have little kids and life is chaos all the time, Sabbath doesn’t always feel so restful and fantastic. The truth is that when you have young kids, you really do not have margin at all because everything is compounded and they need so much from you. This phase too is a gift in its own way, so part of this is having realistic expectations and doing your best to create and sustain the conditions that you want to enjoy.
Here’s how I’ll end:
This is all nuanced in that everyone’s life, demands, and schedules are different. But what is not different is that every person at some point has to make choices about what is most important. There is no longer room to allow yourself to be a victim to your “busyness” if you’re actually the one who keeps saying, “Yes,” when you actually need to say, “No,” to prioritize your loves better.
Just test it out on your life to see what doors God will open for you if you’re able to carve out enough margin to be able to listen to him for long enough for real change to happen. This too is faith in application.
It may cost you money. It may cost you friends. It may cost your kids their ability to “start” or their position on their team at school, but think about the bigger picture that you’re teaching your children, too. It may cost you all sorts of things and you’ll probably offend people and let them down. But the fact is that God promises that, “Life to the Full,’ is possible.
I have a difficult time thinking that the average American lifestyle of consumerism and materialism is as good as it gets.
Part of this whole thing is redefining “the good life.”
As good stewards of our lives and as lifelong learners, we both celebrate and critique the culture around us. Part of that is identifying the ways that it affects us deeply, down to the details, and making the changes to usher in the result we want to see.
What I have found to be true is that by honoring the proper order of the loves in my life AND by adopting the practices of Jesus (to offset what my default habits and patterns were), my abilities have become supernatural.
What I mean by that is that I do not have “the time” to accomplish these things, but yet somehow the small time I do have is always ENOUGH for what needs to be accomplished for that day.
Even though I’m launching a huge ministry, my family will still come first. My time will reflect that and my heart will reflect that. That means I won’t give everyone the same access to my life and to my time and people’s expectations of me are not what decides what I do each day.
This means that people will begin to expect me to move at a pace (even in business) that reflects that my time belongs to my family first and everything else can wait. This is part of creating healthy boundaries in work and family but it also has to do with becoming a powerful person in relationships where your effectiveness is very much tied to your priorities.
If I show up each week depleted, I have nothing to give to anyone. But if I make the changes necessary and if I prioritize what God has asked of me FIRST, He is FAITHFUL to accomplish what He has called us to do in HIS POWER – not mine.
I still have to wrestle with all of this stuff, so please don’t think I have it all nailed down seamlessly. It is still a work in progress for me but I have seen the results and it’s worth it!
When I sit down for my small amount of time each day to work on anything other than my full-time job with my children, it’s as if my time is ignited with effectiveness and efficiency because I’ve had time to think and plan while also spending quality time with my kids and serving my family.
In this way, my children are not a distraction to be circumvented. As C.S Lewis so perfectly puts it, “Children are not a distraction from more important work; They are the most important work.” So for me, this is keeping first things first and aligning my metrics for success with what God has given me to care for FIRST. That is my children and my husband. The rest will follow…
I use my time wisely and I allow myself to come under the authority of God’s order for things. I love the huge nature of what He has given for me to do but I also recognize that it will all come slowly and in His timing. Like most things in life that are really good, this will take a long time.
In this process, I’ve learned to value the ordinary days so differently because of how God has allowed me to experience His presence in them.
I believe that He has blessed me with joy for keeping first things first. The blessing has been joy and peace — a state of being that is at rest no matter the complexity around me, no matter what is required of me and no matter what happens circumstantially.
My life will change as time goes on. As it does, I will continue to ask Him to lead me in each phase so I can keep my priorities straight and lead my children in the same.
What I would encourage you to think about is that even if our lives LOOK completely different and the demands are different, the same invitation is available to you.
God is “Searching for those whose hearts are set on Him,” and He will use the willing! Allow Him into your ordinary spaces and into your daily routine. Ask Him to reshape and redefine it for His glory and for your benefit so that peace and rest become your default state of being.
Allow Jesus to set the tone for your lifestyle. Be intentional with your YES and your NO and may they always reflect a heart within you that loves God above ALL else.