The Pearl: Blog – February
Boundaries: Curating a lifestyle of Rest
Over the last 5 years I have gradually been able to curate a lifestyle for myself that has begun to better honor my priorities than ever before. In doing so I’ve been able to create the margin necessary to accomplish both what it requires for me to serve my family well and to accomplish what I feel called to do in serving women through The Pearl Projects.
For years I let my circumstances and my imposed schedule (meaning my work and/or school and/social schedule) dictate how my days went. On some level, those schedules are not in our control but what I wanted to talk about is what we do with the margin – the part that we can control.
What happens in the margins of our schedules largely dictates the quality of our lives and our effectiveness in what God has called us to do and to be.
I have found that we either become slaves to our lives, our schedules and the “busyness” that our culture imposes, or else we do life differently.
We can either become a non-anxious presence who is at rest no matter what our circumstances are or else we conform to the rat race that for all of its hype, still leaves so many feeling wiped out, empty and without a deep sense of meaning. That is not exactly what I think of when I read Jesus’s words that say, “I have come that they may have life to the full.”
For many years I lived my life in default mode. I did all the things and had very few boundaries in my life which rendered low-grade depression, anxiety about any change large or small, mediocre/shallow relationships, feelings of inferiority, and an overall restlessness and burnout.
My body, my emotions and my mind fully represented those realities. Every part of my life was performance-driven so the idea of slowing down or making sacrifices in order to actually DO LESS so that I could ACCOMPLISH more of what God had for me was never something that made sense to me.
At some point though, you stop doing the same things over and over when you finally realize that they do not produce a good result. Right? For me, I realized that if I wanted my life to not only look different but also BE different from the inside out, I would need to completely redefine what it meant for me to be human in the way that I treated my vocation, my time, my resources, and my relationships. This was redefining “the good life.”
We know that we are (our character) is the sum total of our habits. My habits thus far were not allowing me to live life to the fullest. My schedule was packed but I was suffocating. Jesus just so happens to lead by wonderful example on this and offers us a brilliant “how to.”
When Jesus spoke of the “Easy yoke,” what was He referring to? He said, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” On one hand, when we think about all that we have to do in any given day and then we think about the idea of spending “time with God,” reading Scripture or praying or spending time in silence and solitude because that is all part of following Jesus, we can begin to feel stressed out because “WHO the heck has the time for all of that?”
A beautiful realization for me happened when I realized that I couldn’t just add in or sprinkle on a little Jesus into my day, show up for a spiritual shot in the arm on a Sunday and then otherwise live my life in autopilot while expecting to flourish. Like most of us, when asked, I told people that I was “busy” as if it was noble of me and was otherwise doing all of the same things as everyone else but with no margin and no rhythm that was life-giving at all.
At some point you ask yourself something like this:
If I allow my life to be this frenzy every day where I am pulled back and forth by the tides of culture, social media, the demands on my time, over-working, social engagements as well as business-building and all the above, how could I possibly claim the fruits of the Spirit and the peace and the joy that the Kingdom of God represents? How could I possibly give my kids and my husband the best version of myself while running on empty? How could I live out the calling that God has placed on my life with women if I have no margin?
What Jesus offers is a model for a lifestyle that realistically addresses and respects our work and relationships as well as margin and boundaries.
This lifestyle is far beyond self-care and self-help. A massage, a retreat, and a pedicure are great but what about if you live in poverty and can’t afford that? What about if you’re a single mother who is working two jobs to make ends meet and you’re teetering on the edge of burnout? God is not just for the upper middle class so how do we approach life from a deep place of Rest EVEN if our circumstances are difficult and demanding and our time and resources are limited?
According to the Biblical worldview REST is itself a lifestyle that produces peace even where there is complexity. It HAS to look different than what everyone else is doing. Jesus is Rest embodied.
Rest (the peace that passes all understanding) is a state of being that develops when our rhythms (our habits) align with the life of Jesus – that is the secret of the “easy yoke.”
When we actually do what Jesus did (his practices/his way of life), margin is the result which makes us spiritually available and teachable to accomplish all that he has for our lives.
For those of us who follow Jesus the goal of our apprenticeship with him is to BE with him (time), to BECOME more like him and to DO what he did. But how can we hear what he wants us to do in our everyday lives if we are too busy to pray? Too busy for silence (to be in our own head for long enough to sift things out)? Too busy to take a real Sabbath? Too busy to connect with other believers on a regular basis?
Jesus’s lifestyle creates margin by prioritizing his “Yes,” and his “No.”
This happens for him AND for us by adopting some (hopefully most) of the practices of Jesus, otherwise known as the Spiritual Disciplines. They are “disciplines,” in that these things DO NOT come naturally to us but they are by all means possible. The funny thing about discipline is that over time, it becomes life-giving. Ask the runners who train mercilessly if its worth it? Ask the artist if relentless practice is worth it?
We have to practice various disciplines in our personal lives in the same way that athletes practice their sport or artists practice their craft in order to get the results that we desire. This is all about changing our rhythms to align with our deepest longings.
To offset the crazy, we audit.
Over time I’ve been able to research and really study some of the factors that were deeply influencing my life and contributing to my burnout.
I studied both subconscious factors and conscious factors, environmental factors, emotional factors, relational factors, physical factors and spiritual factors all contributing to my burnout. I had wonderful mentorship in this endeavor but my overall sense was that I felt like I wasn’t living into the fullness of my calling that God had for my life. I believed in Jesus and went to church but where was the fruit of that in my life?
To be honest with you, I was too busy for Jesus. I am an over-achiever by nature and a perfectionist to add to my already never-good enough mentality of which I am still in process. I can relate to the hustle and I know what it is to work several jobs while going to school and setting financial goals and professional goals and participating in community events and having a social life and making time for family and friends, etc.
It’s a lot and some seasons are harder than others as responsibilities grow and especially once you add children into the mix. But anymore when I hear people talk about how busy they are and how they feel like God is distant or when I hear them come up with every reason for why they can’t do church, can’t take one day to actually STOP, can’t be part of a community group, can’t read their Bible, can’t spend time alone in silence or meditation, and can’t pray, anymore I just say, “You’re right. Maybe you really are too busy to follow Jesus.”
That may sound harsh but I really don’t mean it that way at all. Really the point is that we do not have enough boundaries (spiritual disciplines) to protect and nourish the conditions that we actually want to enjoy.
Beyond that, we need healthy boundaries to help us live out the fullness of the calling that God has on each one of our lives. Living and working from a place of rest is possible, but (especially in our culture), it is by no means natural.
Before anyone points out all of the exceptions to the rule and the conditions that would in theory make those boundaries or those things impossible or unattractive even, I would just say that our lives will always come down to a series of small choices that compound on each other and produce SOME sort of larger result.
This notion of boundaries as spiritual disciplines apply to the stay at home mom as well as the top executive, to the rich as well as to the poor because the point will always be that we all have 24 hours in a day and our quality of life internally will always come down to the individual choices we make, day in and day out, year after year.
If we take a powerless position, where we allow everyone and everything else dictate our entire day and we have every excuse as to why we’re not thriving the way we want to be, it’s possible that it might be time to take some inventory and make some difficult and extremely sacrificial choices. Maybe it means that you need to make less money for a time, while you care for your heart, spirit and your mind better.
God has given you your life to steward well and all of life is choices. We have the same number of hours in a day as Leonardo Da Vinci, Marie Curie, Henry Ford, Harriet Tubman, William Wilberforce and St. Catherine of Sienna.
Our circumstances do not have to be the final say in the quality of life or our effectiveness in life. Some of the most previously disenfranchised humans on earth lived the most powerful lives in their ordinary places (and with far less than we have). We remember them heroically generations later precisely because they had completely different metrics for how they lived their lives.
There is time and there is room for you to show up as a powerful person to your life and make the changes necessary to breathe and to thrive — It will probably hurt you at first, meaning that it will require ruthless honesty and that you will likely pay a high personal price for margin and for rest. But isn’t it worth it?
I’ll never forget the story that my Grandpa Don used to tell us: Before becoming Co-Founder and CEO of Ross Dress for Less and before becoming CEO for the Woolworth Company, he had worked as a manager for one of the Woolworth Company stores in Oahu. He was asked by his superiors to begin working on Sundays which was his only family day and it was his opportunity to take them to church and to rest together as a family. The Sabbath is the fourth commandment and for him it was a matter of obeying God or not by keeping it a holy day.
He responded to his superiors by saying that he would not be able to work on Sundays because that was the day that he took his family to church. Upon his response, they told him that he would no longer have his job. He came home that night and told my Grandma Jean and the kids (my mom and her siblings) that he had made a choice that had cost him his job (he was the sole provider for the family at the time).
He was prepared to suffer the consequences of his decision and make the adjustments necessary. His “loves” were ordered properly, trusting God that He would take care of him and his family for putting God first with his TIME – his weekly habits.
For someone who could have easily gotten his self worth from his achievement, performance and success, he remained faithful to what God had called him to as the leader of his family.
Nonetheless, he showed back up to work the next morning and every day after that. His superiors never put him on the schedule for a Sunday and they never said a word about it again. The takeaway of course is not that he got his job back and all was well. The real point is that when the rubber meets the road, sacrifice often means saying goodbye to things (even good things) that would replace or take away from what God has asked you to prioritize. He said “No,” so that he could say “Yes,” to what God had asked of him as the leader of his family.
Church was not just about “church,” itself; It was about honoring God and setting an example for his family to prioritize their relationships with God no matter what other opportunities or schedules demanded their allegiance.
The Jesus Model in Application
Jesus is so legit for how seamless his practices are. His lifestyle itself was an ebb and flow of retreat and engage and he encountered the same dizzying distractions, temptations and relational complexities that we do.
He had a daily rhythm of prayer and Scripture and meditation, silence and solitude. Each practice is just part of his ordinary day – It is built into his rhythm. All of those practices are about connection with the Father in order to sustain his life. Like, literally.
It is only from THAT place that he is able to serve the needs of the community around him, to deal with complexity with a non-anxious presence, and to die the death he did in order to free us all from the slavery that is sin. Slavery sometimes feels like no margin, no peace, and no rest because your life and your circumstances are controlling you.
If we’re serious about following Jesus, at some point it requires us to make some hard choices. The fact is that you can’t do life like everyone else if God is asking us to live a life that is different. Jesus is the God of the ordinary, so how can we redefine our ordinary days to align better with the quality of life that we actually crave.
The longer I do this whole Jesus thing, the more that I realize that “Dying to the self,” as the Scriptures say is the literal recipe for Kingdom effectiveness. Self-sacrificial love is what propels every ounce of love and every truly good work in our lives. We have to “die” to being and doing things like everyone else in order to get to the flourishing. Following Jesus is a different way to be human.
The point is that our apprenticeship to Jesus has to offset our default functions (habits, worldview, environments, relationships, and time) so that we become the sort of people for whom love and rest is our new default and our life actually lines up with the life and teaching of Jesus.
This usually means that something has to change in our habits, our worldview, our relationships, and our environments since those are the top 4 factors for what actually shapes us. That is exactly what this was for me: Learning a whole new way to be human by assessing each one of those factors in my own life.
In Part 2 I will get into the daily details of how I arrange and prioritize my ordinary days while accounting for disruptions (normal), in order to usher in this lifestyle of rest while embracing the complexity of the tasks that I have in front of me.