We’re a busy family. My husband is the Dean of Chapel at a Christian liberal arts college, and I write novels. I’m currently on deadline for my eighth book. We have four kids. Two of our children are internationally adopted, and one has some pretty serious medical needs. Together, Aaron and I spend an average of 10-20 hours a week working for One Body One Hope, a non-profit we started in early 2007. We also speak, travel often, and are writing a book together. When we’re not working or volunteering, we shuttle kids from hockey to gymnastics to cello lessons and more. There are birthday parties and family vacations, Cadets and tutoring. Did I mention homework?
Sometimes well-meaning friends and family members give us knowing looks and half smiles that convey: Y’all are crazy, you know that, right? And when we say “yes” to something new? The confusion (and sometimes even disapproval) is almost palpable.
Here’s the thing: I know you can relate. We are all busy, and though your to-do list might look different from ours, my guess would be you are no less overwhelmed. No less harried and frantic and wondering how in the world you’ll find the time to do all the things that need to be done, never mind enjoy the moments of grace and beauty that Facebook is quick to remind us we’re missing.
Life rushes by at a frenetic pace, and sometimes it’s all we can do to hang on by our fingernails. I have to wonder if this is what Jesus meant when he said: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). Appointments and piles of laundry. The faithful ping of my iCal reminders. Early mornings and late nights. Filled to the brim indeed.
There was a time when I embraced a slower pace of life. Aaron and I had just moved back to small-town Iowa with the newest member of our family in tow. Isaac was a round-cheeked, lovable wonder, and I was so smitten with my firstborn son I decided that the only thing I wanted to do with my life was kiss his baby toes and keep our home. An admirable ambition and one I was able to throw myself into with abandon (thanks in part to ongoing maternity leave payments from the Canadian government). Isaac had regular, mom-supervised playdates and enjoyed long, lingering trips to the library. We did flash cards and listened to classical music and made homemade strawberry jam. It was an idyllic season and one I’ll never forget. Sometimes I think I could have happily carried on as the CEO of our little family forever… But something happened that changed the trajectory of my life: I grew bored. Ridiculously, painfully, depressingly bored.
I started sticking my nose in where it didn’t belong, pestering my husband about work details and adult conversations. I was desperate to be part of something meaningful, something that took me outside of myself and the sweet little Cape Cod we called home. Though it troubled me to admit it, I started to suspect that I was one of those women who would never be happy unless she was juggling both a family and a career.
Oh, the shame. The evangelical narrative at the time applauded the servant-hearted mother and wife, the woman who gave of herself (and gave up herself) in service to her family. All my friends were stay-at-home moms and seemed to genuinely enjoy their roles. If I wanted more, was there something inherently wrong with me? Something selfish and unChristian? Something, dare I say, feminist? I tried to have another baby to calm the growing ache inside. But I miscarried. Three times. So I started substitute teaching in the local high school. I loved it. And then, a door opened to publication.
Conventional wisdom (superstition?) asserts that everything happens in threes, and in one whirlwind season our lives bloomed in three separate but significant ways: we adopted our second son from Ethiopia, I signed my first publishing contract, and we began a non-profit organization. I had never been busier — or more joyful.
Aaron and I often joke that we’re high-functioning, that we have to be busy and active and moving and doing in order to be happy. That’s partly true. But there’s more to our lives than perpetual motion, and it wasn’t until quite recently that we were able to put a finger on it. In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown addresses the concept of wholehearted living, of existing in a place of courage, compassion, and connection that helps us engage our lives and fully know who we are. It’s about giving up the myth of perfection so that we can embrace our own humanity. Our brokenness. The things that make us flawed and exceptional and just exactly who we were always meant to be.
We spend so much of our lives spinning our wheels. We put the pedal to the metal because we don’t know any other way, and though we’re mired in the futile, feverish muck of a schedule overflowing with good things, we often find ourselves stuck and exhausted. Hopeless. Busy for the sake of being busy instead of engaged in the kingdom work we were created to do. We’re living halfheartedly, with pieces of ourselves scattered across our communities and beyond as we determinedly keep chipping away at a to-do list that will never end.
But when we live wholeheartedly? When we take the time to uncover our authentic selves and live out of a place where we can admit — and embrace — who we are? We learn to say “no” to the things that are not life-giving and say an enthusiastic “yes” to the things that are. The result? Life no longer feels busy, it feels rich. Our schedules aren’t full, they’re abundant. We’re not overwhelmed; we’re thriving in the overflow.
At the end of the day, all the tired arguments about having a career or being a stay-at-home mom, about balancing the two as we fight for time with our families while trying to cultivate a joy-filled, self-actualized life, don’t really matter. Wholehearted living is different for everyone. For you, it might mean staying home and cooking organically, volunteering locally, and leading worship at church. For your neighbor, whose heart and call are as unique and extraordinary as your own, it will look completely different.
As for me, wholehearted living (abundant life!) means the same three things it meant all those years ago: family, writing, and service — all under the delighted gaze of my Father.
Of course, there are other things that come and go. I struggle and fail, say yes to things that I shouldn’t and no to things that I ought to embrace. But I know who I am and I’m learning every day to live more and more into the person God created me to be. The best part? I love my busy. I want meaning and passion, a life filled with purpose and intent. Abundance. I want to live with my cup filled to the top, brimming up, spilling over.
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I for one admire you and your family. To be busy about the Lord in this fractured world is good. I think you know my son Mike and his wife Kim who have five biological children and four adopted from Africa. They are very busy with their children and around the world helping very poor people with their lives. Grace to you and your family as you model this for others.
Thanks so much for taking the time to respond and encourage, Pam. I do know of your lovely family and their equally lovely hearts. I can’t help feeling that we have one crazy, beautiful life and I don’t want to waste a minute. Blessings to you and yours!
I love this for so many reasons. But mostly: “Wholehearted living is different for everyone.” Yes!
I used to find it so easy to fall into the comparison trap. Letting go of the illusion of conformity has been so freeing for me! Thanks for reading and responding, Lauralee!
Best quote: “Life no longer feels busy, it feels rich.”
Thank you for a new, healthier, happier perspective, Nicole!
Thank you for reading, Vicki! I won’t lie–life still feels busy sometimes. But we’re fierce about asking each other and ourselves: “Is this us? Is this life giving? Does this help us be who we want to be or is it a distraction?” It feels so good to trim the excess and focus on what really matters to us.