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This is a guest post from Author Alexandra Kuykendall
I’d had it. Done. I was stretched thinner than I could handle. My life was no longer sustainable, much less fun. I was running (sometimes literally) from one soccer practice to the next. Transporting my four children to schools and dentist appointments was a full-time job on its own. Not to mention working an actual part-time job and trying to get dinner on the table on a semi-consistent basis.
Loving my actual life?! I was hardly able to survive it.
And so I needed to make a change. But I wasn’t sure what or how. Where does one begin when she wants to love the life they she is already living? I figured an experiment was in order, one that would allow me to try different approaches. I knew the changes had to be small and immediate. If I couldn’t make the change within twenty-four hours, it was probably too difficult to implement, much less maintain long-term.
I also decided a systematic approach was in order because if I tried to do everything all at once, nothing would actually get accomplished. I knew it was smart to focus on one area of my life at a time, but how to choose? I considered what I missed, longed for even, in my days. And I did an honest evaluation of what I’d been putting off in my regular routines. This frank examination of my current state of crazy pointed to nine areas. So a nine-month experiment was born where I focused on each component for a month to find what would help me better love my life today.
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We all must do our own self-examination to determine where we should place our focus, but in my conversations with other moms, I’ve found the ones that were true for me tend to be pretty universal. These aren’t about major life changes or monumental expenses. They are about making small changes in areas I can control and letting go of what I cannot.
In the spirit of sisterly sharing, her are 9 components to loving the life you actually have, (rather than the one you wish you had):
Some days I can’t hear myself think. When I’m overwhelmed my impulse is to do more, when really I should do less in order to recalibrate. To stop. Breathe. And just be. For more than twenty seconds at a time. As busy women we must be intentional to carve out some silence to consider what goodness we already have. Turning off social media helps create quiet because often the noise, the chatter, is not as much audible as it is the consumption of a constant newsfeed. When I’m quiet I not only hear myself think, I have the space needed to hear God’s whispers more clearly.
-Get up before or go to bed after everyone else in your home.
-Turn off music, phones, and passengers’ movies when driving.
The way we begin our days has a trickle down effect for hours to come. Not just for us, but also for the people in our care that we are sending into the world. So streamlining routines, planning ahead, and incorporating some of the quiet we just talked about helps the entire household have a stronger start to each day. The great thing is every morning is a fresh beginning. So if the previous twenty-four hours didn’t knock your socks off, God gives you a chance to try again.
-Get dressed with the idea of presenting your best self to the day (have a fallback uniform.)*
-Create a staging area for leaving the house.
The most important things in life aren’t things at all, they are people. And though I am surrounded by my people all day, everyday, I often am not maximizing our time together for connection. From play dates to dates that require a dinner reservation and a sitter, focusing on intentional one-on-one interactions with those in my closest circle gives me fresh insights into who they are. Being more available in the midst of the busy allows me to mine unexpected moments and discover joy-filled exchanges right in the middle of the mundane.
-When tempted to browse on your phone, call a friend instead.
-Discover the “love languages” of those around you.
As the caretaker in my family I am meeting people’s needs, often at the expense of my own body’s care. From exercise to proper sleep, a reprioritization of my physical health in turn helps me better care for those very people I love so much. Rather than fixating on the parts of my body I’d like to change, I must come to terms with the actual changing, aging version I have and be grateful for the miracle it is. I am reminded that God gave me a body for a purpose. And the stronger, more energized I am, the better able I am to carry out his mission in the world.
-Set a designated screen end time for the day.
-Say a prayer of gratitude for your body.
The rote of my actual life can make one day feel just like the day before. With tomorrow not promising to be much different. In the middle of the everyday I begin to feel bored, even restless, like this life God has gifted me isn’t enough. When I make a few small changes to mix up my routines, I rediscover some of the beauty around me that goes unnoticed. In fact there is opportunity to partner with God to do great things if I watch and pay attention to the work he is already doing. Now that adds some spice to my actual life!
-Drive home a different route.
-Dress up for dinner (fancy or theme related.)
6. Home Organization
When my living space is in order I experience a greater sense of calm and peace. And when I have prepared our home for others I am more free to swing the doors open and invite them in. This inviting in gives my home a sense of purpose beyond sheltering my family. Whether you manage a home full of people or live alone, your daily routines can be adjusted to keep your stuff in order so it doesn’t rule over you. A little organization can free you up to use your home as a sanctuary.
-Have two designated “clean up” times each day.
-Have an area ready and available for an unexpected guest.
God is creative and made us in his image. As a result we are made with a creative thread running through us. However in the busy of life our creative pursuits are frequently not prioritized because the “musts” take our attention. When we carve out some time to work in the garden, play some music, or try a new recipe, we tap into that thread and are reminded of the miracles all around us. We have a renewed sense of God’s creation as we join him in the creative process.
-Buy yourself fresh flowers.
-Read (or write!) a poem.
Food preparation, consumption and cleanup have to be dealt with multiple times a day. Yet we find ourselves hoping the need to make dinner will just magically disappear. When we tackle this area with a plan, we are freed up to remember the purpose of nourishing our bodies and our spirits. It’s no accident the Bible is full of references about food and meals. It is a reminder that God provides for and nourishes our bodies and spirits and food is a practical way we can care for others.
-Develop a list of staples to keep stocked in your pantry.
-Eat outside or have a picnic on the floor.
Sometimes the best way to relish what’s right in front of us is to lift our heads to ask the bigger questions of heartbeats and talents in our lives. If in the midst of the mundane we can remember how we are uniquely made and make our stamp of influence on the world with conviction. The intersection of where our hearts moan with the worlds’ need is a good place to begin. As long as we are living out of a sense of calling, every task, no matter the size, has purpose.
-Learn to do one thing really well (a recipe, a technique.)
-Listen to a podcast on a topic of interest.
As I journeyed through this experiment I discovered focusing on these components did make a difference in how I enjoyed my days. Often because I slowed my pace enough to notice what God already had for me. Because our moments build days. Which build weeks. And months. And years. Our small moments make up our lives. When we pay attention to them we relish the details of our lives a little more.
I for one don’t want to miss my actual life. I want to love it.
*Tips are from Loving My Actual Life: An Experiment in Relishing What’s in Front of Me (Baker Books 2016).
Alexandra Kuykendall chronicled her nine-month experiment to love the ordinary a little more in her new book Loving My Actual Life: An Experiment in Relishing What’s Right in Front of Me. Alex speaks to women around the world with candor, grace and humor on issues of faith, parenting and perspective. She and her husband Derek raise their four girls in the shadows of downtown Denver.