Thursday, February 21, 2013

Juggling Act

Today I am compelled to write about priorities after recently visiting with a friend who is struggling to realign hers.  She shared with me how she feels she is meeting herself coming and going, and how the stress and demands of life are piling up to the point that life is becoming overwhelming and joyless.  I shared with her that I've been there many times (more than I'd care to admit), and that another friend shared a secret or trick with me that has made an enormous difference in my life. It has given me freedom and space to actually LIVE my life and stop placing ridiculous demands and expectations on myself (or allowing others to do that for me, which they will gladly do if you let them).

We as women can easily find ourselves with too many irons in the fire.  Many of us feel not only the demands and pressure to be working outside the home, but also the expectation to maintain our home and personal life to an unrealistic level of perfection.  But the reality is we all have 24 hours each day, and we need to be resting peacefully for seven to eight of those.  That doesn't leave a great deal of time to manage work, home, kids, friends, extended family, and personal upkeep (which when you hit 40 can easily become a part-time job itself)!  Though I am richly blessed to not have to work outside my home any longer, I did so for 16 years while raising our only child, so I can relate to the pressures and juggling act required by women today.  I also put myself through college with an infant, so I'm not foreign to the burdens on working moms.

I've somewhat jokingly said many times to close friends that I was born in the wrong decade.  I believe wholeheartedly that my true self would have thrived in the fifties when most women stayed home and took care of their men and children. I loved nothing more than tending to our home and making sure Matt and Allie had every need met with flare.  Living at a time when that was really the only thing that would have been expected or required of me would have been truly delightful on many levels for me. Of course, it's always easy to say those kinds of things when you don't really know what life was like at that time.  I'm distinctly aware that I've probably got "grass is greener" syndrome on that front.  But I do think the whole, "women's lib" movement destroyed us as women.  We now feel obligated to take on the roles of both men AND women.  It isn't like we traded in our duties--we just added more of them and shot ourselves in the foot in so doing.  I still have friends today who work 50-hour a week jobs and guilt themselves for hiring a house cleaner.  Why do we do this to ourselves?

All the stress we place upon ourselves to be, "the best at everything," ends up manifesting itself in all kinds of negative ways in our lives, if we let it.  We end up having restless nights instead of peaceful, deep sleeping, which increases our moodiness and lowers our metabolic function (and these are two of the last things middle-aged women need).  Our sex lives plummet because our daily do-list is so lengthy that we fail to take care of this very important aspect of life, health, and marriage.   We begin to gain, "stress" weight, due to that nasty little stress hormone called, "cortisol."  Our faces show all the daily wear-and-tear with dark circles, wrinkles, bags, and frown lines.  We feel unhappy and tired because we don't have the proper time to exercise, which is the best and cheapest remedy for depression, anxiety, emotion, libido, and energy maintenance that anyone can ever find.  Our do-list is so time-consuming that we feel we don't have time for God, so we fail to a personal quiet time alone with Him in prayer and Bible study.  Without that most important "do-list" item of the day, our entire lives become out of focus and begin to feel meaningless and chaotic.  We also don't have the equipping we need in order to be able to encourage and fill others as we are commanded to do in God's Word.  We are empty, so we instead drain other people versus filling them.  I can speak to every item I've mentioned here because at times in my life, I've lived it.  We all have if we're honest.  We aren't perfect; therefore, we all have times and tendencies toward imbalance.  It just requires constant readjustments.

The "little secret" that another friend shared with me years ago that has been a fabulous benchmark for me with regard to alignment (& re-adjustments) of personal priorities is something she called, "The Rule of Seven."  She heard about this in a Bible study she took years ago.  Another Christian female shared with her class about this great "rule" and she has never forgotten.  "The Rule of Seven," is basically the idea that any person (man or woman) can only effectively and efficiently juggle seven items in their life at any given time.  Each task or person in your life represents one item.  So essentially, every position, job, child, person, relationship, volunteer task, etc.--anything that requires daily or even varied chunks of time, equals a separate item in your life.  She suggests only grouping or lumping items together into one item if they truly only require small, random spurts of your time.  For example, if a woman has five children, then the care she provides for each child and her spouse (both of which are daily and unlimited), and taking care of herself is all she truly has time to do.  We haven't even added in any church work, friendships, or the maintenance of the upkeep of her home.  So this woman would probably need to keep outside "stuff" to an absolute minimum in order to be an effective wife, mother, and a happy, well-maintained person.

So what are my "seven" items?  Maybe you don't care, but I'm going to share it because examples are helpful as we attempt to keep our lives in check and in balance.  Here's my list:

1.  My relationship with God.  I strive to pray and read my Bible daily.  I blog about Christian topics in order to attempt to witness for Christ and because writing feeds my soul.  I am better able to process things I learn and read in my walk with God when I write about them.  I also want to leave this journal of sorts for my grandchildren to read and in order to hopefully influence them in their lives long after I am gone.  I also volunteer for random things at my church, so I lump all these God and ministry-related things into this item.
2.  My relationship and the care I provide to my husband, Matt. Matt is number two in my life, second only to God.  This has never been a tough one for me.  Since, "quality time," is one of my top love languages, I naturally enjoy being with Matt and caring for him.  The problem for me is that many times Matt trumps God.  This is where I get little reminders for readjustment from God--it is never the other way around!  I travel with Matt now that I no longer work outside of our home (other than the work I do part-time with my music commitments).  Matt has upwards of 6 business/job-related trips per year--sometimes more.   They are an average of 4-7 days in length, so they aren't, "out and back," trips.  He loves and enjoys having me go with him.  We neither one do well apart, and Matt says he does better when I am there with him for a variety of reasons. He sleeps better, he feels better, and he appreciates that I just take care of him and his external needs on the trip.  Many times, he has a great deal of stress on him on these trips--he gives presentations, leads meetings, gives group talks, deals with all kinds of policy issues, and on top of all that, he is required to "wine and dine" all the executive board members of his association and their wives nearly every night.  So he is, "on," so to speak, from 6AM until midnight nearly every day of each trip.  I enjoy going along to alleviate stress and just help with all the "PR'ing" he does each evening.  As Matt says, I've been blessed with the, "gift of gab," so it takes a lot of pressure off him when I'm there at his side to help carry the 3-hour dinner conversations.  I also have become the designated tour guide for his members' wives during the day.  This is a blessing to Matt and he appreciates having me there (or at least, he tells me this in gratitude repeatedly, and when I hint that I don't really feel like going along on a trip, he is not pleased)!  The way I see it, God gave me my husband and He calls me to provide for his needs.  This is a need to Matt and I am happy to provide.  Some might say we are spoiled to get to travel like we do.  Yes, it is definitely a job "perk" or blessing.  But Matt works extremely hard on these trips, and I don't sit around picking my nose much.  Some have hinted that all this traveling and helping Matt is a waste of my time and energy when I'm not getting paid to do it.  But the way I see it, anything I do to help my husband or please him is putting many credits in my heavenly bank account.
3.  My relationship with my daughter and my new son-in-law (who I prefer to call, "son").  I spend a good amount of time on the phone with my daughter, Allie.  I invest in her life and make effort to spend time doing fun things and making memories with her and her hubby, Kale.  Matt and I keep well-informed of what their needs are and we pray with them on the phone when things arise.  We are just there for them on every level that we can be.
4.  The upkeep and care I provide to myself.  I am a runner and I believe wholeheartedly that personal fitness and well-being are crucial and essential to living a good life.  You cannot be productive, effective, or equipped to help others or do the ministries that God has called you to do if you aren't taking care of yourself, too.
5.  My relationship with my parents.  Similar to #3, I spend quality time on the phone with all 3 of my parents (I recently found my biological father, and we are working on building a new relationship together. This will be a later blog topic, but it has been a great blessing in my life and now happily requires a fair amount of time each week).  I enjoy spending time with all my parents and making fun memories together.  They are of divine importance to me and to my life, and it is commanded of us to honor and love our parents (Exodus 20:12).  I also spend time with my in-laws and enjoy also seeing them from time-to-time at family events and such.  So this "parental" item is pretty full and fairly time-consuming.  At times, lumping all five parents into one item is probably pushing it.
6.  My music.  I now lead worship at my church around 2-3 Sundays a month.  This requires upwards of 10-15 hours a week during the weeks I lead.  I also sing in two bands outside of church.  One band rarely gigs, but we practice nearly weekly.  The other band rehearses weekly, and gigs quite regularly (2-4 times a month).  So I group all my music stuff into one item.  It is basically a part-time job for me.  Some weeks, it is a full-time job.  These new duties and time-fillers are of great benefit to my life and are God's callings on my life.  They are passions and visions that I know are God-induced.  They are a large part of the time I spend in ministry for Christ.  It is also a blessing to my husband that I am working and contributing, even if only on a small scale, to our finances, our life, and to our life's purposes.  There is nothing more attractive to a man than a woman who keeps herself busy toward purposes that are viable and important.  My husband has outwardly said this to me.  He is proud that I am working toward something.  
 7.  My extended family and friends.  This is the area where I struggle the most in juggling because it is, for obvious and necessary reasons, at the bottom of the totem pole in my life and I have to lump an awful lot of people into one item here.  Both Matt and I have pretty large families and we are close with several of those family members. They are exceptionally important to us and if we had more than 24 hours in a given day, we'd be spending much more time with them!  Due to the fact that this item has numerous people in it, I have struggled the most in this area with juggling.  It has created tension for me in trying to prioritize people and at times, God has had to remove or alleviate the tension for me.  When relationships become too "heavy" or the neediness of outside people becomes too demanding, this is the area I believe God always immediately will clear your plate.  If you ask Him for wisdom in what things need to be readjusted, I can almost guarantee you it will come from this, "extended family and friends," area.  We ARE called to be an encouragement to our family and friends, as well as, to keep fellowship with those in the body of Christ (our church mates) as Hebrews 10:25 states.  But there are FAR MORE Scriptures that tell us as women to take care of the top six items first and foremost.  This area should be minimal and rarely be a conflict with your other top items.  If it becomes one, my advice is to axe it.  If you're married with children and you have a job of any kind at all (full or part-time), your plate is nearly full.  Give yourself a break and let go of relationships and people (especially non-family) who are expecting too much of you.  They need to go get more real items on their own plate.  Anyone in this, "external group," as I call it, who truly loves you and is truly committed to their walk with Christ will never place demands on you that you can't fulfill.  Their voids are being properly filled in their walk with God, and they desire for your life to match-up to God's Word and the requirements that are given to you as a woman of God (which are to care for our spouses, our children, work in our churches, and take care of our homes & ourselves). 

Recently, the Good Lord has been clearing my plate and I haven't even had to do much!  He has just been changing and reshaping my life in new and interesting ways by bringing amazing things into my life and removing other things that were unnecessary, non-fulfilling, and non-purposeful--essentially, they were draining my time and energy, and He had been hinting to me of this for quite a while.  Change requires adjustment, and if God has laid a vision on your heart for your life, be prepared.  If He brings it to fruition, you will be guaranteed realignment along with those changes and new visions.  God is so faithful it amazes me.  My advice is this:  if your life is not looking like you want it to look and your life's demands are wearing and tearing you down, pray for an adjustment.  Ask God to show you where you need to make cuts and where your plate needs cleaned.  He will be trustworthy and faithful to show you, but you have to be willing and trusting of His will.  There's really no better feeling than when God moves in your life with answered prayer and realignment.  It is so freeing, and it gives you the space to grow and change into the person He envisions for you to be (and that will never be every one's stepping stone and doormat).  Sometimes the best way to show love and mercy to someone is to let them go.  If the sun in their world rises and sets with you (and it shouldn't), they need to learn that God needs to be their all in all.

God does not want our lives to be over-taxed and exhausting.  He didn't design us in this way.  My sweet friend also reminded me that Jesus was the greatest example of this.  Even Christ (and He was perfect), didn't do all for all people.  He had twelve disciples.  Inside that twelve, Jesus only had 3-4 to whom He was very close.  Inside that 3-4, He only had one to whom He shared nearly everything.  Jesus wasn't even married with children, and He did not do all for all people.  His ministry and tasks were most important because that is what God, His Father, had told Him to do with His life.  He is our best example for everything in this life, and even in how He lived amongst others proves to me that we simply cannot be all things to all people.  God has placed certain people in your life--in your circle.  That is a limited number.  It doesn't include every person in your neighborhood or every friend of your past.  It sure doesn't include anyone who is making such demands that by meeting those demands, other people or items above them on your priority list will be harmed.   If God has given you a mission or purpose in life, stick to it.  Do not waiver for anyone or anything.  Those who make goals and arrive at dreams and visions are not people who waiver at the whim of others.  They stick to what God is telling them to do.  There are seasonal relationships and friendships, and sometimes God tells us clearly to, "Let go and move on."  Those whom He has placed distinctly and purposefully in your life should never be shirked or changed (your spouse, your kids, your parents, your family).  But we, as women, must let go of the notion that we are to be friends with everyone and do everything we can for everyone.  Too many times this robs us of the freedom and peace we need to have in our daily life in caring for our spouse and our children, as well as, those people and things that God has truly placed in our lives and upon which He is asking us to expend time and energy.   God will guide you if you truly want His help with your own personal juggling act. Ask Him today.  He cares so deeply for you and about every detail of your life.  He wants joy and peace to overflow in and through all that He has entrusted to you.  He has made you steward and manager of many people and things.  Order them with caution and know that He is there when realignment is needed.  Praise be to God.

Life can be really simple, my fellow sisters in Christ.  Below are verses to prove it.  We are called first and foremost to love God and care for our families.  I say this with utmost love to all the well-meaning-ed, stay-at-home Christian women out there who think working outside the home is sinful:  Read Prov. 31:16--the "wife of noble character" worked, earned money, and bought land with her own money.  She wasn't doing this at home, and even if she was, most women today cannot do that.  So please, keep your legalism to yourself.  It is stifling, self-righteous, and it is only bringing harm to the, "already overwhelmed" female population who may or may not have the blessing or financial means to stay at home.  Likewise, those who work outside the home need to not defame their fellow sisters whom God has called and equipped to stay at home.  They are doing it differently than you, and you need to get over it. (And to encourage all the fine ladies who work outside the home AND at home:  Read Prov. 31-15--this wife of noble character had servants!  So stop guilting yourselves for not cleaning your own house)!  We are not all the same person with the same gifts, abilities, and blessings.  We need to all live our own lives, and if we don't like our life, it is our responsibility to change it and/or make choices that enable us to do so.  God blessings and peace to all of you. 

Verses for Simple Living:

Micah 6:8, "He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?"

1 Timothy 5:8, "But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever."

Titus 2:3-5, "Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled."

Proverbs 31:10-31
Epilogue: The Wife of Noble Character
10 "A wife of noble character who can find?
    She is worth far more than rubies.
11 Her husband has full confidence in her
    and lacks nothing of value.
12 She brings him good, not harm,
    all the days of her life.
13 She selects wool and flax
    and works with eager hands.
14 She is like the merchant ships,
    bringing her food from afar.
15 She gets up while it is still night;
    she provides food for her family
    and portions for her female servants.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
    out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She sets about her work vigorously;
    her arms are strong for her tasks.
18 She sees that her trading is profitable,
    and her lamp does not go out at night.
19 In her hand she holds the distaff
    and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
20 She opens her arms to the poor
    and extends her hands to the needy.
21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
    for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
22 She makes coverings for her bed;
    she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is respected at the city gate,
    where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
    and supplies the merchants with sashes.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
    she can laugh at the days to come.
26 She speaks with wisdom,
    and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
27 She watches over the affairs of her household
    and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children arise and call her blessed;
    her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women do noble things,
    but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Honor her for all that her hands have done,
    and let her works bring her praise at the city gate."