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One of my favorite authors, Shauna Niequist, has this great section in her book Bittersweet (if you don’t already have this, for goodness sake, buy it! Amazon has it for $11.16, or if you are local, we sell it in our office for $5!) that constantly challenges, refreshes, and encourages me. In it, she describes her fascination with people who can “do it all” –
“I love the illusion of being able to do it all, and I’m fascinated with people who seem to do that, who have challenging careers and beautiful homes and vibrant minds and well-tended abs. Throw in polite children and a garden, and I’m coming over for lessons.”
She talks about having lunch with her friend Denise, one of those admirable, seems-like-she-has-it-all-together-kind of women, who gave Shauna this advice,
“It’s not hard to decide what you want your life to be about. What’s hard, she said, is figuring out what you’re willing to give up in order to do the things you really care about.”
Later, Shauna writes about being in the throes of all her own expectations, writing “DO EVERYTHING BETTER” on her to-do list, and feeling completely exhausted by the efforts. She describes that list item,
“The three together, DO EVERYTHING BETTER, are a super-charged triple threat, capturing in three words the mania of modern life, the anti-spirit, anti-spiritual, soul-shriveling garbage that infects and compromises our lives. And I’m the one who wrote those words on my very own to-do list. I’m in a lot of trouble with my own self for that, because the “do everything better” way of living brought me to a terrible place: tired, angry, brittle, afraid, hollow. And Denise’s words keep ringing in my ears, a song I had heard in the distance, like steel drums across the water, a song I want desperately to hear again. She was right. Deciding what I wanted wasn’t that hard. But deciding what I’m willing to give up for those things is like yoga for your superego, stretching and pushing and ultimately healing that nasty little person inside of you who exists only for what people think…The grandest seduction of all is the myth that DOING EVERYTHING BETTER gets us where we want to be. It gets us somewhere, certainly, but not anywhere worth being.”
As a result, she comes up with her “Things I Do” and “Things I Don’t Do” lists! For those of us with overstretched personal boundaries and an inclination to try and “Do Everything Better” – this is a great practice! I spent a lot of time thinking through what I do and what I don’t do, and who I want to be and who I don’t want to be. It took longer than I’d anticipated. Here’s what I came up with…
Things I Do:
Above all else, I aspire to orient every aspect of my life around God. I want to wholeheartedly serve others because I was first undeservedly pursued and shown grace and rescued by Him. His mercy and grace for me have created the entire foundation of my life.
I am committed to the local church, with all her flaws and broken people. I want to serve for my entire life and find ways to pour into the next generation, whatever that looks like. The best way I’ve found to do that is in the context of small groups of people who can admit they need help, and having the chance to see God provide that help.
I have a close community of friends with whom I can freely share and trust, and I work to be a good friend to each of them and to initiate time for all of us to spend together. I know those people who are on my home team, and I also recognize the people who are on my radar at more of a distance, and that I’ve committed to pouring out into through mentoring and discipling relationships.
I love through communication and words. The way that I connect with people is through intentionality and through conversation, and I have structured my life in such a way to foster and facilitate that. I also love to read, and know that I am most healthy mentally when I have an input from other voices and wisdom through books. I recognize my limits and the finite amount of time and energy that I possess. I know how much external, social interaction is beneficial to me and others, and when I need to retreat and rest and be alone, preferably reading.
I have a deep affinity for organizing and consolidating and throwing things away. I’m not a minimalist, necessarily, especially when it come to books, but knowing that there is a place for everything and that there aren’t piles of unnecessary junk hiding in my closet or garage gives me great satisfaction.
At the end of that list, Shauna includes a last item that I thought was hilarious – “And then there are, of course, a few other things I do, just for being a person in America who does not have a personal assistant and is not, say, the president. This list includes, but is not limited to: trips to the DMV, laundry folding, diaper buying, and occasional flossing. Even if I did have a personal assistant, I would stipulate that I still do my own flossing, because I’m just that grounded.”
Things I Don’t Do:
I try really hard not to commit to anything that I don’t intend to do. I make it a distinct priority to follow through on what I say, which often means taking a moment to think strategically and realistically before I answer a question.
I don’t play the food shame game (any more). I don’t consider food in categories of “good” or “bad” or in whether I “deserve” a meal based on the amount of exercise I have done or intend to do. I don’t need that food shame in my life, and so I categorically avoid that line of thinking.
I avoid watching scary movies (any more). In the same vein as the food, I don’t need scary images in my brain, so I choose movies outside that genre. There are more than enough incredible movies to spend time watching without those.
I don’t do snow sports. I suck at being cold and I have a good friend who is paralyzed from a snowboarding accident. It’s just not on my radar.
The second list was way harder to come up with! And these lists will surely continue to be updated as I figure these things out about myself. For now, though, here it is.
I’m working on being satisfied with who I am today in the process of becoming who I’m going to be, and letting my “Yes” be “Yes” and my “No” be “No” and not to compare my life to anyone else’s. Here’s to the process!