In my faith, there’s a lot of emphasis on this idea of the “domestic church.” It’s the idea that our families and homes are as integral a part of our faith as the community we experience on Sundays. Parents are called to cultivate […]
Even though I’m a stay at home parent who intentionally makes place in my life for quiet and peacefulness and I reject any attempts to be hurried along and packing my schedule, I still find it really hard to set aside time for God in the midst of it all. I have a busy, happy life, and I want to squeeze every last drop out of it. This mindset causes me to try to maximize my time and work endlessly on productivity: more ironing, more dishes, more play dates, more trips to the zoo, more date nights. Just, you know, more.
Without even realizing it, little by little, I find myself drifting further and further away from the Father and that true certainty in my heart. I wonder to myself why church doesn’t feel the way I want it to feel or why worship nights are leaving me flat. I wonder why I’m not hearing from God more. And it’s not a crisis of faith or anything deep like that. It’s just a constant feeling of being a little off.
When I was working actively in ministry through volunteering, retreats, and teaching in a religious school, I would give everything in my heart to the cause and then feel burnt out in my private prayer practice. Now that my job is different, I feel like I end up doing the same thing. Like my default is to minimize how important it is to step back and stand still. And then I’m surprised when I feel so off and distant from God.
Bill Johnson of Bethel Church often says, “Jesus is perfect theology.” Whenever I’m feeling like something is off, I try to go back to the Gospels and reflect on Jesus’ actions. His words bring life, but sometimes His actions are what provide the best example for me.
In the Gospel of Mark, in the very first chapter, Jesus gets right to work curing the afflicted, casting out demons, and performing all kinds of miracles. Thirty verses in, He takes a moment to recharge. He doesn’t wait until Chapter 5 or 10 or certainly not 16 chapters to take a break. Right in that first chapter He steps away.
Mark puts it this way,
“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”
The whole world needed His healing and His presence, but He showed us, in His perfect theology, to make time for solitude and quiet right in the middle of it.
In Matthew, He tells us to do the same:
“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
It’s not enough to show us by example. Jesus follows it up by offering an incentive of blessing and reward. Of course it’s a Jesus-y, spiritual, heavenly reward that we have to wait until the end of our days for, right?
I don’t think so. I think Jesus gives us all kinds of practical advice in the here and now to keep us going and encourage us toward happiness and purpose. He wants us to enter into quiet to make this journey here worthwhile and rewarding. He desires us, every moment of every day, to connect with the Father because it gave Jesus energy and joy and hope and restoration. He offers that to us as well.
So if it’s so good for us, how do we fit a quiet practice into our daily lives? How do we make it a priority?
I think it’s by making it a priority! And fighting for that time. Our relationship with the Father is just like any other relationship. We have to take time out to remember the other person, spend time with them, invite them with us, make time in our schedules. I’m not saying it’s easy, and that we can just make a single decision that God time will be a priority and like magic it will be. I am saying that we need to work on it and try.
I believe God rewards our efforts in trying.
James has this to say about it:
“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.”
Our daily lives can be a bit of a trial. Our busyness and priorities and appointments and schedules can be trying and can wear away at the relationships in our lives. Once again, there’s a promise of a reward though. It’s a concrete thing. Take a step forward, keep going, and it will pay off. Jesus always overflows our life with blessing, and nothing He promises ever falls short. When He talks about this “crown of life” I think He’s talking about an abundant, rich, full life. He wants us to shine and live, really live, and truly inhabit our little place in the world.
With all these rewards, I think trying to make time for quiet can get kind of addictive. When I make a little step forward, like reading a Bible verse every morning, saying a prayer before I drift off to sleep, walking my dog and just breathing in the fresh air and quiet, Jesus follows up and offers me a little taste of heaven. That pushes me to try a little harder and be rewarded even more richly.
I’m not saying it’s easy to take time away or that it’s effortless to always be mindful of that need in my heart. Quite the opposite. It’s a fight every time I do it. But every time I think it becomes a little easier. Once those little moments away start to build up, it becomes a practice, then a habit, then a rhythm in my heart.
So right now, right this second, close your eyes, take a deep breath, and say, “I’m trying.” Vulnerability and trust is God’s favorite language I think. Just the admission that it’s hard and you’re trying is really freeing and opens your heart.
Whatever your faith practice, we all need a little quiet and rest. Meditation, repetitive prayer, going for a run without headphones, taking a little longer in the shower. I don’t find that taking a step back has to be particularly Christian or religious. That is just something that really resonates with my heart. But making time to hear yourself think is such an amazing way to get back to your heart, yourself, and your soul.
When we step into these solitary places, we remember who we are. We open our hearts to blessing and joy. And even just a little trying brings a great reward. So take that step away, go to the solitary place, and plug into the beat of your heart. God rewards even the smallest effort and is waiting there to meet us the minute we try.
Post Script: I took this picture in the Sacred Grove in Palmyra, New York a few years ago. It’s an amazing place historically, and a great place to take a step back from the world.
Happy September 1! For me, that’s the official start of fall, even though according to the calendar I’m 22 days early. I’ve already started getting my fall decorations out and planning my fall wardrobe. And I’m feeling the back to school vibes just like […]
A few weeks ago, I posted about how I’ve been working on simplifying my life lately. Everything I mentioned in that post was absolutely necessary to my sanity.
That being said… my motivation really tanked when I stopped being so accountable to people all the time. It made me see how much I rely on external motivation to get things done in my life. I like the thumbs-ups and encouragement and rewards that come with working toward a goal. Ultimately though, I’d like to get to a point where I’m doing things because they are rewarding in and of themselves.
With that in mind, I started researching and brainstorming things that would help me get motivated and stay motivated with all little downturns in life. That is I think the biggest issue with motivation that isn’t talked about much. OF COURSE things change and we all have hard days and crazy days and unexpected things pop up. It’s life, you know? What’s the use then of getting motivated to just have it all fall apart when things change in our lives?
That’s why I’m hoping to offer a few pieces of advice I’ve found to get going on my goals and also offer lasting bits of advice that keep you going through all the hiccups and changes in life. I know just thinking about what I want to say here has been motivating to me!
+ do your homework
Before I started thinking about ways to get more motivated, I did a little dig online to find some resources. There are countless blogs, youtube videos, pins, podcasts, books, and magazines giving motivation advice. Just a few blog posts and youtube videos really get me going. I especially loved the Love Sweat Fitness motivation challenge. It’s important for me not to dwell too much though. Endless online searches really tank my productivity! I try to limit myself to just a handful of tips. Everyone has their own techniques to get themselves going so it’s good to find people who motivate YOU personally. I like to read blogs from a few Christian bloggers and healthy lifestyle bloggers because they tend to offer the advice I’m looking for.
+ decide to do it
I watched a Marie Forleo youtube video today that had me laughing and offered some great advice about moving forward with your goals. It was all about stopping the excuses in your life, growing up, and handling it! I find it easiest for me to make a decision to move forward with my life when I’m just burnt out and tired of being in a rut. If I start leaning toward negativity and criticizing others, that’s another sign to me to turn things around. Getting my life together and owning it is hugely motivating for me. When you’re not doing much in your life, there’s a lot of inertia that keeps you going that way. If you quit the excuses and make a decision to break that cycle, you put yourself in a great mindset for change. And if it takes a little Jersey tough talk and cursing to do it for you, go for it!
+ self care first
No matter how much research and deciding you do, if you’re not taking care of yourself you’re not going to have the emotional and psychological building blocks to stay motivated. If we’re deprived of sleep, water, good food, and physical activity, our brains tend to start doing funny things: ruminating, thinking negatively, losing determination, increasing compulsions and tanking our ability to be self-controlled (hello junk food and Netflix binges!), and low energy for change. We’re sabotaging all of our good intentions. So instead of endlessly researching ways to get motivated to work out and be healthy, I realize that I’ve got the formula wrong. I can’t be motivated and make lasting change if I’m not in a healthy mental space to begin with. I was going to title this point “workout first” but self-care is so much bigger than that. Choose a self-care activity that puts you in the right psychological environment for motivation and change. If I remember that self-care comes before all of my goals and desires (not other way around), then I’m more willing to prioritize it.
+ appeal to a higher authority
When I’m feeling all blah about my life and no amount of “psyching myself up” fixes it, I just get really honest with God and put it in His hands. It’s important to get some supernatural help in our challenges. That can also take the form of meditation, prayer, or doing things mindfully. You can even look toward people in your life who are killing it and ask for their help. For me, the ultimate help is God, and He has this way of responding really quickly to my direct appeals for help… especially when I’m asking for tools to make my life better, love more, and inspire others. Having the humility to ask for help from the higher authority in your life can help change your mindset and make you more willing to start moving forward.
+ the circle around you
When I’ve been in a place in the past with kind of half-hearted friendships and lots of negative people in my life, it’s been so hard to carry that motivation banner all by myself. As I got older I realized how important it is to surround myself with people who are positive, encouraging, and chasing after their own goals. Few things motivate me more than seeing other people killing it. I like to have this motivation team in person, but sometimes plugging into an online community of positive, goal-oriented people helps too. It’s good to celebrate their successes fully and do things in your own life that will help them grow in their own lives. I have a friend who recently went back to graduate school. Being truly happy for her gave me the right mindset to start making changes in my own life. Seeing her make sacrifices for her goals and seeing how she manages setbacks has been such a good example for my own life. Every time I think about it, I feel that extra burst of enthusiasm to live my best life too.
+ recognize when it’s a problem
Motivation isn’t always a choice or a simple set of steps. Sometimes we’re in a place in our lives when the lack of motivation goes on and on, and there’s nothing more we can do to change it. When my motivation has tanked in the past, I have checked in with my doctor to see if there’s anything medical going on: depression, thyroid issues, anemia, sleep apnea, or something else. If you notice your motivation flagging and it’s being going on for more than a few weeks, check in with your friends, family, and medical professionals to see if there’s something more to the story. Best case scenario, I find a medical all-clear hugely motivating! If there is an issue, I’m happy to attack that head on instead of blaming myself for being “lazy” and having “no self control.”
+ take yourself seriously
If I’m not dealing with a medical issue, I know I need to grow up and tackle my lack of motivation myself. When my work was suffering in the past, I found a little bit of planning time, organization, maybe a freshly pressed new outfit, and a cute planner motivating. Once I dumped everything out into my to-do list, started plotting things out on my calendar, and put some extra energy into my outward appearance, I started to live with a different mindset. Just those external tweaks were enough for me to take myself seriously, think about things maturely, and move forward with my goals. If I laugh it off or feel too casual about making a change in my life, it never really happens. If I speak clearly and think clearly about my goals, it’s far easier to get that motivation going. Be honest with yourself and talk to yourself like you would any other adult who was having a hard time getting things done. Be kind, be constructive, take it seriously. If you take your own lack of motivation seriously, you are in a better place to change it.
+ change of scenery
Along with sprucing things up with my organization tools and my external appearance, I find a fresh surge of energy if I just change the scenery. If I’m used to sitting around my house and not working out, I get myself outside and take a walk. Looking at nature and seeing runners and cyclists help snap me out of my very-comfortable-Pinterest-on-the-couch life. I also try to do a few things all by myself that are out of my routine to keep me inspired and motivated. I recently saw Kim Walker-Smith at a night of worship about an hour and a half away BY MYSELF. It was pretty cool. Leaving my normal surroundings for just an evening gave me a lot of fresh energy for my life at home. It’s good to look back at our normal lives with some perspective so we can clearly see things we’d like to change. Stepping away from any problem for a little bit is one of the best, proven strategies for solving it.
+ say no to stuff
I was reading an article the other day about how we are now in a bail-out culture. With technology, it’s so easy to bail on plans, text at the last minute saying we have to cancel, and do something easier and more comfortable than what we had planned. It’s true! I’m as guilty as the next person with this. Sometimes I just roll over in bed in the morning, don’t feel like going to an appointment or a class, quickly text an excuse, and then go back to sleep! I try not to make this a regular thing, but it’s hard!
I realized that I do this more often when I’m over-committed in my life. When I have more space in my schedule, I’m motivated to keep more of my plans. I have more energy and drive to do things because I’m not strung out and anxious looking at a totally packed schedule. This might be uncomfortable, but it’s so important. Turning down invites, even things that sound great and fun, is the best way to stay motivated and enjoy the things you actually commit to. In that way, less really does lead to more. The fewer things on my plate the more I’m able to stay motivated about what I have left.
+ throw away the external cues
This last piece of advice might seem a little unconventional, but it’s been important to my motivation journey lately. Up until recently, I obsessively tracked things that I thought were important: fitness, hydration, habits, sleep, steps, macros, posts, tasks, goals, you name it! I was addicted to all the external motivators: someone telling me I was doing a good job, having someone admire my work ethic and motivation, working toward rewards like a manicure or a new outfit, and getting a lot of likes on posts where I bragged about my accomplishments. Those are all great things, don’t get me wrong, but they did nothing to give me lasting, sustained motivation. The problem was that they were all external. There was nothing in my heart that was driving me forward.
When I cut my ties to all of that, I felt like I jumped into the deep end. What I found wasn’t a lack of motivation. I found a deeper core in myself that longed to make myself better for the sake of being better, of growing, of moving forward. I have really started paying attention to my toddler son and what I learned as an educator after hours and hours of practice and instruction: we are born as naturally inquisitive, curious, motivated little creatures. Our instincts tell us to try to crawl, to try to walk, to try to accomplish things, to work toward things. Having external motivators made me ignore that innate little-engine-that-could that’s always humming along in my heart. Once I took the leap, I could start to tap into that and recognize a deeper desire to move forward. Just being in that inquisitive, curious, natural place has been the biggest motivator of all.
This is a really short list of what’s been motivating me lately. Everyone is so different, so what motivates you might be very different than what motivates me. I hope by reading this you were able to think of some of your own ideas and maybe try out some of mine. Let me know how that journey is going! And let me know in the comments below what motivates you.
From the moment I found out I was pregnant, I started gobbling up any kind of information I could find on pregnancy, birth, early childhood, and child development. In stressful times, consuming information really helped me calm down. I knew if I reached the CDC’s Rare Diseases website, it was probably time to take a deep breath, turn around, and add a few fun things to our baby registry instead.
Doing all this research also helped me to think through a lot of my theories of parenting, my ideas on child development, my experience in education, my ideas in general about humanity, and the kinds of things my husband and I hoped for in the future. It was fun to talk and read together and make plans for our new family.
Our favorite book we stumbled on was Kim John Payne and Lisa M. Ross’ “Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids.” This was one of the few books we both read all the way through and discussed a lot. We both value free play, independence, imagination, “less is more,” and calm and peace in our home. Of course kids should inject a little crazy into our lives, but it was nice to set some goals together about our hoped-for future.
Lots of people have different ideas about parenting and education. Probably the most important thing is to discuss things with your partner and your friends and family to put together something that works for you! Every family and child is different, so what I think is perfect and great might not be what you hope for in your family. That’s ok! I think it’s the conversations that are important and the hearts behind them.
For us, Simplicity Parenting and Waldorf Education make the most sense. I think Simplicity Parenting brings together research, experience, and a great deal of common sense to parenting. These are the four pillars to Simplicity Parenting:
- Balance and simplify the amount of stuff your child has
- Strengthen life rhythms and predictability
- Balance and simplify the amount of scheduled activities
- Filter out the amount of adult stuff and conversations
For us that means turning down the volume of the world and turning up the sound of our hearts.
Bethel Music’s Kalley Heiligenthal says it best, “We need to let the pace of our lives be set to the metronome of heaven.”
We’ve added so many of the principles in this book to our daily lives, even before we had our son. I love daily rhythms and predictability in my days. I have morning routines, evening routines, weekly routines, monthly routines, yearly routines… I don’t have a rigid schedule or anything like that. I just try to bring the chaos back into order in my life by setting the tone in our home. If I don’t do laundry on Mondays or we skip date night on Fridays from time to time, my life is not going to fall apart. But it’s sweet to look forward to things and set a pace for things. If my faith can have a liturgical calendar with all kinds of seasons and feast days, I can at least add a few things to my home.
I also love having a day or two each week with absolutely nothing scheduled. It’s important to have a breather in each day and week to just sit and be. For my son, free unstructured time is healing and helpful.
I’m also careful with how much I expose my son to in the world. Any violent tv shows, we save for post-bedtime. Yes, I’m a Game of Thrones addict… I also like to speak positively around him, avoid cursing, and am just generally mindful of the things he hears and picks up. That’s not to say I don’t let my guard down from time to time. Of course I do! The next time I try to be a little more mindful than I would be around grown adults. The more gently he’s introduced to war, famine, and just day to day complaining the better.
We are also very conscious of the first pillar: balance and simplify the stuff. I’ve recently talked with two couples who have eliminated most of the toys from their kids’ lives. Instead of a total freakout, I’m impressed that their kids are using their imagination, playing outside, reading, and doing all kinds of simple things that have nothing to do with toys. It’s so cool! I can learn a lot from their example.
We’ve established a few things in our own home to limit the amount of stuff for my son. I wanted to share some ideas so maybe you will be inspired like I’ve been! I hope these are helpful and start you thinking and speaking with the people in your child’s life.
+ toy library and place-specific toys
This is something I’ve done since right around day one with my little guy. I bought a small basket for our living room. In his closet, I have three drawers with books, stuffed toys, and other toys. Every day or so, we go into the closet and choose toys that he can play with in the living room. Let me tell you, this saves SO MANY cleaning headaches for me. It also allows him to help with picking up his toys before nap time and at the end of the day without getting overwhelmed. Whether the toys are on a high shelf, closet, or cabinet, it’s nice to choose just a few things at a time. He also seems to enjoy and value the toys more when they’re out of sight for a few days.
I also have place-specific or time-specific toys to keep them special. I have a few little bath books and a cute rattle for diaper changes, a stuffed toy specifically for the car, and a Bible and prayer book and a stuffed lamb for church. I also have toys put away for Halloween, Christmas, and any other holiday. They are just a few board books and things he can play with while we’re decorating. I remember fondly when my parents would pull out our Christmas train set while they put up the tree. It kept me from getting stuck with needles and made a little celebration out of the whole thing.
+ no batteries
We just did a pretty major declutter and said goodbye to any battery-operated toys in our library. We’ve also encouraged gift-givers to leave the noisy, lighted, moving toys at the store. For the few battery toys my son received, we played with them for a little while and then sent them on their way to other homes. Ditching the noisy flashing toys had a two-fold effect in my life. I’m pretty easily overwhelmed and lots of sudden and unexpected noise and chaos really takes away from me being a cool, calm, and collected parent. I’m way grumpier and impatient if all that is going on. It’s nice to choose some chaotic times like festivals or concerts, but bringing that into my house is not something I’m excited about.
My son is also far more creative if he has simple, no-battery toys. He loves making noise and making things move around. He’s come up with all kinds of instruments, activities, and projects that don’t have a specific storyline already written for him. Instead of a toy saying the same five phrases, he can make his “guys” growl, jump, eat, swim, or whatever else he wants to do with them. I think it also gives him some peace and quiet. Childhood and the world can get super overwhelming to a toddler. The less chaos in his world the better.
+ present-free special occasions
For my son’s first birthday party, I wanted to keep it fun and simple. Our families live out of town, so it was some classmates from his Little Gym class, friends, neighbors, and their kids. We decided to go to the park and serve pizza, cupcakes, and juice boxes on picnic tables. It was a ton of fun!
We also asked guests to forgo gifts and instead bring non-perishable baby items to donate to a local food pantry. Like lots of people, I hate showing up to a party empty-handed. If I had just said, “no gifts, please” I think people might have been confused and not sure what to do with their kind wishes and generosity. Having an outlet like a food or toy collection was such a great way to channel that energy.
It also gave my son a great example early on for generosity and thinking of others. He had a lot of fun helping unload the diapers, formula, and wipes from our car to the food pantry. The staff were so grateful, and I hope all the smiles and friendliness made an impression on my son for the future.
I’m not saying there isn’t a time and place for gifts. We just try to set a few limits in our lives. At Christmas, we asked family to give simple, non-battery toys and very few of them. We ended up only buying our son one present at our local Waldorf School winter festival. He got a few fun things to last him about six months until we decluttered his toy library.
I also try to graciously accept gifts regardless of any kind of rules I might make around holidays and special occasions. They’re not rules really, just a kind of framework for the way we like to run our family. If you want to send us a gift or something for Christmas or a birthday, ohmigosh thank you! Showing gratitude for any gesture of goodwill is another important lesson for my son to learn.
+ regular decluttering
Last but not least, I get to the original title of my post: major toy declutter. After the first year or so of my son’s life, we’ve gotten lots of fun items as gifts, have bought a few things for short term fun (like our road trip play tray!), and have collected some hand-me-downs from friends and family. It all started adding up, so I decided it was time to work with my son to choose some favorites and say goodbye to some things.
I decided to pass on to other families all the battery-operated toys. I also placed a few toys in our donation bin that were a little too young for my son now. Of course, I saved one or two sweet things with great memories from his first year of life! I also got rid of a few toys he never played with, and things someone else might enjoy.
It was so cute seeing him sort through his toys! On his end, it must have been pretty exciting to see all of his toys in a pile on our living room floor. He also did a lot more playing than official decluttering. I didn’t mind at all. If he grabbed at a particular toy, I thought twice about donating it. It was also good for him to see the process and watch me clean and organize. After our decluttering, we chose a few things from our toy library and placed them in a bin for playing. The pile might not look huge, but it was enough for us right now. Everything fits in his bedroom drawers now and we’ve made room for more age-appropriate toys.
Using these pretty easy methods of parenting and being mindful of the over-arching theme of simplicity, I was able to create a little more calm and peace in our days. I’m so happy we spent the time together cleaning and organizing, and it was a fun way to bond and help my son feel like a big part of our family.
I hope these things gave you a few ideas, and helped get you thinking about the kind of parent you hope to become. Whether batteries or not, tv or not, flashcards or not, and a busy schedule or not, the decisions you make for your own family are the most important. Let me know your good ideas and methods for parenting! I’m always happy to learn.