Right now, there are so many voices online, telling us what should matter or not matter to us, how we can achieve x, y and z in our careers, how we should parent, even how we should practise self care. And while some of these voices are helpful and encouraging and good, we can end up overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of content.
That’s the place I had come to at the end of last week, a tumultuous week, which had driven many to seek reassurance and comradery in social media. Scrolling and checking became even more instinctive a habit than ever before, but the more I scrolled and checked, the more stressed I became. And the more I scrolled, the more content I read, the more I felt I needed to have goals and plans and targets. Parenting goals, business goals, self care goals…and so on, because this is what my feed was full of. And whilst none of this is bad in itself, it was piling on pressure at a time when things can change daily, plans have to be made VERY loosely and none of us are operating within normal parameters. I realised I needed to step back from social media and sift through my head and heart.
I started with lists, but I wrote them in the most flexible, low pressure way I could think of: a to do list for the week, along with a ‘probably do’ and a ‘might do’ list for the year. This was a starting point, but I still felt uneasy, like I hadn’t got to the heart of things. These lists could so easily spill over into a mind-map of good, creative, well-intentioned ideas that would quickly overfill my brain and time and distract me from what I really needed to focus on.
So I retreated further. Stepped back from the to do lists and asked myself and God, what is really important to me this year? What kind of life am I trying to build?
As I reflected, I looked back over my journals and found that I’d already been doing this work (partly through some amazing books I have read over the past year – see the list at the bottom). I do know what is important to me and what is amazing is that God has been bringing me on this long journey for a while now. Over time, there has been a stripping back, a ‘pruning’ and real growth, too. Time and time again, I have written down these same priorities for myself and my family: friendship; hospitality; nurture and nourishment. And, as I look back, I see that God has already been giving me opportunities to prioritise friendships and open up our home.
But even these are peripheral things to focus on around my central purpose: to care for and propel our children as they grow up.
And then, there is the deepest, strongest dream of all. This dream is to live the life described here in Galatians 5: 16 and 22-23 from the Message version of the Bible.
My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit…
But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.
This is a Bible passage I have written down again and again over the years, on post-its, in journals, at the edge of work diaries and on bookmarks. And now, especially, I long for my children’s experience of our family to be of these ‘fruits’. My basic, barest priority is to be ‘in step’ with God’s Holy Spirit, who I have learned is wholly trustworthy, peaceful and life-bringing. To live with the gifts above growing in our lives has got to be the best way I can think of to spend whatever years I have. For our children, growing up in such an uncertain world, I can’t think of more important gifts than those of patience, joy, perseverance and hope.
George Muller wrote the following, and, in light of all of the above, I completely relate.
‘The first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day is to have my soul happy in the Lord.’
Books that have particularly helped me think about my priorities:
Cultivate, by Lara Casey
Present Over Perfect, by Shauna Niequist