I seem to be completely unaware of when I have worked myself too hard. I know it’s important to rest. I used to be lazy and rest too much, in fact. I would rest as though I were addicted to rest (that’s laziness). One of the best things about my marriage to Leslie is that she has brought me out of my self-induced slumber. CrossFit was also a good thing for me. It taught me how to work hard with the most effort I could manage and complete the workouts. I’ve become so used to exercising this way that I often wear myself out with workouts at 120% effort such that I am too tired and sore the next day to keep a consistent workout schedule going. Ideally, I should be at 60-80% every day.
At home, though, I’ve translated this to yard-work, homeschool, cooking, cleaning, and making time for my family. As an introvert, I also need to recharge through quiet time alone, and in a house with six other people living in it, that can be difficult to do. Some evenings, when my wife works the evening shift, I can spend a little time before bed recharging in healthy ways, but even then I’m often cutting into my sleep unless I’m very disciplined.
So finding a balance between sleep, recharging rest, work, and social/family-time is a challenge, as it is for every introvert who lives and works with others.
Yesterday was awful. I was a terrible father. I got angry with the kids for the smallest things, and even the things I should have enjoyed with my kids I found annoyingly tiresome. I had a short temper. I overreacted to things that weren’t worth reacting to at all. It was awful.
I had vivid dreams last night, and somewhere in my dream I got the notion that I needed rest. Leslie was in my dream, and I think I was talking to her about resting. So, today, I have dedicated myself to finding a sabbath rest. Essentially, I’m not committing myself to any particular task. If I feel like writing (as I do right now), I write. If I feel like reading, I read. I will help the kids if they need help, and do things if they absolutely need to be done (it’s not like I just leave the dishes out or let go of cleaning up a mess if one occurs). I don’t neglect my family, even to rest, but I don’t have to require anything more of myself or of them than absolutely necessary either.
The first thing I learned from this is how difficult it is to lay down my need to stay busy. I’ve recently wrapped a lot of my self-worth in staying busy, and when I’m not busy, I begin to feel like I’m losing my grip on myself. I suspect this is in part because I haven’t yet built a good habit of taking some serious time to rest.
The next thing I learned is that providing myself some rest from having an agenda and staying busy gives me some extra “room” so to speak to watch my responses with my kids. I still have to be lovingly firm with them when they try to argue or get their way or break rules in the home, but I also can take a breath before responding when they do something that I simply find annoying, and when I’m tempted to overreact. One of my four year olds has a habit of getting attention by reaching out and putting his fingers or hands on my face. It doesn’t seem to matter how much I get angry about this, or how I punish him, if I ignore the behavior, or if I have a firm talk with him about it. He still does it, because he knows it will get a response out of me one way or the other. Today, he did it again at lunch time. Instead of reacting as I usually do, I gave him a hug, and then taught him how to play “thumb war,” because then he could use his hands to get attention from me in an appropriate way. Maybe not the perfect parenting technique, but it made us both happier in the end and he hasn’t tried to touch my face since then.
Finally, I can do some of the things I haven’t been able to do and have wanted to do. Pastor and author Tim Keller wrote a good article on six ways to have a Sabbath rest, and he wrote that one of the ways we can spend a Sabbath rest is by enjoying avocational activities – in other words, things that look like work but aren’t work. We aren’t doing them for some other good, but simply for the good that we find in the activity itself. Some people write for money. They hate writing, but love the money they receive. I’ve never received money for my writing (at least, nothing substantial), but I love writing.
Another thing Keller writes about, and I’ll end here, is the idea of leaving a margin for gleaning during the work-week:
“Associated with the Sabbath laws were the gleaning laws, in which the owners of fields were not allowed to harvest out to the edges of their fields. They had to leave a percentage of grain in the field for the poor to come and take. Some people have used this as an inspiration for deliberately setting fewer goals for themselves in a given day and week, not harvesting out to the edges, not trying to squeeze productivity out of every single second of every day” (www.redeemer.com/redeemer-report/article/six_ways_to_practice_sabbath).
I really like the idea of not harvesting to the edges. I think that’s the element of overwork that I really struggle with when I have a busy day. I often reach the end of my day, and before going to bed, I immediately think of three to five things I should have done that day but couldn’t fit in. I often send them to my list for the next day in which I am now already over-booked.
I don’t have to be in control of everything. I don’t have to be responsible for what my kids do for play. The world will keep spinning and God will keep loving us even and especially if we lay aside control for a day.
P.S. My kids, however, are really struggling with this new way of handling the day. I’ve heard lots of “Daddy, what do I do? Daddy, I need you to…[do something they could easily do themselves].” In response, I show them the large playroom full of toys. The backyard with swings and a slide. The fresh green grass of the summer and a football. The shelves loaded with books. They don’t seem interested if they can’t hold my attention for the fantasy-needs they think they have. I tell them to “take a deep breath.” They inhale, and exhale. “I had nothing to do with that breath. You can breathe without me for the time being.” Then, I take a deep breath, too.