I want to be at the beach. Winter and I have a love hate relationship. I love to hate winter. I appreciate winter, but at the end of this gypsy Air Force life we’re living, rest assured that you will find me where winters are moderate, snow is rare, and flip flops can be comfortably worn from Valentine’s Day until Thanksgiving.
I shared these sentiments with a friend on the phone yesterday and she laughed out loud. Politely I reminded her that where she lives, “cold” is in the 40s, and my high temperature is in the teens lately. Where I want to live is no laughing matter – it’s a calculated conclusion based on simple logic: I don’t like cold weather, so I want to be where it’s warm.
It’s a natural habit, I think, to think about where we want to be – literally or figuratively. Those of us living a gypsy life daydream about we’d go if the military let us decide our next assignment. Every New Year many Americans set goals or determine to live in a new way, in hopes of being in a different place by the end of the year. We want to be lighter, well rested, more efficient, faster runners, better eaters, accomplished.
The problem isn’t where I want to be. It’s what I do where I am.
Cataloging what I don’t like about where I am doesn’t change my circumstances, it simply makes me more aware of them. Whether I’m dwelling on it in my thought life, or complaining to anyone who will listen, the result is the same: The more I rehearse the negative, the more life I give it, and the more power I afford it in my life.
Over the last couple years, whenever I find myself focusing on where I want to be, I’ve paused to ask myself some questions. Why do I want to be there? How do I get there? Is that something I can do? Can I be THERE, right where I am?
Practically, here’s an what that looks like when I want to be somewhere else: I want to be at the beach. I want to be there because it’s warm and because I relax at the beach. Because life is simpler at the beach. How do I get there? Pay an astronomical sum for an airline ticket. No, that’s not something I can do right now. How can I be at the beach right here, where I am? I want to be where I relax, where life is simpler. What can I do in my life here to relax? Carve out some time for me. Find the margin in my day to rest, to do things that renew me: read a book, take a nap, go for a run, take a long shower, wash my hair and style it. What can I do to make my life simpler? What is on my to-do list that is a MUST do? What have I allowed to be on my list that is not required?
Friends, I love my lists, and I’ve been known to add to my list tasks I have already accomplished just so I can check them off. Further, I’ve always prided myself on being someone who is dependable, helpful, and available. So please hear me when I say shrinking my list is not an easy feat.
Here are a few guidelines that have helped me take a red pen to my to-do list and simplify my life:
Does this fall into one of my top three priorities – wife, mother, writer? Take some time to think about the roles you play and how you prioritize. These are the three roles to which I am called, and there is no one else called to do this work. No one else is called to be Mark’s wife. I said, “I do.” No one else is called to be my girls’ mother. Just me. I believe I am a writer. I believe with every fiber of my being that when I write, God smiles, even when no one else reads it. To be faithful to this work, I tell my stories because no one else can tell them. And by writing, I become a better version of who I was created to be. Who are you called to be? What are your non-negotiable roles?
Is this a must-do or a nice-to-do? Is it urgent or can it wait for a better time? Even if it’s on my list because it stems from one of my top priorities, there’s margin to find. Underwear must be washed if they have none clean. The dishwasher always needs to be unloaded, but more often than not, I can simplify my life by ensuring that the tyranny of the mundane hasn’t edged out what has lasting value: quality time reading books, playing marbleworks or listening to someone talk about their day. That dinner for his job is nice-to-do, but making time to invest in our marriage with a date night is a must-do.
Is this on my list because I want to do it or because I think it’s expected of me? Folks there’s a place for expectations when they hold us accountable to what we believe, but living a life defined by what we think is expected of us is an exhausting hamster wheel. Get off.
Last month when one of my girlfriends declared #justsaynojanuary, I cheered loudly and jumped on board. For 31 days in January, every request, invitation, event, outing passed through a simple filter: does that fall into one of my top priorities? Do I want to do that? If the answers were yes, it made it to the list or calendar. Otherwise, #justsaynojanuary. (I’m currently advocating we extend this for all of 2017.) Friends, if you say “yes” because you “should” or because it’s “expected,” extend yourself some grace. Accept a season of #justsaynojanuary and find out what you want to do, who you want to be, and what you want your life to look like right where you are. (Hate disappointing people? Check out this article.)
One of my favorite quotes is by a wise man named Jim Elliot who wrote, “Wherever you are, be all there.” It’s hard to be ALL there when we want to be somewhere else.
When I’m focused on where I want to be rather than where I am, I’m on a slippery slope to believing that what I live is all there is. I don’t believe that. I believe there’s more.
I believe there’s goodness in every day and every season. I believe when I find the goodness and celebrate it, the goodness edges out the gray skies.
I believe the abundant life I am promised is not someday, I believe it’s today. I believe when I strive to live abundantly today, the harvest is multiplied tomorrow.
I believe we are given wisdom and grace to find what we’re looking for over there, right where we are. I believe when I seek to be all here, I find what I’m looking for over there.