I sat there during worship half hoping my hair would hide my tears. You know those Sundays. As if writing a book wasn’t hard enough, I was reliving the days our son almost drowned, an attempted child abduction, a house fire, and a miscarriage while pen went to page, all while being Mom and Wife. Need I say more? My stress had reached fever pitch, and I knew God was purposely clearing my schedule for what was this moment.
I realized sitting there that my unhappiness was not from my circumstances, but from having zero margin in my life - zero. The picture I had was of an ocean, where I could no longer see any shorelines. I needed someone to save me from where I had unintentionally swam. I was drowning from a tight schedule, saying “yes” to too many things, and dreaming big but with no checks and balances.
There are a billion self-help books, blogs, and missions to help us declutter our schedules, but my time was already so sparse. Even thinking about how to educate myself on a new way to do things not only seemed unrealistic, but counterproductive. I already had enough on my plate. The mini-crisis sitting in that church row was actually what brought major clarity. These three items I am about to share were like liferafts Jesus Himself had thrown to me. I want to quickly share them as tools to help you mother capable, unshakeable, and memorable:
#1 Acknowledge your busyness
The first step is knowing you have a problem, right? For years, I wore my “busy” like a badge. As a mom of five, who had left a very successful career to raise children, which in the world’s eyes sometimes feels so unimportant, I felt some sense of accomplishment and pride to feel like I was showing the world that I “could do it all.” But nobody cared beyond that insignificant blip in time - they went on with their lives while mine lay in shambles. I was the only one suffering, and I was the only one able to deconstruct the situation I had constructed. So we first have to ask ourselves how we got here.
#2 Ask “Why am I so busy?”
Everyone is different. Your answer may be very concrete, like “a full time job.” But when I sat before the Lord and asked Him why I acted this way, the answers were clear and very humbling. This is pretty transparent, but here goes. I had a genuine heart not to overwhelm others; so I would take on work that wasn’t mine to champion. By fulfilling what others were gifted at, I robbed them of opportunities; and by attempting to go above and beyond and be their Savior, I stole their time with their real savior, Jesus. And despite being an extreme extrovert, a busy schedule allowed me to excuse myself from the risk of deep relationships. Pity. Why are you so busy?
Then, we have to sit with these answers don’t we?
I wanted to be awakened to the specific truth I was ignoring, and I just happened to start in the book of Ecclesiastes. Written by whom most still consider the wisest man to have ever lived, King Solomon takes twelve chapters to tell us how meaningless everything is - meaningless. Without the context of eternal perspective, though, you could feel really discouraged reading this book, until the end where Solomon wraps. He says the whole duty of mankind is to fear God and keep His commands. Ecclesiastes chapter twelve verses 8-13 inspired what I call the 3X5 card exercise that I am about to share with you.
#3 The 3X5 Card Exercise
With only 24 hours in a day, how are we actually spending them? And, how could we be spending them? The 3X5 Card Exercise was simply my way of taking inventory, reducing the excess, and then creating a plan for margin.
I penned the entire last part of Ecclesiastes 12:13, about mankind’s whole duty, on a 3X5 card and placed it on the floor at the top of what was about to finally free me from the chaos; something more than just a descending tree of 3X5 cards. I used this key verse in Ecclesiastes of mankind’s whole duty as an anchor. After you write this verse on your first card, place it on your floor. Things are about to get big. Next, take four more 3X5 cards and write the following statements. Place these in a row underneath your anchor card.
Not Willing to Give Up
Not Able to Give Up
Not Ready to Give Up
Can Give Up (not ‘should’ - there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ just like there was no presumption going into this.)
They are in this order, left to right, for a reason.
Then take your remaining 3X5 cards and write all your duties out individually on each one until your brain can’t think of another task. They don’t have to be exhaustive in explanation, but in variety. In other words, you can categorize how you wish. Just make sure you have listed everything you are responsible for.
With your five cards clearly in place, sprawl all the other cards out on your floor randomly. When I did this, my life was literally lying before the Lord, and I turned on my worship music and began to pray and ask God which cards should go in which column. The idea for you is to have no agenda and to emotionally lay down these cards in a way that totally frees you up to be okay with where any one lands. Is the card you are looking at something you are not willing, not able, not ready, or can give up?
You want to start on the far left side and purposely select only 3-4 cards to be placed under “Not WILLING to Give Up”. For me, I was not willing to give up 1) my time with God, 2) my marriage 3) being a capable, unshakeable, memorable mom and 4) time to think/reflect and ponder.
Moving to the right, look for what you are “Not ABLE to give Up”. For me these were duties like 1) nursing a newborn or 2) schooling the kids. While this is the only column that could have some negative connotation, like “I haveee to do this,” I noticed once I was done that these were all things that were seasonal. And as I write this, I grieve that I no longer get up with our last child for intimate night feedings. We won't have our kids forever. This part of the exercise helps us see the things we are not able to get off our plates right now as blessings and not burdens.
The third column was “Not Ready to Give Up,” and naturally, it’s what could be the longest for each of us. The good news is that using that anchor verse, all the “big rocks” have already been placed into our proverbial “daily jar” - we know we have the important things covered. In theory, we acknowledge everything else as “meaningless,” and these extra things will most likely die when we do. The Bible can be so straightforward, can’t it? But that is the eternal perspective Solomon’s book is driving us to have. Listen to the Lord, and place what you want to keep in your life as a priority for NOW.
Column 4 is “What You Can Give Up.” Know this, anything left over is by God’s design, and He has the best plan. This part is hard. For me, Looking at the leftovers on the floor made things real - I was making decisions about permanently cutting things out that would change the course of my life. So take a breath here, and be ok with change knowing it’s actually going to bring you the peace and freedom that comes from doing things the way God would want. For we know this: God promises to direct our paths (Proverbs 3:5-6); He alone can multiply our efforts (Luke 5:4-7); and He can make up for any difference or lack (2 Corinthians 12:9). Anything left will be there if and when the Lord wants us to pick it back up.
This exercise has helped me find routine - to cut and keep only certain things on my calendar. It has allowed me to be acutely aware when I bump up against a problem and to be fiercely committed to remedying it by finding solutions. And lastly, it has allowed me not to get caught up in what the Bible calls “civilian affairs,” but to advocate for only my core convictions in the race I am running while striving to win. Winners don’t meander all over the track, but they are focused.
I am passionate about stopping the child sex trafficking epidemic through the means of building strong families and able moms in Jesus Christ. My vehicles are speaking and writing. And all this comes second to spending time alone with Jesus, my husband, and my children.
Before these three steps, I couldn’t have articulated in a laser-focused manner my life’s purpose like this. I knew my identity, but don’t we all want to be sure of our purpose? No purpose leads to being all things to everyone in a very strung-out, dissatisfying, chaotic overwhelm. I desire for you to be the most capable mom; so print this 3X5 card exercise, and like me, revisit it ever so often. And let me know its impact at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Your fellow Able Mom,
Lord, give us the ability to declutter our lives that we might better serve you. Show us where our priorities lie and what can be let go of for this season. We long to make the moments you give us meaningful.
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