Although I didn’t pay attention the first time, if you listen to the buffer song for this sermon series on Sunday you’ll notice it has very on-point lyrics:
“Don't you know how busy and important I am?
I got so much to do
Ask me out to dinner on Friday night
I can't go, I got too much to do
Maybe I'm just trying to distract myself from my mortality
Oh, I'm too busy to finish this song
I'm too busy to dance
Too busy to cry
Too busy to die
Too busy to see my chance…”
If you could rearrange your priorities and resources to fit together better what would that look like? How would you schedule self-care?
The thing that we need to realize, including myself, is that we’re supposed to work with our body and how we were designed by God, not against ourselves and him. If we have a certain capacity for what we can handle with our time, energy, mental/physical health, and money, then we should know that limit. As Pastor Jeff said, we need to “learn to evaluate our lives ruthlessly and to say no gracefully. We’re not meant to carry two people’s lives or more than our cup can handle. This also means we must say no to good things and prioritize only the best things.”
Psalms 23:5 (NIV) says “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” The part of this verse about our cup overflowing points to God’s blessings for us in the midst of hardship and how we are able to bless others from our own excess. Furthermore, take Jesus’ parable of needing to take care of ourselves before we can handle our lives or help others. In Matthew 5:7 (NIV) Jesus said “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.”
When we fail to care for and love ourselves properly, it doesn’t go well. Stress goes up, our resources are exhausted, and both ourselves and our relationships (with God and with each other) suffer.
Here are six tips from the sermon and from personal experience to help create a margin for ourselves so we can flourish:
1. Imagine Your Future Self
If you can envision the life you would like to have and how much happier your future self will be, it will be easier to motivate present self to take action. It’s choosing to have a positive attitude about adjusting what is within our ability to control. One trick I use is to say, okay how will future John from tomorrow, a few weeks or months from now, or even years from now will think about what I’m doing now. I also think to myself thank you past John when I see the fruits of past actions. When my paper is ready a few days ahead of time which spares me from an all-nighter that is a win when I get to the end of my semester a few months from now. When I put aside 15% of my income into a retirement account and have to turn down opportunities to eat out, I anticipate that the 67 year old me will be happier knowing he can afford to enjoy the last stages of his life with his wife and kids without having to worry about the mortgage or food.
2. Put What’s Important First
Jeff said it is a good idea to choose three things you have to do and three things you want to do. Connect with God first and engage in self-care so that you can then do what needs to be done. For me these six priorities can change day-to-day but they follow a similar theme. Today, for example, my three musts were to pray, register for my thesis class, and finish this blog post. My three wants are to spend my lunch break with my brother, to do my laundry, and to work on my wedding registry. Focusing on these six things will make me feel more at peace, less stressed, and more accomplished than if I had haphazardly tried to do ten or twelve things.
3. Avoid Decision Fatigue
One of the things that psychologists know is that too many choices can overwhelm our mental capacity to think. Choices actually drain our energy and at the end of the day we are less capable of making good decisions. With this knowledge we can choose to limit the number of unimportant choices and to make the most important ones earlier in the day. This is why numbering clear cut goals for the day and getting up earlier are important- they free up time and energy so we can make better use of them. This is also why I personally try to automate certain decisions so that I can focus on other things. For example, except on special occasions I eat the same thing for breakfast every day; (in the summer) zero-sugar cereal plus a hard-boiled egg and a piece of fruit and (in the winter/spring) oatmeal plus the egg and fruit. It’s one less thing to think about, it is cheap, and it is healthy for someone with a family history of diabetes.
4. Use Triggers
Muscle memory and habits make up a big part of why we do some of the things we do. If you can put down the bad habits and build new ones based on triggers then you can improve how you steward your resources. For example, bumbling around in the morning groggily is a trigger to search for caffeine and feeling sleepy around bedtime for many people is a trigger to brush their teeth. It’s also why many Christians pray when they eat- it is an easier habit to form since everyone has to eat and so it reminds them to pray. For me, here are two further examples. I use my daily commute as a reminder to read the Bible. I have a 25 minute bus ride with nothing to do so I use the Bible app to read at least one chapter. I also check all of my finances in full twice a month on the days that I get paid since paydays are set dates and an easy way to remember to go over everything.
5. Embrace Incrementalism
Don’t set yourself up for failure by trying to rearrange your whole life overnight. Changing things slowly allows you to take advantage of the psychological encouragement from small wins. It also means you can lower the cost of taking action, increasing the likelihood you’ll follow through. Are you more likely to get up two hours early and go for a two mile run or wake up half an hour early and go for a short jog? Baby steps. So long as you move in the right direction. Otherwise you’ll fail and feel miserable about yourself and give up. Which brings me to the last thing…
6. Couple Accountability with Grace
If the God who made everything can love you with grace and forgiveness, please give yourself some of that too. Accountability is good and helps to improve any aspect of your life- but it needs to be coupled with grace. This doesn’t mean giving yourself infinite free passes to go break the bank or to keep over committing. It does mean though that you need to pick yourself up when you stumble. Stewarding your resources and caring for yourself is a process, you just need to start somewhere.
If you missed out on this week's sermon, check it out here.