5 Slow Down Tips- Make Some Life Space

Dave Matthews band calls it, "The Space Between." Marketers say, "White space sells." Advertisers refer to "The pause that refreshes." All of these folks and their sayings come to mind when I find myself overwhelmed by the business and intensity of living.

Life comes at us pretty hard, sometimes. The multiplying demands of parenting, the self manifesting lists of tasks for work, the bombardment of feelings from our relationships - all take their toll on us. Our lives become crowded. Sometimes we carve out more time by sleeping less. Other times we try to tilt the scales by omitting leisure time and hobbies. These things, these accessories to our living are 'luxuries' after all, right?  Soon we become tired, anxious, angry and hungry for some down time. Devotion to family, church, non-profits, and even our pets tugs at us with passionate attachment.

We all know in our minds that down time brings balance, even serenity to our living, yet... too often we lack the white space between the business and activities that make demands of us. Here's a short list of 5 things we can do to create more white space in our living.

1. Manage your use of time. When we begin to feel that we don't have enough time in the day, that there is not enough of us to go around, we can remember that there is always 'enough' time. Time doesn't vary. We have 86,400 seconds in every day - everyday. The issue is trying to do too much. Make a list of everything that needs to be done, then organize your day accordingly. Group similar tasks together (computer tasks, errands, phone calls) and then complete similar tasks together. Delegate to someone else what you can (don't be afraid to ask for help from friends, colleagues, even relatives). "To everything there is a season..." -Ecclesiastes 3:1

2. Plan for your hobbies. Many of us don't think of our 'play' time as important. Carl Jung reportedly spent hours 'playing' during his most difficult periods of his adult life. The solution to our biggest obstacles is often dependent on us allowing our creative minds to play. Make sure that 'play' that you enjoy is on your list.

3. Exercise. The spirit may be willing, but if the flesh is weak, stress and fatigue will overcome us. As strange as it seems, the times when we are most 'tired' are often because we have neglected our bodies. Exercise that engages cardio and muscle strength - even in 20-30 minute daily doses will work wonders.

4. Use advocates. We all have people who understand our need to rest, relax, create, ponder and otherwise have down-time in our lives. If we can get the support of a loving friend to hold us accountable for our self care, we are likely to be more successful. It is easier to say 'no' to one more demand if we have an advocate in our corner.

5. Do nothing. There is a Spanish proverb - "How beautiful it is to do nothing, and then to rest afterwards." Plan for some nothing time. A cup of coffee on the back porch. A restful moment before you start your morning commute. Stare at the stars. Stand in the dark and feel yourself breathe. Sit in a chair, close your eyes and listen to music. Even God rested on the 7th day. Make some 7th day time!

Having white space in our living helps. What more can you add to the list? How do you know it's time to slow down?


Some Things Take Time - Our Sacred Conversations

The other day* I had a visit with a good friend of 5 years. We met innocently enough at a local coffee house (Café Roche) and talked over hot coffee and warm pastries.

Cafe Roche' - Winston Salem, NC
We spent about 2 hours together rambling from topic to topic, laughing and contemplating. When we were done - I left with a bitter-sweet awareness.

The Sweet – We listened and talked to each other. We asked questions to better understand perspectives. We recalled life experiences and things we had read or seen to add depth and breadth to the conversation. We wondered together. We laughed, debated and share silence together. I left feeling grateful for the time and was stimulated in my thinking and creative passion.

The Bitter - I don’t have good, quality, LONG conversations nearly often enough. I know I am busy at work and at home. I know the trend is for 140 character interactions, online chatting, blogging/commenting and trite verbal exchanges (and I’m very good at those – I’m just saying), but I know there is more to it. I know that I still cherish those long evenings with friends during my college years. I know some of my best thinking comes from unscripted moments and open ended time frames. I know that putting everything on 'pause' for someone else is priceless.

Have we somehow developed into a culture where conversation has been replaced with brief proclamations and affirmations? Has the art of informed group inquiry (was there ever such an art) become too complicated, too time consuming for our faced-paced existence?  I think one of the reasons that I love sharing coffee with others – just about anyone – is that it slows things down and creates a moment for conversation. It is hard to be in a hurry when you are holding and trying to drink very HOT liquids!

My life needs more time for coffee and conversation, more space for debating and wondering with others. What about you? Care to join me for a cup of Joe?

*This phrase is used widely here in the South and means - "I can't remember exactly when it was, and it isn't important enough to get the time frame right - but what IS really important is what I'm going to say next, so pay attention!"


Is Your God Competent?

Here's a truth for you, and if you don't get anything else I say here - get this" God is big enough for you. We hear a lot of theology about how powerful God is - God is omnipotent. We hear a lot of theology about how God knows everything - God is omniscient.  We don't hear about how capable God is, and God is capable. We need a new 'Omni' word: God is Omni-competent. No matter how messy, raw or difficult we may be when we come to God in prayer, God can handle it, and make something good out of it.

One of my favorite children's sermon stories (don't you really like those better than these sermons anyway?), is a story of a creative mother and her disobedient daughter. It goes like this...

A mother took her young daughter to shop for an Easter Sunday dress. The two of them had a grand time and decided on a simple, pure white dress, trimmed around the neck and hem with lace. "I'll look like an angel," the daughter proclaimed. The two returned home with the carefully boxed dress, ready for the next morning's Easter festivities. The mom placed the box on her daughter's dresser and gave her strict instructions to leave it alone until the morning.

Later, alone in her room, the young child couldn't resist just looking at it. She opened the box and again imagined how beautiful she would be. She couldn't resist just lifting it out of the box to see it better, and then - of course - she couldn't resist just trying it on. She looked at herself in the mirror and was so pleased that she decided to leave it on - just for a few minutes. She danced and twirled and practiced sitting - - sitting at the chair by the table with her art supplies. Soon she was sitting pretty and drawing and painting, and - yes, you guessed it - getting spots of paint, green paint, on the front of her dress. Once she saw what she had done - she panicked. She quickly took off the dress and as if she could make it all right, folded it back in the box and placed it on top of her dresser. Then she began to suffer, and worry and think. Finally, she didn't know what else to do so she took the box out of her room and shuffled to face her mother.

Her mother surveyed the damage. Three green spots of paint were staining the front of the previously pristine dress. "My dear! What have you done?" she asked. The daughter burst into tears and told her mother everything about how she couldn't help it, and how she wished she hadn't and how sorry she was. It was a story that every parent has heard, and every parent has wanted to make it right, to go back in time and change the past, and every parent has not been able to. But, this parent, this creative mother did something better. "My daughter," she said, "you did wrong and now this dress is a mess. It won't be the same. I hate it for you, because I know how much you wanted to look like an angel. It can't be the white dress you had, but let's see what we can do with what we have."

Then the mother took daughter and dress back to the art table and began to work. With a careful hand she drew from each green spot a single line and on the top of each line she painted a rose. On the bottom of each line she painted leaves and on she worked until the front of the dress was beautifully adorned by three delicate flowers on a pristine white canvas and that was the dress that she wore to Easter the next day.

God is Omni-competent. We take our messes to God. Then we discover a miracle. When we can't, God can.