It was another day of school…and another day of drama over a math problem.
This month’s math challenge with my second-grader, Ginger, was learning how to carry. She had done pretty well with two digits, but when we got to three, I knew she would need a little more help. She is one of those children, however, who likes to learn by doing and often doesn’t slow down enough to follow the instructions. And she is especially impatient with listening to me try to explain things to her.
“I know, I know, I know!” she insisted.
“Ginger, I’m just trying to go over this with you before you do it. If you don’t listen, you won’t know how to do this kind of problem.”
“But it’s gonna take foreeeevvveeeer for you to explain it. I already know how!”
“Okay, then, show me how to do the first problem.”
Spoiler: she didn’t know how. She tried it forwards, backwards, and in between…and honestly, she wasn’t too far off. But because she wouldn’t sit still long enough to actually learn the process, she ended up frustrated and in a fit of tears because she was “so bad at this.” As I told her, her ability to do the math wasn’t the problem…it was her unwillingness to slow down and listen.
Isn’t this an issue many of us have today? I know it is for me. The pressure is on to do more, be more, have more, and our culture continually tells us to go-go-go, move-move-move in order to achieve. I don’t know about you, but when I find myself running like crazy yet still facing tasks or goals that are continually unfinished, I (like my daughter) begin to feel like a failure. Yet instead of slowing down to reevaluate, I press on even more frantically, or (more often) I throw my hands up and attempt to hide in the corner.
But the problem isn’t with my actual abilities…It is with either my plan or my perspective. How can I know where to go without some kind of instructions (the plan)? And how can I focus on the plan if I don’t slow down enough to see straight (the perspective)?
Of course, life is a bit more complicated than a math problem, and we don’t exactly have a set of step-by-step instructions (though we do have the Bible to give us much general wisdom). But this (the plan) is another subject for another day. Before we can even determine our plan, we must first slow down and regain some perspective. It’s very difficult (not to mention dangerous) to try to look at a map and drive at the same time. Pull over, stop the car…then try to evaluate where you are and where you’re going. Most of us probably have the sense to do this sort of thing with big decisions like getting married or purchasing a house. But we need a refreshing of our perspective on a more regular basis…I know I do, anyway.
For starters, I need to get enough sleep. Sleep helps our bodies and brains to reset and recharge. When I get more sleep, I clearly notice (surprise!) that it gives me much more energy and a more hopeful perspective. I am more productive and more patient with my children. Of course, sleep isn’t always something you can control (especially with little ones), but I think there are many ways to make it a higher priority. Even Jesus made time for sleep when his disciples were fighting for their lives with a storm at sea! Jesus knew the situation was safe in God’s hands, so he went and got his rest.
Secondly, I need to eat decent, regular meals. I need good, frequent fuel if I’m going to run myself all day long, or I will easily tire and lose my perspective. There are many Biblical passages that mention food as a source of strength and encouragement (e.g., Psalm 104:14-15). Food can help lift our spirits and our energy levels. Many of us find ourselves “too busy” to eat a decent meal, or we may see food as an enemy. But even many weight loss experts say that if we take time to sit down and enjoy our food, we will be less likely to overindulge. In its rightful place, food is a gift from God that can help keep us on the right track toward our goals.
Finally, I need time alone, away from my regular duties. Whether we struggle to keep perspective because of sin or simply human weakness, we all need time away from the everyday to rest and recharge. This is one reason why God instituted the Sabbath—as a day of rest. But sometimes we may need more than that. Elijah needed time alone in the wilderness to sort through his state of depression. Jonah needed time in the belly of a whale to get his attitude straight. Jesus often withdrew from the crowds to speak alone with his Father.
I have written before about the importance of making time with the Lord a priority, and I still think that is key. But I think it can also be important to allow ourselves to do some other kind of relaxing activity. For me, sometimes this is just finishing a small, “unimportant” project that is a big deal in my book! I’ve often felt guilty for doing this, especially when it takes me away from helping my already hard-working husband. But he has been encouraging me lately to “take off” at least a few hours a week, and I have to say…it has helped my outlook tremendously!
These tips are nothing new, and I’m sure there are many more that could be mentioned. These are just a few of the things I am working on as I try to keep myself on track in this new year. There are certainly many areas in which I need to keep moving, but I think it’s important to remember now and then to take time to slow down.
Photo Credit: Graphic design by Charity Klicka.