The Hamster Wheel

This winter held some very busy weeks and weekends for my family. I am a staunch protector of our time for margin and rest. But there are seasons where the schedule gets away from me, and we find ourselves over-committed. In these seasons, life begins to feel like running on a hamster wheel. I’m doing all the things, and I’m getting really tired, but I’m not actually going anywhere. And the more I spin, the less productive I become. But the list never gets shorter, so I just keep on spinning, trying to catch up. Am I the only one who feels this way about life?

Surely there must be a better way.

After a couple of months on the hamster wheel, I said to myself, “Enough is enough.” I am taking a day off.

How could you possibly do that? How could you step away from your to-do list knowing that with each passing day, hour, moment, it only grows longer and longer? Taking a day off means a day for all of the things to continue accumulating into an even larger pile for tomorrow. How can taking a day off be the remedy for the hamster wheel when it just makes more work for the next day?

I know, I know.

But here’s the thing. If we only rest when the work is done, we will never rest. Because the work is never done. God doesn’t tell us that we must first earn our rest by completing our to-do list, or by working 40 hours, or 60, or whatever insane amount of hours you’re working. He doesn’t mandate that our homes be spotless before we take a break. He doesn’t require all our projects to be wrapped up first. No, by example, God mandated rest, for an entire day, and he commanded it for us as well. Why? He certainly didn’t need the rest… He’s God! But, WE do desperately NEED rest in our lives. Resting is a good practice, regardless of where we are at in our massive to-do lists!

So I took my day off. To-do list, be quiet. Mess, you can wait. Work, I will get to you tomorrow. What a wild idea, you guys!

But guess what happened when I obeyed God’s mandate to rest? He provided.

I had no way of knowing what the next day was going to hold when I threw caution to the wind that Monday and took the day off. Tuesday should have held plenty of things. But, God gave me a surprise snow day. Wait, what? Your kids were home, adding to your chaos and this was somehow provision? Yes, in fact, it was. Because it meant that the hours I spend providing the mom taxi services were suspended for the day, and it meant that the two older children were home to entertain the preschooler, and it meant that I could DIVE IN, refreshed from my day off, with no interruptions, drop offs, lunches to pack, etc, and tackle my massive list. And it was an incredibly productive day. Because I chose the rest that God knew I so badly needed, he provided a way for me to accomplish all that I needed to do.

How often do you rest? Do you have a day off? Or is every minute of every weekday filled with activity? Is every weekend booked up from now until eternity? Do you ever have days where you just leave the schedule open so you can do nothing? If you haven’t tried this, you need to. I know that some people out there just “love to be busy.” That’s so great, for you. But here’s the thing, just because we love something, that doesn’t make it good for us in boundless amounts. Case in point, I love ice cream. But if I consume boundless amounts of it because I love it, I will have major problems in my body. You may love to be busy, but the reality is, your body was created to have one day out of seven that is just for rest. Period.

When I take a step back and look at the typical schedule for most American families, I am, to be totally transparent, filled with horror. I would never ever want to be that busy! Now, don’t get me wrong, I am an incredibly productive person. I love to get things done, and I really do get a lot done. I am not a “sitting around all day” type of person! I have my mother to thank for this. She passed the gene to me. We are high-output, productive people. But we are not burned out, usually. Because we do protect our margin. We do make time for rest. We do say NO to things that overcrowd our family schedule. We limit our children to one activity at a time (such as a sport, club, team, group), and they are not allowed to begin an activity until they are in first grade, and fully adjusted to going to school full-time. Call me crazy. That’s fine. But I refuse to have my children’s lives overcrowded by too many sports practices and activities AND HAVE THEM THINK THAT THIS LIFESTYLE IS NORMAL. We need time for family. We need time to rest. We need time to take care of ourselves. We need time for church. And we need all of these things REGULARLY, not as the exception once every couple of months.

I hate when I get into a hamster wheel cycle of life. But I love that God offers us a remedy when we get to feeling so drained and manic in our activity. He gives us the gift of rest. We need it, our children need it, and quite frankly, our world needs it.

Here are a couple of my favorite verses about rest:

Psalm 127:1-2 “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.”

Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Isaiah 30:15 “For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”

Hebrews 4:9-11 “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.”

I know that for some of you reading this, what I’m talking about feels impossible. Your hamster wheel is whipping along at about 90MPH. If you try to get off, you’re likely to break a leg in the fall. I understand that for some, this busyness thing is really out of hand. But this is not unattainable for you. Start small. Here are some practical ideas for you:

  • Make one night a week a family night, where you eat together and no one does an activity, goes out, has a friend over, etc. (Contrary to their belief – kids won’t actually die if they have to miss an activity!)
  • Schedule your rest wherever you keep your calendar (paper or electronic) so that when you are tempted to schedule something in that “empty” hour or day, you’ll remember that you’re scheduling a break for yourself and your family.
  • Leave one weekend a month open, unscheduled. Or if that feels too dramatic, try for one of the weekend days. And make it Sunday so you can go to CHURCH!
  • Remember that rest doesn’t equate with: sleeping in (not possible in homes with small children), or doing something totally mindless such as scrolling on your phone or bingeing on Netflix. Real rest is something that restores your soul. For me this is making time to write, or read, to pray, or worship with music, or to be outside in nature in some way, to play with my children, or sit and enjoy their presence, or even to do an organizing or decorating project. These are things that restore me. Restoration is always the goal of rest. By all means, take a nap if you need to, but do things that are good for your soul too!

One step at a time, we can reclaim our lives from the busyness that has totally overtaken them. Are you ready to rest? You’re going to love it! It’s so great!

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