My spiritual director just told me he’s taking a couple months off. No appointments, no travel. Just time to regroup and recharge.
He’s a very busy man, as are many retired priests. He celebrates Mass at a retreat center, leads retreats, and counsels a lot of people, including people in serious trouble. He writes a blog.
People constantly demand his time. Just like us.
Something important sets him apart from many of us, though. He believes that the world will not stop turning if he steps back for a while. There’s humility in that.
But wait, you say. I have tiny humans to keep alive and a business that helps me do that. I can’t take two months off!
Okay. So how about a day? And not even a day off work—just a day off from expectations, discouragement, and feeling behind.
One Woman’s Victory
I was inspired to try this by Elizabeth Bard, author of Picnic in Provence: A memoir with recipes. (I’m a sucker for ex-pat adventures in France.) She writes:
“I’m a perfectionist , which means I am often ungrateful. I expect too much—of myself, and of everything and everyone around me. I often forget to give thanks for the many gifts life has given me: a son who smiles all the time, a man who can tile a floor and recite poetry, a family who loves me even when I bite back, friends who can finish my sentences, neighbors who reach out with a helping hand, a job that engages my head and my heart, and a new, glorious landscape to explore.”
So she decided to take the day off. From herself. Her plan looked like this: “Today, I will not feel behind. I will not worry about being a better wife, mother, daughter, housekeeper, or writer. I’m not making a fancy dinner. I’ll be having quite an ordinary day, but I’ll be thinking and thanking—instead of fretting and fixing. We all need one day a year when we meet our own expectations and allow all the world to be as it is instead of exactly how we would like it to be.”
When I read that, my shoulders melted away from my ears. I exhaled. I put down the book and blinked. Could it really be possible to take a day off from my expectations?
Um, yes—since they are of my own making!
When I tried it, I found that it was impossible to do from the inside of my own head. It’s not easy to get out of a mental rut by thinking about it, since we’re using the same equipment that got us there.
So I tried writing down my accomplishments, big and small. A kind of reverse to-do list. And that revealed the problem: a habit of discounting or mentally brushing off a lot of accomplishments as unimportant. As if they didn’t count.
Like making a list of three contacts to touch base with (no “should” today!) and calling one of them. In writing down the one, it becomes something concrete I did to move the needle in my business and keeps me from focusing the two that didn’t get called.
When I saw in black and white what all I had done in a day, and thanked God for it, and intentionally made it okay in my mind, a feeling of satisfaction and gratitude took the place of the mild panic that had so often lived there before.
It’s become my new habit. I notice the difference when I forget to do it. It’s as if God is now smiling on my efforts and telling me, “It’s enough, sweetheart. List or no list, I love you just the same—and you are mine.”