I didn’t realize how poorly I’d been sleeping.
I didn’t realize how long that medical test kit had been sitting on my dresser waiting for my attention.
I didn’t realize how tight my shoulders were or how dark the circles under my eyes had become.
I didn’t realize how much I’d missed the sound of certain people’s voices, as texting had become my usual mode of communication.
I didn’t realize how much I needed to immerse myself in silence …
Until I did.
Today I come off a two-week blogging break. It was a terrible time to go quiet. My new book was just picked up by Target. It was being “tested” in stores nationwide to see how well it did last week. When I should have been tweeting, posting, and encouraging people to buy my book, I was getting my nails done by a 9-year-old with little manicure experience and carving scary faces on pumpkins.
My book had just gained serious momentum, I knew going quiet—no interviews, no viral posts, no podcasts, and no email—would certainly not keep things going. Going quiet meant the glorious momentum would drop off. I could have pushed myself. After all, I have an impressive track record when it comes to powering through the exhaustion … ignoring the warning signs of burnout … and making excuses as to why I cannot slow down. “Someday, I’ll have time to do that, ” slides off my lips quite well—at least it used to.
But ‘someday’ is nowhere to live your life. This I have learned.
I was once a professional putter-offer, meaning I consistently put off the best moments of life to attend to the urgent demands of life.
Too busy to play
Too busy to sit down and eat
Too busy to just talk
Too busy to think
Too busy to breathe
But in that delay of living well comes a pretty unpleasant side effect—one you cannot hide. In that delay of living well, the worst side of you comes out. At least, that’s how it was for me.
All I have to do to remember how bad it got is look at this picture of my family.
We’d rented a cabin in the mountains for a weeklong vacation. Circumstances were less than ideal, but it was safe and comfortable and my family was all there. But for three solid days, I was miserable. Nothing was good enough. Everything was inconvenient.
I remember hurriedly brushing my daughter’s hair one evening before we went to dinner. We had no timetable, yet I was still in an agitated rush. I’d wanted her to wear something specific to dinner, but she insisted on something she picked out herself. She began to cry, and I was unsympathetic—annoyed, actually—as if it was her fault. As if a five-year-old could be at fault for her mother’s misconstrued priorities and bad attitude.
During that vacation, I was consumed by lack of Internet connection, overabundance of calories being ingested, commitments I wasn’t fulfilling, and projects I needed to complete back home. It all seemed so urgent, yet I don’t even remember a single detail about those duties now. That’s how insignificant they were. But at the time, they were overpowering.
Now here’s the really tragic part:
I talked my husband into leaving early.
We left our dusty but cozy cabin in the mountains because my outer demands and outer approval were more important than my inner needs and inner circle.
I’ve only told one person that painful truth, and it was years after it happened. I’ll never forget how my friend touched my arm gently and said, “I am glad you don’t shorten your vacations anymore, Rachel.”
When you start to shorten your vacations, you shorten your life. This I have learned.
By “vacation”, I don’t mean cabins, hotels, or beaches. I mean reconnection, restoration, and rejuvenation. Vacation moments can happen in your own home—simply by turning off the world and turning toward your inner needs and inner circle.
For the past two weeks, I stepped away from blogging and scaled back my productivity level. In return, I received:
The warmth of real voice and a real face …
A collection of precious three-year-old nephew questions to last me for eternity …
The relief of finally completing a medical test I’d been putting off …
Reading a book that was not work related …
Long naps with my husband …
Chilly fall night walks with my 9-year-old songbird …
Popcorn and couch time with my brown-eyed tween …
As a result, my little Moments that Matter notebook that had been running dry has been replenished. I haven’t been able to fill it fast enough.
For the first time in months, I’ve slept soundly … laughed loudly … listened intently … loved deeply.
It was not a good time for me to step away, but it was a necessary time.
I was beginning to fade.
I was beginning to doubt.
I was beginning to withdraw.
I was beginning to put what was urgent in front of what was important.
But instead of continuing on that damaging path by saying, “Someday, I will get back to living and loving,” I said, “Enough. Enough.”
And with two hopeful hands, I shut out the noise and darkened the screens. And just as quickly as life’s distraction had threatened my health and happiness, I was able to fix my eyes on what mattered most.
When you take away what is urgent, you find what is necessary.
My friends, let me tell you what I found is necessary just in case your vision is a little blurry or your heart is a little weary today:
It is necessary to nurture our bodies.
It is necessary to nurture our minds.
It is necessary to nurture our souls.
It is necessary to nurture our romantic relationships.
It is necessary to nurture our parent-child bonds.
It is necessary to nurture our friendships, our passions, and our faith.
And if you are like me and sometimes need to be reminded of what is not necessary, here's some reality:
It is not necessary to respond to all the emails in the inbox.
It is not necessary to text back immediately.
It is not necessary to have social media apps at your fingertips or electronic notifications turned on.
It is not necessary to look at the phone first thing in the morning or right before bed.
It is not necessary to feel guilty when you say no.
It is not necessary to please others at the expense of your family or health.
It is not necessary to do duties at 110% proficiency level.
It is not necessary to clean the kitchen before sitting down.
It is not necessary to take a homemade baked good to the party—store bought works just fine.
It is not necessary to wash your hair to go out—a hat works just fine.
It is not necessary to deprive yourself of sleep to get everything accomplished.
It is not necessary to deprive yourself of LIFE to get everything accomplished.
Whether it’s for ten minutes, ten hours, or ten days, decide it is NECESSARY to push back the world for a spell so you can tend to your inner needs and your inner circle.
There will never be a “good” time.
But perhaps that ache in your soul or those tears on your cheeks indicate it is a necessary time.
Please take out your calendar right now and designate a little white space for Something That Is Necessary. I have a feeling you know what it is.
Watch what happens when you use that white space for reconnecting, replenishing, and restoring. When a space is filled with someone’s hand, a medical appointment you’ve been putting off, an easel, a picnic, or a book in the sunshine, you will receive immediate confirmation. You’ll know it was the right thing to do with that sacred space. You’ll hear yourself laugh or cry or exhale and you will say, “I didn’t know how much I needed this … but I do now; I do now … I’ll try not to forget.”
We cannot change the moments of our precious life in which we were emotionally absent. But we can do something about the moments we feel ourselves fading from today.
We can push away what is urgent so we can see what is necessary.
And then we can hold it to our chests for dear life.
Friends of The Hands Free Revolution, I have THREE important things to tell you today and all of them are valuable resources for creating vacation moments in your everyday life:
- Nine simplicity authors (including me!) will be sharing wisdom designed to help you simplify your life throughout the 12 months of 2016. Along with inspiring and informative articles that will come right to your inbox, there will also be a live webinar each month where you can connect with the authors, ask questions, and meet other people on a journey toward a more meaningful life. Early-bird discount registration is available today through November 20. The course would make a meaningful holiday gift for yourself or someone you know who’s yearning to make time and space for what is necessary. All the information you need to know about A Simple Year: 12 Months of Guided Simplicity and early-bird sign up is here.
- The brilliant Dr. Jessica Michaelson is launching a 14-day digital detox program called ‘Look Up‘. The purpose of this program is to give you back the precious time you've been wasting online. Using 4 short, simple modules (provided in video, audio & written formats for your convenience) Jessica provides the step-by-step process of creating mindful online habits over 14 days. To get a little taste of Dr. Jessica’s inviting style & inspiring message, check out my recent “Be What You’re About” interview where Jessica showcases women who’ve designed careers and businesses they love while being fully involved mothers.
- And lastly, some really wonderful news given what I reported in the above blog post: Because Target was adding 15 feet of book space last week and Hands Free Life only made it to the shelf in some stores, they are giving my book a new week to see how sales go! I would be beyond grateful if you’d consider a trip to Target to pick up my book. I no longer teach in the classroom and do not advertise on my site which means my income is derived from book sales. With each book purchased, you support this blog and tell my publisher to keep publishing my work. It fills me with joy each time someone posts their #handsfreelifeintarget pictures on The Hands Free Revolution page, Instagram, or emails them to me! I love that so many of you are considering the book as a meaningful holiday gift for friends and family! The book is also available on Amazon or Barnes & Noble if you do not live near a Target. Feel free to check out the 105 amazing customer reviews on Amazon if you are still on the fence. If I could hug every person who has written one, I would! Reviews are like GOLD to an author. Thank you for your loving support!
Oh Rachel…I read your words and hear my life over and over.
I’m the woman fretting on vacation, wanting to leave early for the outer demands and outer expectations, neglecting the inner world that really matters.
And the vacation moments of my life! Oh the profound truth that each moment can be a vacation if we take it in!
I adore you!
And I’m so glad you took the rest you needed to reconnect!
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you, Julie! I never quite know if something that resonated inside me is going to resonate with my readers, so THANK YOU for letting me know that it resonated with you. This means everything; it truly does. I am so glad we walk this journey together.
Oh, amen to this. Releasing what is “urgent” to discover what is truly essential. Indeed. So hard to do, and so crucial. Thank you for continuing to inspire me, always. xox
Rachel Stafford says
I love it when your beautiful words, wisdom, and friendship pop up in the comments here. You have gotten my day off to a lovely start with your presence. Thank you, Lindsey!
Kari C says
And again – You’ve reached through the screen and tapped me… I must slow down and let go. Thank you so much for sharing!!!
Rachel – THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart for posting this. It is so difficult as a ‘mom-preneur’ to find those special moments with my children – putting down the phone, resisting emails, etc.
With our third on the way, I am constantly trying to let go and just sit down and ‘be’ with my kids. It really hit home when reading your post when you said “It all seemed so urgent, yet I don’t even remember a single detail about those duties now. That’s how insignificant they were. But at the time, they were overpowering.” I can SO relate to this. Work will ALWAYS be there, but these special moments won’t be. I say it and I think it, but sometimes it can be hard to do.
As always, you have inspired me. So blessed to have your posts as a reminder and they always seem to come at the right time.
Carey H says
Yes! This absolutely resonates with me. It’s so hard because the things that feel urgent are sometimes really hard to put down. “If I don’t do this, then that won’t happen, and then I can’t do that…” on and on and on. Thanks for the reminder that even ten minutes can be a renewing vacation.
Mama JLo says
This. All of it. SO TRUE. Every comment that follows it, also so true. We are all trying, I know I am. I am making promises to myself so no one else will doubt me if I don’t follow through, but then…I doubt me. I don’t want to do that anymore so I just keep trying and making little promises and advances at a time. Your words are friendly reminders that I sometimes need to reorganize perspective, aka what IS vs what is NOT necessary. Without you, I honestly probably would not have even noticed another/better/easier/just as fun and more worth it kind of way, and just kept keeping on the way I was thinking it was okay, I can play my game, check my email, do the dishes, watch a show OH and yes…I can also squeeze in a Lego house, coloring page, etc. I always cuddle them and tell them I love them, but boy oh boy, should I squeeze in the other things and make those Lego houses and coloring pages more of a priority! You should see my pinterest, I have TONS of arts and crafts to do and photo ideas I want to take and YES, YES, YES, I try to do it all, sometimes I do none. That’s why I’m following your words to help me help myself find my comfortable in between. And I’d also like to squeeze in washing my hair and soaking in a lavender bath once in a while, too. LOL!! Cheerios!
I love all your posts, and have enjoyed reading your new book. I share your posts often, as I know that they will resonate with many of my friends too. This post reminds me of a new years’ resolution I made this year…to keep my camera out on the counter as a reminder to take pictures of the everyday moments in our lives…the kids making pancakes on Saturday mornings, my daughter sitting on her bedroom floor weaving a potholder, my 14 year old son reading a book in a fort he just made (if I ban screens for long enough, even my 14 year old will still build a fort!) At first, I was driving my kids crazy with the frequent photos. But I shared my new motto with them, “Everyday’s a vacation!” I didn’t want to have them all grown up and only have photos of Christmas, birthdays, and vacations. To me, the real memories that I wanted to capture were all the things we fill our days with that we may never remember in 20 years unless we have a picture of them or write them down. Now, when I grab my camera, my daughter and I both giggle and she quips “Everyday’s a vacation!”
Mary Erlain says
This was so timely for me, Rachel. I recently upgraded to an iphone which many said would “change my life” and indeed it has in some stressful & anxiety provoking ways. I’ve found myself feeling like I need to reply and respond to emails & texts immediately for fear that others would think I was rude or disengaged. Thank you for the reminder that the phone is a tool and it’s not necessary for me to put it ahead of my inner needs or my inner circle.
Kyrstin Gabay says
Thank you for this post. I really needed to read this today. I will be ordering your book today!
To be honest, I’d have wondered about your sincerity if you’d launched a massive social media campaign! Glad you took the time to connect with your family and live your important message, which is the best sales pitch of all in my book.
Thank you for this beautiful post!!! And I bought two books- one for me and one for a friend! Xo
I love reading your posts and I’m truly thankful for your insights. I have 5 children (all girls, ages 5-15) and being their mom has always been my pride and joy. But as they’ve gotten older, its become increasingly difficult to give them their individual time. What advice do you have for connecting with each child so that’s it’s not so overwhelming?
Needed this today. I’m stretched and tired. Believing God for a miracle in myself and a healing miracle for my 12yr old son. I’m tired, tired trying to do it all, smile when I’m crying inside and tired of faking it till I make it. Tired of comparing my life with Facebook friends post. I’m off of facebook. I’m trying to press into Christ fora touch from the hem of his garment.My sleep is restless, I wonder if something is off with my thyroid, but my dr said labs were fine. I’ve been training to run a half Marathon this Saturday-training has been demanding along with homeschooling my 3 sons. I’m holding on but want to live and not survive. I hold to the promises .I pictures to the hills- my help comesfromHim
Sounds like a good excuse to make my way to Target….. 🙂 🙂 🙂
Rachel, words cannot describe how thankful I am to have found your blog, your teachings and your books. I have been following you for the past two years, read your first book and almost done with Hands Free Life. Your stories, your truths have provided me with the best tools to help me make changes within myself as a person and as a parent. Better than any psychology course I have ever taken and parenting book I have ever read! As a result, my entire family (and extended family) is better off. We are happier, more fulfilled and love filled because of you. Please continue to spread your gift around the world. We are so blessed to have you on this journey with us!!! You have the ability to touch endless lives.
Your writing is always so amazing and continues to speak to my soul! I will be heading to Target this week and picking up a copy of your new book–and a few for my friends too!
I love all your posts- I have your book, and i try try try, but i fear even after the books and the posts and trying all the time that I am ruining my daughter. I’m horrible with her . she just pushes my buttons constantly. I have 4 kids and she is the MOST difficult i have ever had. I can get so mad at her and then later feel so horribly awful and bad. I try everything you say as well as “elevating childcare ” posts too from Janet Landsbury……. but even last night after the usual struggle with keeping my cool with her, I heard her crying later in bed and went to ask her in a very frustrated way why she was crying? She said she feels like I dont’ like her. It stabs at my heart and hurts , but hurts more knowing she hurts and feels that.
She is only 7 and I have no clue where our struggles started, but I feel like I”ve ruined her and our relationship somehow-her confidence-her little soul. Still I am at a loss of how to fix it.
I still lose it quite a b it with her.
I ache for you. I’ve been through the same thing with my 3rd child. My first and second children were relatively easy, but my third was a different story. I’m a lower energy and she has a higher energy. I felt like I didn’t know how to deal with her and have a good relationship with her at the same time. A book that has helped me tremendously with this is The Child Whisperer, by Carol Tuttle. It has seriously made a WORLD of difference, and I totally get her, and what makes her tick. Best of luck, to you and your daughter. 🙂
Nicole McKinney says
I’ll be picking up your book at Target this weekend. ☺
This is a great article again and something that I need to keep reminding myself. To take time out even though it feels so wrong, I agreed with so many of the points, in the list at the end.
And this is the best publicity for your book – that you are doing what you write about!
Jodi Friedman says
Amy Carney says
Loved this truth. Thanks for the reminder to not wait for someday! I’ll be looking for your book in Target!
Waiting several years to blessed with marriage, children, a decent job, better rel. with siblings, and learning how to accept who I am and not who I thought I should have become or accomplished, has been a journey. I loved to play the cello and at a young age, my peers thought I wasn’t in the popular crowd….I still play and people love the instrument, the “Piano Guys” ( The cello song), and even “2 CELLOS (Thunderstruck), and Yo Yo Ma (Simple Gifts with Alison Krauss). Peer pressure can be crushing and its effect children and young adults definitely impacts them in ways that aren’t always the best.
Whatever we choose to do with the circumstances we are given or sit. that we have to deal with, is part of living, a moment at a time.
“Life happens as we are making plans”, an uncle once said after his 3rd child (out of 5) died…. He wasn’t bitter, although he came from an unfortunate childhood. His wisdom, book selections, spiritual strength, etc. are an inspiration to me, and cause me to reflect on the times, when I wish I would have made better choices.
Social media, the speed with which we live, and even electricity (people used to stop working when they had no light and had oil lamps inside to read by, etc.) in this age of technology, can rob us our human experiences, which are so fulfilling. What are we really striving for in life?
Rachel, Your comments about taking the time for NOW are hitting me hard nowadays. 6 weeks ago, my beloved husband of 47 years died very suddenly for no apparent reason. He was 68 years old. Now, in addition to missing him fiercely and spending my days trying to tie up all the loose ends that have come unraveled, I have the chance to reflect on all the times we spent time together and all the amazing places we went together. You see, I was the member of the family who organized the vacations, the parties, the dinners out, during our marriage. And I thank God that I did it. The idea that I might have no memories of these things in my memory bank makes me glad that I took the time So many people since his death have told me that his passing made them realize that the only time we have is right now and that they have to make the time to do the important things: make the memories, spend the time, tell the stories! I hope that my story will convince just one person to put down the phone and turn to a loved one and smile.
Rachel Stafford says
Oh Anne! My heart breaks for you! I am deeply sorry for your loss. Please know that my thoughts and prayers are with you tonight. I am truly grateful you chose to share your story so that someone else may be inspired to love, laugh, & live. I am so glad you did the special experiences and did not put them off. We can all take a lesson from this. Sending you big hugs of appreciation and love.
First off, good luck with the book. I hope it exceeds your expectations.
Secondly, thanks for the reminder. I can get in that mode you noted as well. I have to take those vacations and do so more regularly. Those snatches of time (I like to think of it this way) can be precious.
Cornelia Becker Seigneur says
Lovely, simply lovely! So wonderful you chose the best over the good, quiet over stress, what God called you to rather than the urgent. This message is my heartbeat!!
Rachel – I cannot even being to put into words how the Lord used you tonight. You wrote words He used to break my heart open to overflow with realization of how MUCH I am missing. Thank you for always pouring yourself into your posts – real, authentic and vulnerable. I LOVED your first book, and am excited to read your new one. You live out the mother I desire to be and give me hope I can get there…even in my most distracted, perfectionist, I am ‘missing something I should’ve done’ moments I remind myself you let that go. So thank you for sharing your story. And thank you for being truthful even in the ugliest parts. You are an incredibly inspiration!
Rachel Stafford says
This means a great deal to me, Anya. Thank you for taking the time to write words I needed to hear. It really means everything.
Rachel, how do you do it?! How do you know exactly what I need to hear? Lately things have been so out of control. I’m tired and cranky. Thank you so much for saying what I needed to hear!! I’ll come back again later to read this post again. I need to STOP and think – to relax – and get my thoughts together. Sometimes lately I can’t hear myself think.
Heather T says
This is so spot on. I am feeling all of this. I have been feeling so disorganized, procrastinating, starting to fall apart since moving halfway across the country a year ago with 3 young kids, 10, 6, 2. I read this and think I will do something but I’m honestly not sure when exactly I will. My life keeps moving and doesn’t slow down with 3 kids. Need to figure out how to stop and slow down. Have your book. Hope to read it soon. Actually I bought both books. Not sure which to read first. Thank you for your honesty and gift of writing.
Simply, thank you. Thank you always for the words my heart needs to hear.
I have been trying to make creative time a priority, after coming to the cliff edge of serious burn out. My husband works out of town and I work 3/4 time as a registered nurse, in addition to being a mom to the cutest 2 yo son (seriously the cutest), two dogs, and two Horses, so time is a precious commodity. I was running ragged trying to get to everything every day- work, be a mom, clean house, walk dogs, see Horses, tend garden, run errands. Even writing that list now makes my BP go up. (Yuck!) I was grumpy, exhausted, resentful, and stressed right out. I was even using up sick time at work, as I was having so much trouble coping that I would stay home.
I am a highly organized, clean, perfectionist but after (figuratively) flat lining earlier this year, am hanging up that hat more and more. I don’t want to my son’s memories of me to be “we’ll do (insert activity) as soon as I’m done (insert chore)”. I want to be present and have a presence in the lives of those who matter to me. And I also want to have a life, not a “to do” list, which is all I had earlier this year.
I bought myself a new notebook (I love writing prose, poetry, short stories) and have begun writing again, I stop to take pictures of the moments that catch my eye (something I used to do often pre-marriage/children), phone instead of text, turn all notifications off, organize my time so that I can do as many chores/errands as possible during lunch hours at work, get up a bit earlier or go to sleep a bit later than my son so that I can have queit time to write/read, and get help from my mom and husband (when he’s home) so that I can have alone time with the Horses to recharge. I focus on my loved ones and take time to just be still and breathe with them.
I am a work in progress, but one day at a time, life is better, more full, more meaningful. Your words are a soothing balm for my soul and a reminder that I am not alone in this transformation/journey.
Much love, light, and hugs.
Lisa Smallridge says
Very timely, and inspiring. I have dark circles under my eyes, too. Trying to be everything, to. everyone is exhausting. I will try to keep your words in mind. All the best, Lisa
Thank you Rachael…not only for your words, insights and guidance, but reminding me and everyone that it is okay to fail…to struggle every day to be ‘hands free’, to fall off the path every once in a while so that God can re-direct that path..I love the human side in your words???
Your words soothe and center me Rachel, always, nourishing me and reminding me to keep connected to what truly matters. I just wrote a piece that mirrors yours this week here: http://oonamcouat.blogspot.ca/2015/10/retreat.html
Many Blessings to you!
What a fabulous post and definitely one i resonate with. I just returned from a 4 week overseas holiday (preceeded just prior by 3 months of busyness, stress, long nights, not enough me time and alot of hard work towards finalising a business goal before we left).
Since i returned home i noticed back in Australia that my phone was irritating me with sms notifactions within hours of having reception again.
So i decided to take action = turned off the vibrate and noise function for all alerts except phone calls. And suddenly, my phone only calls for my attention when its really neccesary, and even better its just a phone again – fulfulling its simple purpose and not being an ongoing disctraction.
Now that ive read your post i realised i was going ‘hands free’ without even realising it. But jeez it feels good and I am definitely much more present at home as a result.
Keep up the great work in all that you share xx
Amazing post, Rachel. Reading it has just made me realize that I really need to “step away” myself. It’s just so hard to do…
Thank you so much for exposing what most of us are afraid of….reality. I needed this today…more than you will ever know. I am at the stage of “burnt out” but I just keep going; its such an unhappy place to be.
You are truly someone I look up to, and find strength in reading your raw feelings about life and motherhood. I only hope I can find peace and rest, mentally and physically very soon. I am making a change- and it starts today with what really matters.
God bless you and your precious family! (And never stop writing…You are an inspiration to all of us!)
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you, Joleigh! I am grateful to know how much my words touched you and inspired you. Small steps towards rest, renewal, and peace is my hope for you.
I wanted you to know that I went to our local Target to purchase “Hands Free Life” and purchased the last book on the shelf! Since I wanted a copy for myself – and a copy as a birthday gift for a friend, I went to customer service to see if there were additional copies available…and the answer? Zero copies left. Sounds like good news to me…but I guess I’ll need to purchase my copy at Amazon:) Happy to support the blog and you Rachel!
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you so much, Sheila! I cannot tell you how much this support means to me. My book was being “tested” in Target and if enough stores sold out, they would stock it through the holidays! Guess what??? Thanks to you and many other awesome people here in this community, the book is being stocked through the holidays. I am so excited and grateful!!! I am not sure when the new stock will come in though! 🙂 Amazon is always a safe bet!
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