One of the worst things about modern life is the push to live at high speed. Most of us are rushing around trying to keep our heads above water. Not only do we not have time for self-care, we don’t have time to even figure out what we would do for self-care if we did!
I think “self-care” is a tricky phrase. It can be interpreted as selfishness or putting our own needs before the needs of those we love. But I think practicing self-care is crucial if we adhere to a certain definition: doing things that remind us that we are human beings.
I had a conversation with Sr. Marie Pappas on Siriux XM The Catholic Channel’s Pathways of Learning show a couple of weeks ago and one of the insights she had was that the topics I discussed in my new book, The Grace of Enough, were all things that have the ability to HUMANIZE us.
Not being enslaved to our possessions, attending to God’s creation with wonder, making space for seeking beauty, centering life in home and relationships, connecting with our food sources, slowing down to prepare meals and enjoy them together, rightly ordering our relationship with technology, building real community, and finding hope–these are all things that remind us that we are human beings made in the image of God!
There have been times in my life where I had forgotten what it feels like to be a human being–working too many hours, rushing from one thing to the next, times when I was stretched so thin that a simple errand like running to the bank or returning a book at the library felt like an impossible task. There were no margins for depositing a check at the bank! Forget about having time for a dentist appointment. And any free moments were filled with mere distraction: Netflix, scrolling through Facebook, because the mental and physical exhaustion is too much to handle anything more taxing.
Sometimes we don’t have control over the factors that make the speed of our lives insane: a medical crisis, a new baby, working overtime when it’s financially imperative, etc. But often there ARE things we can do to remind ourselves that we are human beings, even if they’re small things.
In order to nurture our family life my husband and I focus on ordering our schedules in a way that leaves wide margins. (I shared our general unconventional work-at-home/homeschooling family schedule in a blog post a few months ago if you’re interested.)
Having having space in our lives to take care of the nuts and bolts of our obligations as well as nourish personal growth (physical, spiritual, intellectual) and engagement in our communities helps us feel like human beings instead of cogs in a machine.
There’s certainly not a one-size-fits-all checklist for achieving wider margins in life, but one of the things we consider is living with less so we’re not working more hours than necessary. For us that means choosing to live in a city with low living expenses and choosing a small house (6 people, one bathroom, folks!) so that we’re not dealing with a pricey mortgage.
Being self-employed, my work is super flexible according to our family’s needs and schedule. My husband works a fulfilling job that he doesn’t have to bring home with him and he doesn’t work overtime. It’s non-profit work which means he’s making less than he did when he was working at a software company, but the schedule works great for our homeschooling family and it’s close enough for him to bike to so we don’t have to purchase/maintain a second vehicle.
What activities/habits make you feel like a human being? Here’s a few things that are important to us:
Time for movement
Daniel is a runner. As an introvert who lives in a house with four small children (some of whom are supercharged extroverts) and works with at-risk youth, he needs space to recharge with some peace and quiet in the great outdoors.
I’m 8 weeks postpartum so I’m just about ready to ease back into walking on a regular basis. We both like working out with youtube videos and we really enjoy taking the whole family on hikes on the trails nearby or walking through the local zoo.
Time for prayer
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With our current schedule we get to each breakfast together as a family 6 days a week. Before the homeschool day begins, Daniel reads aloud the daily Mass readings and we discuss them with the kids over our meal. I read from another spiritual book. Currently it’s Brandon Vogt’s Saints and Social Justice.
Our schedule also leaves plenty of room for attending daily Mass at least once a week and adoration one night a week. Now that I’m not pregnant and sick with HG, I want to make that more of a priority! I struggle to do a family Rosary with the kids on night’s when Daniel’s working but now that the kids are getting older I think it’s becoming more doable! This year I’m learning to pray the hours with The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Time for your intellect
Having a few minutes a day to read a book is crucial to my mental health. Either insisting on having quiet reading time in the early afternoon OR stealing a few minutes to read in the bathtub (my favorite) is usually doable. (And I can always refer to my Literary Medicine Cabinet)
It also does wonders for me, especially when I have a nursing newborn, to sneak out of the house for an hour a few times a week for a cup of coffee all by myself. No buckling anyone’s car seat but my own! Maybe even putting lipstick on. It makes me feel sane and human and recharges me for the rest of the day as a homeschooling mama.
Time for friends
We love having people over. Having the margins to practice hospitality at least once a week is important to us. During Advent and Lent we commit to a certain night of the week to have a simple meal with friends. And my rule of thumb for whether my life is too busy is whether I could manage to throw together a meal to bring to a sick, pregnant, or grieving friend at late notice. If it would be impossible to even swing by the grocery store for a rotisserie chicken, then I’m too busy and I need to cut back!
Time for food
Something living at the farm for a year reinforced for us was the importance of time to prepare and savor good meals. We do this whenever we can. Daniel usually puts together a great breakfast and we eat a big lunch together before he leaves for work. On nights when I’m putting the three big kids and the baby to bed solo after extracurricular activities in the early evening, meals are easy and quick because you do what you can as the season of life permits!
It won’t be perfect and it will be messy, but prioritizing time sitting across the table from the people you love is humanizing.
Time for marriage
Date night, lunch date, putting the kids down early and making a fancy meal and watching a movie together–whatever it takes to spend some time focusing on your spouse and nurturing your relationship. Our oldest kid is almost 10 years old so I know we’re just a couple of years away from being able to sneak out for a bite to eat together without hiring a babysitter. In the meantime, we do what we can knowing that most of our time together is going to be as a whole family during this season of life.
Time for family
Pope Francis talks about the important of “wasting” time with your children–spending time with no attempts of productivity or efficiency, just for the sake of being together and being attentive. We’ve been trying to spend one day a week as a family fun day: going to the zoo, the museum, or hiking trails at the park.
Maybe going out for ice cream or a meal out if it’s in the budget or seeing something at the dollar movie or renting something from RedBox. I don’t try to get any of my writing projects done and we just try to spend quality time together.
It’s important to quiet the voices in your head prompting you to “Get something done!” Good work is a positive thing that, rightly ordered, can honor God and the dignity of the human person. But human beings weren’t made for productivity, we were made for relationship–with God and with other human beings. The most humanizing thing we can do with our time is nurturing those relationships.
I’m not sharing these things because we have it all figured out. In a recent interview I did, I was asked if there are any things I talk about in my book that I struggle with, especially now that we live in a regular house and not on the farm. And I said, “All of it! It’s a daily process of conversion for me that I will probably be struggling through my whole life!” In the Throwaway Culture, trying to live as a human being made in the image of God is a battle. But I am not without hope that we can win this war. Start with the small habits that remind you that you are a human being, worthy of love and made to love.
(Psst! It looks like Amazon has restocked its copies of my book after running out for a few days. My publisher already ordered a second printing!! And they still have it at the sale price–27% off. You can grab your copy at Amazon with my affiliate link while it’s still discounted!)