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!)
Ann-Marie Ulczynski says
I went to my library today and your book was on hold for me! (I had already purchased it, so I just turned it back in.) but someone else already put it on hold. Thank you for suggesting for us to ask our libraries to purchase it!
That is so exciting, Ann-Marie! Thanks for sharing that. <3
The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a gem! It’s a lot more manageable than the regular Office, and just perfect for moms! I love the weekly rhythm of it, too.
This post reminds me of something a priest told me in the Confessional: “You’re a human being, not a human doing.” So true, but hard to remember in the day to day of homeschooling 8 children.
Doing the things that make me feel more human are such a challenge, but so vital to mine (and my family’s) well-being. A challenge because I have an interior critic that’s always telling me what I’m doing is wrong, no matter what it is. Vital because, as my therapist often reminds me, “You can’t give what you don’t have” – and – “You have to have your oxygen mask on before you can help others.”
One of the things that makes me feel more human is an hour-long walk at a local nature center a few times a week. I get exercise, prayer time, to soak in the beauty of nature and peace and quiet which are so important to my introverted nature. I also love to read, and as I have a toddler who is still nursing, i get the opportunity to sit down and indulge in great books more often than I would otherwise. These things are life-giving to me.
I love that insight from your priest!
Stephanie Tubman says
This is a beautiful post and reminder and aropros to everything I’m thinking about lately! Thank you Haley!
This is something I am trying to regain. We used to be decent at this – margins are really important to me. But in recent years, we’ve been thrown into constant crisis mode with neverending medical, financial, and other life crises. I keep waiting for things to calm down, but I am starting to feel like maybe this is my new normal, and I need to just learn to find the human and the margins even when we have to work overtime and get kids to 4 or 5 weekly medical appointments. It’s a challenge – and yet I think even so, that technology suck when you are too exhausted to do anything better is the killer. Thanks for the reminder.
I love the word “margins” as you use it. I’ve heard it used that way by one other person (someone who came to talk at my moms’ group a year ago), and it really resonated with me. My own mom organized our family with go-go-go as the undercurrent. As a mom now, I am trying to organize my family with margins! Best illustrative example would be how we are saying no to traveling for holidays. Both sides of the family are a 4- or 8-hour drive from us. I will certainly miss the traditions and my kids’ chance to spend holidays with their cousins the way I did with mine as a kid. BUT. Holiday travel is not refreshing to my husband and me as humans, so it doesn’t make sense to use up hubby’s vacation days for a stressful (albeit fun) trip at a supposed-to-be-peaceful time of year. This year we’ve talked our kidless friends (my daughter’s godparents) and my brother in law and his girlfriend to come to us for Thanksgiving, which will be life giving for us all! (We love hosting, too.) I’ve struggled with reconciling my family’s needs and my heart’s desires (for margins!) with my habits from My Mom who thinks we should try to be at *every* family tradition and event possible. My definition of “possible” is different now, because it includes the necessity of margins. Sorry that was super long. But #relatable !!
Emily Kelly says
Yes!! Great post! Self care that is not selfish/selfcentered.
Haley, I love this idea of using our ability (or lackthereof) to make space for the needs of others–taking a meal at late notice, for example–as a rule of thumb for whether our lives are too full. Thanks for your insights! You make me nostalgic for life in Waco. 😉