As women of this generation, we’re told we can have it all. We can be successful at work, raise a family, serve others, stay fit, eat healthy, love Christ. We make to-do lists and resolutions; we take on extra assignments; we say yes and yes and yes until our plates are overstuffed and we’re overwhelmed.
We rush from item to item, place to place, all while frantically trying to balance our many commitments. In our constant preoccupation, we fail to make space for the Lord to come to us, and we forget about the importance of silence, prayer and presence. But those seemingly simple tasks are our lifeline to God, and only through God will we find peace.
In Psalm 62 we hear, “Truly my soul finds rest in God.” It continues to reveal that rest in God will bring us precious things—hope, refuge, salvation. Those gifts are greater than any we can achieve on our own, no matter how hard we work.
Reflect for a moment: When exhaustion compels us to collapse into bed each night, do we take time not only to pray, but also to listen for the Lord? Is He calling us to do more? Or have we commanded that of ourselves?
In these pages we hear the testimonies of two women who have been there—women who have been overworked, overwhelmed and overburdened. But then they stopped and listened for God’s voice. They adjusted their priorities to fit His and found great peace. We can too, if only we make room to hear and trust in the Lord.
Somehow we have gotten into the mind-set that if there is empty space, we should fill it. If we have a bag that will hold 5 pounds of hay, it is not okay to carry around just 4 pounds. We must go find another pound of hay to fill it to its brim. We do this with our shelves, our closets, our calendars and our minds. Then we wonder why we cannot breathe! We are suffocating ourselves. We have no room to move, to think, to savor.
If your brain is on overload, constantly flipping through your to-do list, constantly comparing yourself to others, constantly worrying about when the next shoe is going to drop, you cannot fit happiness, joy and calm in there. Read that again. When your brain is moving 90 miles an hour and your hair’s on fire all the time, you will eventually burn out. If you are on this track, get off.
This is tough love, sister, and I hope this is resonating with you. Take a deep breath and let this release sink deep into your heart.
Choose simplicity and sanity. If you are on the path of constant overwhelm, now is the time to make a physical, pragmatic change. But here is the beauty of this situation: With most things in life, you are in control. You get to decide whether you will live your life insanely busy or embrace simplicity, make active changes and slow down. You can say no. You can choose a sane way of living. Simplicity is the first step toward sanity.
Sometimes sanity requires dramatic life changes like choosing “slow and steady” over giant achievements, “simple and less” over more and money or—one of my favorites—choosing grace, not perfection. And sometimes this requires small, deliberate, powerful tweaks: delegating to others, changing routines or bowing out of something for a season. Whatever you decide, moving yourself toward a slower, simpler pace is key to taking care of yourself.
Declaring What's Most Important
Whatever your circumstances are, you get to decide what gets your yes and what gets your no. You are in control of the commitments and distractions that chip away at your limited time and brain space each day. Our time is our most precious resource. And the way we choose to spend it defines our lives, one minute at a time.
The first step to simplifying your schedule involves some serious heart work: unapologetically declaring what matters most and honoring those priorities as you plan your days. What truly matters most to you? What set-in-stone commitments and responsibilities do you have (for example: working, taking care of the kids, spending time with your parents, volunteering)? What distractions are pulling your calendar and your mind away from those things? What can you say no to in order to give your mind, and your calendar, a little breathing room?
Be aware that it’s not just straightforward, obvious commitments that clutter our schedules. We often forget just how much our overcrowded mental space contributes to our daily overwhelm. It’s imperative to remember that the commitments on our calendar are one way we spend our time, but the distractions in our heads also draw from that limited well. While we’re spending time with our children, if we are mentally distracted by work, we’re actually giving our hearts to work—not to the little ones in front of us. Instead, when we focus entirely on our work during work time, we’re much better able to be 100 percent present with our families. Committing your time to one thing wholeheartedly is difficult when your mind is elsewhere. So part of simplifying your schedule means learning how to focus on what you’re doing—how to be fully present in the moment. This can be done when you have created the margin in your life to shift your focus away from one priority to give it to the next.
Contentment plays an enormous role in our ability to simplify. In fact, it’s the very foundation of the concept. Imagine what life would look like if we were truly content with just the objects we own. Sit on that for a minute. All you have now is all you’ll have. That thought makes the kitchen table I want to replace look pretty good. Merriam-Webster defines contentment as “a state of happiness and satisfaction.” Yes, please. I deeply want that kind of peace. Just like the pages in our planners, our lives could use more white space. More emptiness—physically speaking. When we rid ourselves of excess, we make room for God.
Finding contentment is as much about simplifying as it is about changing the attitude of your heart. Contentment is a practice, and it’s worth taking up consistently. Rid yourself of excess, fast from distractions and refocus your heart. You’ll find that joy is already in front of you.
Trust God to be in Control
This is a tough one. But what better way to simplify our faith walk than to do exactly what God has asked of us over and over again: “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10 ESV).
As busy, task-oriented, ambitious women, we so often want to steer our own courses toward our ideal lives. We work and we toil and we try. Late last year, after spending a good 12 months working myself into the ground with my business and raising three young children, I heard God say, quite clearly: “Something in your life has to go.” My family situation wasn’t changing, of course, so I knew this was work-related. Deep down, I also knew what needed to go.
After much prayer and a lot of silent arguments with God, I decided to let Him be in control. We ended 795 wholesale relationships (that is to say, we removed our products from 795 retail stores around the world). It was drastic, and the financial ramifications were scary. But with a new plan in place, we made the call.
Suddenly, my life opened up. I still had a full-time job managing our online brand and shop, but I had remarkably more time in my day, space in my heart and room in my brain to think, love and be creative again. I cried buckets of tears over this decision, and when I finally stopped looking at the numbers on paper and leapt into the life God was leading me toward, it was incredibly refreshing—almost instantly.
Letting Him lead the way is hard. If you’re anything like me, you usually believe your way is the right way. But sometimes God wants us to trust that He’s not surprised by anything.
He planned each twist and turn in our lives and He wants to walk through them with us, if we’ll let Him.
Live a God-Directed Life Rather Than a Self-Directed Life
After living an out-of-control busy life for so many years, I was on a first-name basis with hopelessness and fear. The worst part was, I got myself there; I was in the driver’s seat to chaos.
Looking back, I don’t ever remember asking God for advice on whether or not I should take on a certain responsibility. If I could do it, I said yes. From a human point of view, that should have empowered me. But the truth is, a self-driven life eventually leads to a place of hopelessness, because there is an end to our power.
I wonder if the disciples felt hopeless the night they went fishing and caught nothing. The story is told in John 21, after Jesus’s death and resurrection when the disciples had gone to Galilee to wait for Him (Matthew 26:32).
While in Galilee, at least on one night, the disciples returned to their old lives … to fishing. They knew how to fish, they’d done it all their lives, they were born to fish. But that night, after hours sitting in a wooden boat and floating in the silent dark, they caught nothing.
Let’s pause here a moment and consider how they must have felt. They must have been confused, with unanswered questions about their past and future. Had the last three years been a waste of time? What were they supposed to do next? And now they failed at something they knew how to do.
For all of us who feel like failures because we can’t get things done, it’s good to know even the disciples understood that feeling.
The story takes an interesting turn as the sun starts to rise. On the edge of the lake stood Jesus (although they didn’t recognize Him at first). I’m sure He’d been watching them for hours … maybe even all night. And I suspect He told the fish to stay back from the boat for a while. After all, He directed the wind and waves and cast out demons; surely He could control some fish.
Jesus needed to teach His disciples an important lesson. And in order to learn it well, they first had to experience “failure.”
Imagine yourself on the shore that morning when Jesus says:
“Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
“No,” they answered.
He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some” (John 21:5–6).
Scripture doesn’t record the disciples’ thoughts, but I imagine they were frustrated and a bit annoyed at this piece of advice. After all, they’d been doing everything they knew to do. Why should they keep trying? The fish obviously weren’t there!
Have you ever felt that way about your life? You’ve done everything you know to do, but nothing changes?
The disciples were about to learn an important lesson about the source of power to make changes! Even though they didn’t recognize Jesus physically, I’m confident they heard His voice in their hearts. They obeyed Jesus’s directive, and Scripture records, “When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish” (John 21:6).
Scripture tells us at that moment they recognized the Lord, and the disciples brought in the boat, towing the fish behind. I love that God had this detail recorded about the catch: “It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn” (v. 11).
The disciples didn’t just have success, they had great success.
This would have been a nonstory had the disciples ignored the suggestion to do things differently. They could have insisted they knew how to fish, they knew the water and they knew the behavior of the fish. And yet they humbly listened and obeyed.
The blessing of the fish was minor in comparison to seeing Jesus and His power at work in their lives again.
There are so many rich lessons in this passage, but what I want us to focus on is that Jesus needed the disciples to see the difference between self-directed effort and Jesus-directed effort. And in order to show them, He let them fail on their own first.
Oh, how I need to learn this lesson myself. I wonder if Jesus has watched me try on my own and held back success while I do. Is He just waiting for me to listen for His voice? To take my direction from Him first?
For us can-do people, this is a lesson to let soak deep in our spirits. Yes, we can do many things on our own, but that doesn’t mean we should. Why would we choose to ignore the greatest source of wisdom and power ever known in exchange for our comparatively paltry efforts?
This lesson has profoundly impacted my life. Rather than doing what I’ve always done based on my own ideas and experience, my life is radically different when I ask Jesus for His direction. Not just once but daily.
If you are new in asking the Lord for direction, it can be hard to know if He’s answering or if it’s you. Here’s how I’ve learned to hear the Lord’s voice. First, I choose to believe He will answer. His Word says He promises wisdom, and that’s what I need (James 1:5). Believing that is true, I ask my question and wait for an answer.
Sometimes I hear nothing. So I’ll wait, listening for His answer. Sometimes I have several thoughts and I don’t know which is right. So I’ll watch and wait again for confirmation.
Sometimes I have a thought so clear and focused I’m sure it’s His answer. If it doesn’t contradict Scripture or the character of God, then I accept it is God speaking to me through His Spirit and I make that choice.
As I look back on my life, the times I’ve seen God work in the greatest ways are when I’ve restrained my instincts to plow ahead, and have stopped to ask for His help. It’s only when I admit my natural strength isn’t enough that His supernatural strength is evident.
This is such a simple principle but so hard to implement for busy women. When left to my own instincts, I launch myself into work first thing without pausing to check in with my Source of help.
Isn’t it amazing that the best productivity tip doesn’t involve working, but rather pausing, listening, asking, waiting? As the disciples learned that morning on the lake, we are never far from success when we allow Jesus to direct our choices.
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