I found total burn out in my early twenties. I was very involved in ministry during high school and college. Everything I did took on epic proportions, and I gave it my all. If I made a commitment, I kept it unless I was sick. I felt guilty calling in sick until I was actually so sick I could barely make the call. But sickness--in the form of stress colds--began to happen more and more often in part because they were the only thing that would slow me down.
Then when teaching began, I took no other commitments, wanting to focus on that all-consuming first year of teaching. And even still, I wasn't enough. I was overstretching myself and yet never replenished.
I went to the doctor with chest congestion that wouldn't clear that summer. It had been one of the most stressful years of my life with a new move, a new job, and a new marriage.
The doctor listened to me and ran a test. We solved the problem of the chest congestion, but I knew the real sickness ran deeper. She did too. She gave me a new phrase, "a burnt-out Proverbs 31 woman," a phrase she used to describe a patient in her 50s who had given and given and given and finally was so depressed and tired she couldn't get out of bed. I was headed there; I could see it.
I worked hard to learn about myself and my tendencies over the next few months (and the years since!). And I learned how important it was for me to be able to say "No." I also learned that I might oversay "no" at first, and that was okay. Over time, I learned to say "no" right before I started to get sick rather than waiting until I was in the midst of sickness. I learned how to create margin and space in my life, and I carried this with me as I became a new mom. I kept my expectations low and tried to allow more flexibility into my life, which eased my transition into motherhood considerably. I stopped thinking so much about what others were thinking about me.
My word for last year was "play." In a season that had the power to overwhelm me, I knew I needed to keep a sense of playfulness in my life and in my new role as a stay-at-home mom. It changed my year dramatically to focus on one major theme rather than making (and possibly breaking) tons of resolutions that I could hardly plan for in such a new season of life. Play gave me a fresh exuberance last year, and I loved it. It looked like more spontaneity, less criticizing, and more desire to "suck the marrow out of life" as Thoreau says.
In studying the Enneagram, a tool for self-knowledge and growth, I read this about my personality type (the One):
"Ones actualize themselves and remain healthy by allowing the spontaneous arising of their instinctive response to life...Ones need rather to recognize the repression and sorrow inherent in their own personality structure. As Ones become more aware of the stringent rules of their superegos and learn to distinguish themselves from these internal "voices," they begin to naturally unfold the qualities of the healthy Seven--joy, enthusiasm, curiosity, and open-mindedness."
This is probably why "play" was such a life-changing word for me last year, and I contemplated using it again. But a new word presented itself.
I'm not in survival mode at the moment. There are still hard things and stressors, but for the most part, life is at a clam place. But sometimes I know I am teetering on the edge of survival mode. I don't want to be there, and I fight to maintain that margin. However I do know sometimes seasons of survival are a necessary part of life. I also know that sometimes I need to push the limits too far. I can't always remain comfortable, and sacrifice isn't always easy.
So I'm bringing balance back in this year, as much as I can.
My One Word for 2015
This year, I want to live in abundance. I want to move away from lack, from feeling like not enough and complaining that there's not enough. I think of the story of the Prodigal Son. One part few people talk about is the older brother's complaint and the Father's response.
The older son is angry at the rejoicing his brother's homecoming has occasioned. Listen to his words:
"But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, 'Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!' And [the father] said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours' (Luke 15:28-31, emphasis mine).
I have always identified with the older brother--striving to be good, to obey, to please. Yet here, the father's message is: "All that I have is yours." It echoes Jesus' message that he came to give us abundant life. All we have to do is ask.
I don't want to be frantically on-the-go, defining myself by busyness or my self-promoting, self-destroying sacrifice. But I also don't want to be hoarding, so scared of any discomfort that I say "no" too much.
After choosing (or feeling as though chosen by) a word, I start to line up these up with my goals (I use Lara Casey's goal development, which I've praised before). The word shapes my approach to each category and gives me an easy question to ask, "Is X cultivating abundance for me right now/in the long term?" This year, my goals fell into six categories, and though I resisted this at first, I like it overall. I'll give you just a brief picture of each goal, which I fleshed out with more detail on a blank sheet of paper.
So here's what I envision abundance looking like this year:
Abundance in our family: as a wife, as a mother, and for our home. This looks like hospitality and nurturing. It looks like forgiveness and grace in marriage and parenting and continuing to keep that sense of play. I don't want to be a depleted, grumbling wife and mother.
Abundance toward our health: This looks like eating well, doctor and dentist visits, intentional walks and exercise. The Whole30 (which we failed) was also part of this.
Abundance in my writing: This looks like making time to write and writing more freely. I've also been journaling each day, so I can have some writing just for myself. I have specific goals of how many guest posts to pursue and how often to write here, as well, in addition to a couple of other projects. In this category in particular, I wanted to stop feeling like I never have time or opportunity to do what I love doing.
Abundance with our resources: The focus here is on time and money. We still need a clearer budget and I want to have a more generous spirit in all areas.
Abundance in relationships: One of my main goals here is to cultivate abundance by talking less and listening more. Too often I am filling the silence with my words or using another as a sounding board. I want to know what it means to listen well to my friends and family. I also want to continue our tradition of having friends to dinner, maybe some new friends, as well.
Abundance spiritually: In addition to Bible reading, I want to cultivate my daily prayers again-- a list of people/things I pray for each day of the week. I also am reviewing my sermon notes at least once during the week.
This has already looked like more "yeses" this year. It's also looked like keeping myself from that place of depletion--realizing that I have choices and options. It means being willing to change things that aren't working and to look for the fullness rather than operating from a sense of emptiness. It means believing that "all that is Mine is yours."
So far, I'm loving it!
Do you have a word of the year? How do you choose it?