I’m going to put something out there, and I would simply ask that you be open minded enough to hear me out. I will not try to convince you of anything, nor do an altar call at the end. If it turns you off, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.
The Ideal Life Exercise I am going to propose this week does not demand that you be a believer in anything, although believing in yourself, or at least having a desire to believe in yourself and your potential will be helpful.
Now that the disclaimers are over:
The single most important aspect of my Ideal Life is a vibrant, connected relationship to God. Today I want to go into some detail about what I think that looks like and how I use my Ideal Life exercise to get me closer to that relationship.
This relationship is not reducible to “going to church,” nor “singing in the choir.” It means that I get to see miracles in my everyday life, provision from resources that go beyond anything I can imagine and experience moments of clarity and wisdom in decision-making that are not of my own conjuring. This means that I spend time every day reading my Bible and listening to the little whispers in my heart which demand attention and prayer.
I am a person who…
I won’t do this with all of the nineteen Ideal Life themes, but here are some of my I am a person who… statements on this theme (keep in mind, these are aspirational…they are not yet reality!!!!!!!!!):
I am a person who experiences miracles.
I am a person God is proud of.
I am a person who lives by faith.
I am a person who delights in God’s provision.
I am a person who finds hope in God’s word.
I am a person who gets on her knees to pray.
I am a person who loves my neighbors.
I am a person who is not afraid of God’s silence.
I am a person who makes God laugh (in a good way.)
I am a person who invests my talents in showing how good God is.
I am a person who hears from God.
I am a person who will never be perfect, but won’t stop trying.
I am a person who encourages others.
I am a person who believes and doesn’t doubt.
I am a person who asks for forgiveness when I’ve done something wrong.
I am a person who is at peace with not having all the answers.
I am a person who shows the way to God’s presence.
I am a person who is not afraid to share my faith struggles.
I am a person who reads my Bible every day.
I am a person who is not afraid of dying.
There are many, many more of these I am a person who… statements that fell into the “Spiritual Life” category for me, but this is a nice representative sampling.
I am not intimidated by a little intellectual conflict, so the fact that I aspire to both be a person who hears from God and isn’t afraid of God’s silence doesn’t faze me. In my Ideal Life, I can be both. In my Ideal Life, I am both.
The Early Bird
I have said it before, but it bears saying again: I am an early bird. Before I had babies, I would naturally wake up at 5:30AM. One of my children, is an extremely early riser. If I want to have time alone in the morning, I have to wake up before he does.
The first thirty minutes of my day, after my alarm rings at 4:00AM (yes, yes, 4:00AM), I spend reading my Bible and praying. Am I exhausted by 7:15AM when my scalawags get out of their rooms and start stomping around like elephants? Yes. Do I sometimes take a nap when they have their quiet time after lunch? Yes, yes I do. Do I pass out at 8:00PM when my children are in bed? Oh yes.
Early or not early, nap or no nap, those first quiet moments of the day are what give me focus and direction for my day, nay, for my entire life. They are what get me through. They give me energy and peace and hopefulness that no extra two or three hours of sleep could provide. I could not do any of the things I do without those thirty uninterrupted minutes. At some point, after I have read and prayed for a while, I will do my Ideal Life exercise.
There is, for me, such a clear link between my Spiritual Life and my Ideal Life, that all nineteen of the themes are an outgrowth of this time I spend in reading and prayer. Even the themes of Clean House and Sexuality, as earthy and not obviously spiritual as those themes are things that God has thoughts about. I enjoy knowing those thoughts.
It bears repeating: you need not be a freak like me to take five minutes to do an Ideal Life check-in!
By the end of my thirty minutes, I know exactly what work I need to be doing until 7:15. I know what writing must be done, what chapter needs editing. If I try to flip things around and work first (usually because something feels urgent), pray later, I am never as efficient or focused. I often dawdle until the little voice in my heart says, “I think you forgot to do something, dear.”
There have been seasons of my life where it has not been possible to maintain this discipline. I look back at those seasons with a pinch in my heart for how unmoored those seasons felt. They were not seasons over which I had much, if any control: pregnancy, newborn, pregnancy, newborn, post-partum depression.
These were seasons during which exhaustion reigned, doubt swirled, lack of routine syncopated the flow of life and I would eventually fall out of the habit.
Other ways to cultivate…
I do not judge the Lily Fields, who was up several times a night nursing a newborn, for not getting up and joyfully reading her Bible at 4:00AM. In those times, I came to view the act of nursing, the act of changing a diaper (which, knowing me, you can imagine, and rightly so, that I hated) as an act of worship: Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. He told us to do likewise. How different is changing a diaper or feeding an ungrateful toddler than washing the dirty, gross, stinky feet of a sandal-wearing middle-aged man in ancient Palestine?
I discovered that these little things, if done with my heart in the right place, were just as pleasing to God as an hour spent on my knees.
As those unpredictable periods did finally come to an end, and although it required a transition period back into the discipline of getting up early, I am so glad I did it.
Every time this theme of Spiritual Life comes up, which, as I said, for me comes up once a week, I ask myself two questions:
- What is working?
- What isn’t working?
Answers to the first question can be as simple as, “On track with Daily Bible reading,” when I read my Bible each day. Bonus points if I found something interesting while I read. Another answer can be, “God provided music for my podcast” (true story.) It can also be, “I totally didn’t want to ask the indulgent husband to forgive me for snapping at him, but I did” (also an unnecessarily formulaic episodic drama.) I also have been known to write the word N-O-T-H-I-N-G. Things can feel so miserable that there is NOTHING that is working.
Answers to the second question reveal the places where I am stagnating. I will be honest: there have been weeks when the answer to “what isn’t working?” is E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G. You know those weeks. Nothing is going right. I got behind in my reading. I lost my temper. I was nasty to my neighbor. I coveted things that other people have and became dissatisfied with what I have. I didn’t do what I knew I should have done and ended up having to repair the damage.
Even when the answer to the question “what isn’t working” is everything, I still try to get specific, without listing out every single thing I did wrong. I feel disconnected and I don’t know why or I am such a bad example for my children.
I am answering these questions for no one but myself. Honesty is the only possible way to answer the questions. No one else is reading my answers. This is not judgmental, critical, accusatory honesty. This is honesty whose only raison d’être is to help me make progress towards my Ideal Life. This honesty is tinged with compassion.
The Bullet Points
After I have made an attempt to answer the first two questions, I have two more bullet points to cover:
- Things to consider
- Things to do
If, during the course of the week I had a thought about something random even tangentially related to my Ideal Spiritual Life, for example (and yes, this is a real thought I had), “I wonder what it sound like when God laughs?” I take note. And when I have a moment, I consider it. Often, it leads to interesting thoughts, like, “I wonder what makes God laugh,” and “When was the last time God must have laughed at me?”
Sometimes, these thoughts even bleed into my prayer life: “Lord, I want to be someone you laugh with, in a good way. How can we make this happen?” Esoteric? Yes. Fun? Very. Laughing with God is a fantastic way to go through life.
Then, I will make note of things I know I need to do. Do I need to send a little email of encouragement to a pastor for his message? Do I need to ask my son to forgive me for freaking out at him over the bag of rice that he dumped on the kitchen floor? Do I need to check-in with the lady from our Home Group who is having trouble at work and pray with her?
How long does this take?
The exercise itself, with its four little points, only takes about five minutes. It doesn’t have to include any action at all, but if it does, then, yes, admittedly, it will go more than five minutes. I may spend twenty minutes on the phone with the lady from the Home Group. I may write and rewrite an email thirty times to get it right.
But you know what? Every single minute I spend on these things are minutes that I am investing in my Ideal Life.
Tomorrow we are going to look at the themes for the first six days of the cycle. There will be a printable, because that is something very fun. Maybe I shouldn’t have started with Spiritual Life, because I don’t want to lose you when there is so much benefit to be had from studying the other themes, too.
If I didn’t lose you, then rendez-vous tomorrow for the next in the series!
This article is part of a series called “MacGyvering KonMari”
Part One: A Good Decluttering
Part Two: I am a Person Who… (fill in the blank)
Part Three: One Theme to Rule Them All (You are here)
Part Four: Ideal Life: Week One Themes
Part Five: Ideal Life Week Two
Part Six: Ideal Life Week Three