By far the most hectic time of year for me is the lead up to Christmas. It slowly starts to ramp up in summer, but I really start to feel it in late October to early November. We put a lot of effort into the Christmas season at our church, and the closer we get, the more of my time, energy, and focus is pulled toward those efforts. In December, it also means longer days and stranger hours. But, it’s actually one of my favorite seasons – not only at home with all of our fun traditions and family time, but at work as well. I get to be a part of something so big, so creative, and so full of potential and newness, that it’s invigorating.
In the wake of this season, though, I’m often left with less-than-tidyness in several areas of my life. My office becomes just a bit more cluttered – I spend less time in there during the end of that season and more time all over the building, and so my desk became more of a drop off point than an efficient and tidy spot for processing work. My email inbox became filled with a lot of flagged messages – flagged when I told several of them I’d get back to them after the performances were over. Even my house was a bit less neat than I’d like it, mostly because of all those late nights, strange hours, and hurriedness of the season which left Leslie to fend for herself with the kids. Couple that with all of the craziness of Christmas and the influx of presents, extra cooking, and everything else, and it got a bit crazy. A reset was needed.
I’m so thankful that every year I have about a week off from work between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. It is a welcomed pause after a busy time, and I was really looking forward to purposefully resting and resetting during that time.
I hit the reset in several ways during that week off – some physically and mentally restful, some spiritual, and some practical, with an eye on the season ahead.
Physically and mentally
On the Tuesday leading up to this week off, I talked with my staff team and encouraged them to purposefully use the time to rest. I’ve written on rest before (here) so I won’t go too deep into it, but it’s important! A huge part of that feeling of rest is spiritual (which I’ll mention below), but it is also mental and physical. We had just run a marathon of a season – planning, creating, rehearsing and presenting six performances of this show took some effort. Top that with four Christmas Eve services and everything else we needed to get done. That had an impact on our mental and physical capacities.
So, how did I hit the reset physically and mentally?
1. I slept in. I hate sleeping in. It feels wasteful and lazy, but I had determined that for the time off, I would not set any alarms or decide on a certain time to wake up. Instead, I’d let myself sleep as long as my body needed to. To my surprise, I slept in later than I would have thought, which probably meant that I had some sleep to catch up on.
2. I disconnected. I didn’t check email more than once a day, and the fact that our whole staff was off meant there were very few messages in the inbox when I did look. I didn’t post anything to social media or give consideration to sharing much of what I was doing in real-time. I did look at twitter, but I view that more as relaxing and entertainment than deep thought or being “wired in.” That lack of input, and the noise of all that communication felt good.
3. I stayed home, spent time with family, and played. I played with my kids – we played trains, legos, kitchen, blocks, and everything else you can think of. I got to be there each morning when they woke up and I tucked them into bed each night. We didn’t make many plans, and that lack of commitments and structure felt like a break to me.
I entered into this time off on a bit of a spiritual high. We had just seen over 8,000 people attend our Christmas shows and another 8,000 attend our Christmas Eve services. We gave away hundreds of Bibles and I was hearing about conversations people were having with those who attended – some curios and receptive to the gospel as a result of these activities. It was exciting!
But I also knew that, in the midst of this celebration, I was vulnerable. If I wasn’t careful, I could let the excitement and celebration of this season create complacency within me, or worse, pride. I didn’t want the celebration of this season to drown out God’s voice in what He may want to teach me.
So, I took time for a spiritual inventory. I wanted to take advantage of the quietness of the week to examine my heart and see if there were areas God wanted to mold or say something to me about. With many of the distractions around me quieted, and the pace of each day much slower, it was easier to dive into. However, the discipline of staying slow and quiet took a couple days to settle into. This is where a true feeling of rest begins – it’s not about taking a nap or catching up on sleep (though that is important too), but intentional moments to breathe in the presence of God and rest in Him – taking account of how He’s blessed me and how He’s been faithful – this is when I feel a true sense of security, calmness, and feel truly rested. Sometimes, a break from the daily rhythm helps promote this.
I won’t share too much about what God said to me in that time, but I will say that He did speak and did give me some areas to pay attention to. What I will share is the document that I use to take a bit of an inventory. It’s something that I pulled together from several sources, and has been really helpful to me in times when I want to get alone and ask God to examine my heart. You can check it out here: Spiritual Inventory.
Later in the week, I got a real yearning to organize everything. I was feeling like I needed to hit the reset on some of the structure and systems around me and wipe the slate clean for the new year. So, I took a few steps toward that:
1. I cleaned the house: Quite literally, I went around the house and tried to organize and clean every room. I found myself doing laundry and dishes, resorting toys and other items, and trying to find a proper home for everything. With the influx of Christmas presents, I needed to put everything away to get back to a sense of order. While I recognize that part of this is due to my issue of needing to feel productive each day, I also think it was good (and Leslie definitely didn’t mind this urge) for me to tackle this and get everything sorted before we headed into the next season. Cleaning and organizing created a sense of rest for me.
2. I cleaned up my email: I was tired of this little message I kept getting from my email client – “You are out of space.” It was a nuisance to always have to go and delete a few emails to make more room. In total, my inbox had over 40,000 emails in it, the oldest one from 2008. My dilemma was that I truly have searched my inbox many times for an old contact or bit of information. I really didn’t want to delete these messages, but I also couldn’t handle everything being stored in my inbox anymore. So, I moved 38,200 messages into Evernote. It took 3+ days to sync everything, but it was worth it! I now have an inbox with only emails from the last year, and I also have a searchable archive of all my old emails in an easy-to-find place. I also took advantage of Apple Mail’s “smart mailbox” feature, labeling one “requires action,” one “reply ASAP,” and one “track for followup.” Moving messages into folders really annoys me for when I’m looking for something using my phone mail app, but these smart folders just display messages based on a flag color. Blue for reply, orange for follow-up, and red (the default) for requires action. Since my phone only lets me mark messages as default, I can flag it for “requires action” there and sort once I get to my computer. It’s a great work-around for me, since general flags required me to always look at the emails again and remind myself why I had it flagged.
3. I cleaned up my photos. I’m a documentarian by nature. I want to capture every moment. That compulsion is why I have over 35,000 pictures stored on my computer, dating back to 2005. These were already organized very neatly, but not properly backed up. So, I took some time to move my file structure over to dropbox – a folder for each year, and inside each year’s folder, another folder for each month. Everything is locally stored and synced with dropbox (plus I’ve uploaded a lot of them to Flickr as well, just to be safe). That process took a few days to upload as well, but it made me feel good to know they are all safely stored in more than one place.
4. I wrote down some goals. These aren’t new year’s resolutions. These are things I have been thinking about and knew I wanted to focus on once the craziness of the season was over. But I committed them to paper in order to put them in front of me and begin to process how to get after them. Some of these goals are related to our team at the church, some related to my family, and some to me personally. Having an eye on what’s ahead and processing the trajectory of getting there was helpful to me.
I know a week off doesn’t come around often. For me, it’s usually just this one time per year. However, if you’re feeling like you need to hit the reset, carve out a weekend, a day, or even a few hours, and allow yourself to find space to rest and reset. Allow God to provide that rest for you – breathe a sigh of relief as you remind your heart that you are in His hands and He knows the season ahead. Choose to rest in that truth and put aside the worry and stress that may have creeped in. And if you have areas of your life that need a clean sweep, take time to reset those too. You’ll find a renewed sense of ability to engage with what’s ahead.