What I learned during a month of not doing

What I learned during a month of not doing

Giving something up for a month has been a theme for me in 2017. I started the year giving up certain foods, then it was social media and after that I gave up spending for a month. But at the end of May, I was given the opportunity to give something up that had not been in my plan.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know this past year has been a challenge for me. By the time the school year ended, our whole family was struggling. I talked to my boss (it’s hard to call him that when he’s also my pastor and a friend…) about some of the issues we were facing. He asked me if I wanted to take a week off… or maybe two weeks… or even a month… to just focus on all that was happening at home.

A million reasons were racing through my head why this would never work. Who would cover for me? How would everything get done? And how would I ever get caught up.

At the same time, I knew without a doubt that this was what I needed to do.

“Yes… Yes, I do.”

What I learned during a month of not doing

A week later, my month-long sabbatical began. My initial reaction was to start making a mental list of all of the things I could accomplish in a month. Just think. A whole month without going to work!

I could organize all of my closets or have a garage sale or take a long trip. I could read a ton of books or drive around visiting childhood friends. I could work on my blog and research other interests that have long been pushed to the back of my mind.

Instead, I knew that I needed to not do any of those things. In fact, I needed to spend the month not doing anything.

What does that even mean?

One thing I know very well about myself is that I tend to find my value in what I do. I like to work hard. I like to accomplish things. I like to check things off my to-do list. I like to be productive.

We all have something like this that we lean on to find our worth, influence others or gain friends.

For some people it’s their natural beauty.

For others, it’s the ability to woo people with a charming personality.

For others, it’s a talent that people admire.

We all have this thing that we bring to social situations or a work environment or even our own family that we can use to make people appreciate us or like us more.

 

For me, it’s what I do.

I like to do things for my family. I like to make cookies for our kids or create elaborate organizational systems. I like to schedule fun adventures or create awesome parties. I like to decorate our house and make DIY projects.

It’s the same for me at work. I like to take on big projects and analyze hard questions. I like to come up with creative ideas or develop new systems for making things more efficient. I find value in being able to add something, improve something or create something new.

So what if I did nothing for a month? Who am I if I’m not doing anything? Would I still be useful? Would I still have value? Would anyone even like me?

What if I stopped doing and spent a month just being?

My month off began the first Monday in June. I have to admit that it was a constant struggle at first to fight off the urge to do something.

“Maybe I could write on my blog everyday,” I told myself. “Would that really be doing something?”

“Can I at least take a daily photo?”

“It wouldn’t hurt to just clean out every single closet, organize a huge garage sale and donate tons of stuff to charity, now would it?”

I had started the huge job of staining my deck before the month began, so I did allow myself to complete that task. But other than that, I really tried to ward off the temptation to do.

For the first three weeks, the decompression was intense. Instead of inviting friends for coffee and making plans to visit people, I barely talked to anyone outside of my family. I had a hard time even answering a text message in a socially acceptable response rate. (Does four days count?!)

I absolutely loved getting up every morning and not thinking about all that had to be done that day. If one of my kids asked if we could go somewhere or if I could help them with something, I was able to answer, “yes,” instead of “give me about two hours.”

One afternoon, a guy came to fix our garage door. I wanted to be within ear shot of the garage, so I just sat in the kitchen chatting with my oldest son.

For several hours.

I didn’t have to answer e-mail or rush to clean the house because someone was coming over. I didn’t have to pull out my laptop to work on a project. And I didn’t worry about the housework that needed to be done.

I had given my permission to stop doing. To just be.

At first, I thought there was no way that a month would even be long enough to rejuvenate. “I’m going to need at least a year like this,” I thought.

But surprisingly, by the end, I was refreshed and excited to get back to the things I do. However, it was with a new perspective from all that I learned during that month of being, instead of doing.

  1. God really showed me that His love for me is not based on anything that I do. This is such a simple idea and the foundation of the Gospel message. And yet, it’s been a hard lesson for me to learn. God really does love me just for me. That truth became real to me.
  2. Not everything that I think has to be done actually needs to be done. I left for my month off work so abruptly that I didn’t have time to even ask other people to cover for me. I think that was a good thing. Many things did not happen during that month. And you know what? It was OK. It wasn’t perfect, but everyone survived. Sometimes it’s OK to let things go. I learned that the constant attention to ALL of the things can get in the way of what really matters.
  3. I learned that time passes just as quickly no matter what you do. I spent a lot of time in the month of June hanging out at water parks or other places with my kids. The time passed just as quickly sitting by the pool as it does when I’m sitting at my computer. Strangely, spending so much time accomplishing so little actually made me appreciate the time that I get to do something. I realized it’s not a bad thing to spend time using my gifts and talents for a worthwhile purpose. What needed to change was my tendency to lean so hard on doing those things.
  4. I realized how much of an impact stress has on my health. During this past year of learning so much about my health, I’ve read many times that there are three factors that can make a big difference in your health: food, sleep and stress management. I had been placing a lot of emphasis on food, and I was already good at sleeping. 🙂 But during a month without stress, I realized what a huge difference this makes on my health. I also learned that I tend to allow myself to get overly stressed about things. During my month off, I became much better at not letting things get to me. I learned to trust God for the outcome, rather than allowing myself to get so worked up about trying to control results.

Taking a month off work was a huge gift that made a powerful difference in my life. I wish everyone could have the same experience. I surprised even myself that I’ve been able to ease back into my normal life of doing things without letting my desire to do take over.

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What about you? Have you ever stepped back from something for a month? Do you find your value in what you do? Leave me a comment and let me know your thoughts!

4 Responses

  1. Holly

    You really must read Sensible Shoes by Jennifer Garlough Brown in which a pastor is put on (forced) 9-month sabbatical by her wise senior pastor who realizes her definition of self was coming from her ministry. The series chronicles her journey toward being and realizing who she is apart from what she does. Three other main characters with other easily relatable character traits round out the cast. It’s a great read and a series. Book 4 comes out this spring.

    Blessings,
    Holly

  2. Even though I knew the Lord loved me unconditionally, I guess I didn’t believe it until I was sick ten years ago. I couldn’t do anything for my family, and very little for myself. The urge was to do something to be validated, but the Lord kept showing me how much He loved me no matter what I did or didn’t do.
    Thanks for sharing your journey:)

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