Christian Living

How to get a surplus

As a person with chronic fatigue, I am always looking for ways to find more energy, more time, etc., etc. I often feel like I pack my days from one end to the other. I recently made out an ideal schedule and realized that’s simultaneously true and not true. I do pack every minute of my day, but it’s because I make sure to prioritize self-care things too. I spend time with Jesus every day. I run and read my journal every day. The past few weeks I’ve been meditating every day. So my day is really full but it’s full of good things.

So when I reread Leviticus 25:20-22 it caught my eye. It’s in the context of giving the land a year-long Sabbath. It says, “You may ask, ‘What will we eat in the seventh year if we do not plant or harvest our crops?’ I will send you such a blessing in the sixth year that the land will yield enough for three years. While you plant during the eighth year, you will eat from the old crop and will continue to eat from it until the harvest of the ninth year comes in” (NIV)

Can you imagine? You’re a farmer, and your livelihood depends on growing enough food every year to last until the next harvest. And God tells you to take a year off farming. It makes me stressed just thinking about it. But instead of God giving them enough to last for the year they’re taking off, they have enough to last for two more years. The sixth year gives them enough they have a surplus that lasts beyond the seventh year and into the ninth year. How crazy go nuts is that??!

In her book on the Sabbath, Breathe, Priscilla Shirer talks about how God does the same thing when we take a weekly Sabbath. I have to confess that’s not often how I approach the Sabbath. I’m the kind of person who chafes at inactivity because I can think of a laundry list of things that I didn’t get done the week before. It feels counterintuitive to not work for a day, especially if the previous week has been rough.

But that’s the kind of God we have–He’s all about creating rest. Rest isn’t the sort of thing that shows up on its own. We have to create it, to carve out time and maintain boundaries around it.

You can see the same principle in Malachi 3:8-12. If you’ve ever heard a sermon preached on this passage, you’ve probably been taught that if you tithe, God will give you extra. It says, “Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, ‘How have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings.“You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you! Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the LORD of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows. Then I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of the ground; nor will your vine in the field cast its grapes,” says the LORD of hosts. “All the nations will call you blessed, for you shall be a delightful land,” says the LORD of hosts” (NIV).

I firmly believe that when we tithe, God blesses us. But there’s a flip side: if we don’t tithe, we don’t get that blessing. Just like if we don’t Sabbath, we don’t get that blessing. Our time, money, etc., etc. goes to other things–broken cars, a hailstorm on your roof, a long line at the grocery store… the list goes on and on. And I’m not trying to say that if you have that stuff, it’s a symptom of God not blessing you. We live in a broken world. Stuff breaks. But we’ve definitely seen that when we tithe, we have enough to tithe and when we don’t tithe, the money isn’t available to tithe. Like Jesus said, “I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away” (Lk 19:26, NIV).

I was also challenged to reframe how I view Sabbath. Instead of chafing at the bit, what if I saw it as a sort of planting time? Taking a Sabbath is like planting a seed so we can reap God’s blessing. If I really believed that observing the Sabbath would give me extra resources, I would be eager to celebrate it.

My life is way too busy to leave surplus resources laying around. I can’t afford not to align with God’s blessing for Sabbath. Sabbath creates surplus. We can’t wait until we have surplus to do Sabbath.

Christian Living

Staying Balanced

One of my friends recently posted something on Facebook along the lines of “I wonder what the people who use ‘u’ and ‘ur’ are doing with all their extra time.” My husband and I chuckled over it, but then we started talking about technology and how it’s all supposed to save us time. Unfortunately, all that extra time never seems to materialize.

I’ve been thinking about that this week because my phone died unexpectedly. Three days of phonelessness has been… eye-opening and difficult. I’m surprised by how cut off I feel even though I still have my computer. I’ve also been surprised by how many times a day I reach for my phone to check something–our bank accounts, the weather, how platypuses lay eggs (or other school-related queries), my texts… well, you get the picture.

I know I am always trying to come up with ways to save time. I often rush through my day so I’ll have more time at the end. Granted, having more time to work my novel almost always puts a smile on my face. But, on the other hand, why rush? I’m frantically trying to finish my fantasy novel so I can start writing my next book next year. It’s a little silly.

In Tools of Titans, Derek Silvers talked with Tim Ferriss about his experience riding his bike (190). He would ride his bike on this path that was by the ocean every day. He’d pedal as hard as he could and then turn around and rush back and it always took him 43 minutes. But after a while, he started to hate his ride–which wasn’t what he wanted. So, he decided to just enjoy his ride. He watched the seagulls and other ocean life. He paused when he got to his turn around point. He enjoyed his ride back. And then he checked the time and discovered it only took him 45 minutes.

We live in a society where it’s acceptable and expected to rush, but are we really accomplishing that much with all our rushing? Does all our technology really add that much time to our lives?

I’ve definitely found that I’m more productive when I’m calm vs. rushing. I’m also finding that being phone-less has forced me to  be more intentional about what information I’m looking up. I’ve gotten so used to having the internet at my fingertips. But now, sharing one computer between the four of us, I have to weigh whether it’s really worth it or not to remember to look something up later and take the time to do it.

I recently started Beth Moore’s study Entrusted: 2 Timothy. I’m really enjoying it! One thing that struck me about 2 Timothy 3:1-5 is that the world is going crazy and will only get crazier. It’s easy to get weighed down in the current insanity that’s politics in our country or all the “wars and rumors of wars” or the small stressors that are closer to home (like having to buy a new phone). But we’re called to stand (Eph. 6:13) in the middle of that–not to get sucked into the busy, rushing, crazy.

I love that! I mean, it’s one of those things that’s easy to say and hard to do, but I love that we aren’t supposed to run around and fix things. We just have to hang onto our own balance. Physically, we have about three inches of space where we’re balanced. Balance is not hanging onto acres of area around us–or even the amount of space most of us have for our personal bubble. Spiritually, balance is all about hanging onto who God is and who we are in Him.

So how about you guys? What do you do to hang onto balance and/or keep from being sucked into rushing?

Christian Living

Why You’re Too Busy to Skip Your Quiet Time

As I’ve mentioned, I’m working my way through Priscilla Shirer’s Bible study on the Sabbath called Breathe. And I’m really enjoying it–she’s got a LOT packed into the four weeks of homework!

In week three, she has this great phrase: “Take care of God’s business. Let Him take care of yours.” The section is on the Israelites in Exodus 16 and how when God instituted the Sabbath they were out in the desert and had been commanded to gather manna. It’s pretty amazing! God tells them to gather 1 omer per person per day and when they go out to gather, they find that no matter how much or how little they gathered, it still ends up to an omer per person in their household. Makes you wonder if the Israelites were all scratching their heads come time to measure the manna.

The other neat thing about this passage is that the Israelites are commanded to gather a double portion the day before the Sabbath. Priscilla argues that the people spent the same amount of time gathering as they did any other day and it just ended up being twice as much. I’m not familiar enough with the passage to agree or disagree, but I do believe that God gives us enough time to accomplish the things He’s called us to do and that He can definitely double our effectiveness.

Anyway! So in this section, she talks about how when we honor God with a Sabbath, He makes sure everything else works out okay time-wise. You see this principle in Matt. 6:33 where Jesus says, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (NASB) The idea being that we focus on God and He takes care of our needs.

This is definitely something I’ve seen happen in my own life, particularly with my morning quiet time. Before I had children, I had a very inconsistent quiet time. After my first daughter was born, I was overwhelmed–there never seemed to be enough time in the day. A Bible study I was doing challenged me to start having a daily quiet time and see what God would do. To my shock, I discovered that the days when I did have a quiet time would go so much smoother. I’d get more done. I’d be less stressed about it. I remember one particularly crazy day when we had to get up early to leave for a trip and I told my husband that I had way too many things to do that day to skip my quiet time. 🙂

The reality is we’re all too busy–it’s part of American culture. We’re too busy. And I hear that excuse so often when people explain to me why they don’t actually have a regular quiet time. But I’m here to tell you that when you give God the first part of your day, He works out everything else. Do your quiet time and you won’t be too busy to have a quiet time because God will fill in the gaps with your house, your kids, your job, etc., etc.

The reality of our situation is that we’re all too busy to skip our quiet times.

Christian Living

Sabbath Margin

Providentially, the next Bible study I’m working my way through is Priscilla Shirer’s Breathe. It’s about Sabbath. I’m really loving this study, you guys! If rest and margin are issues you struggle with, it’s definitely worth doing!

I really enjoyed that God put it right after doing the week on self-control in Beth Moore’s study on the fruit of the Spirit. Rest is something I’ve struggled with for most of my life. I’m better at it than I used to be but I still feel like I lack margin. In week one, Priscilla talked about how God created rest on the 7th day after creation. She springboards from there in a few directions.

First, rest is something intentional. My “rest” tends to be a cessation of labor that comes when I’m either overwhelmed or just plain exhausted. I learned though that that’s not actually rest. Rest is proactive rather than reactive. Rest takes self-control and discipline to create.

Second, God rested. We live in a society (and I was raised) that believes rest is a sign of weakness or laziness, that we’re inconsiderate if we say no to ministry opportunities so we can rest instead, or that our worth is dependent on how much we do. The fact that God rests is in direct contradiction to those things. God isn’t weak. He isn’t lazy. And He’s not inconsiderate. Nor can He gain or lose worth–He just is. So, when I rest, I’m not being lazy. I’m not weak for resting. Resting doesn’t make me a bad person who is inconsiderate or worth less than I would be if I was busy all the time. I don’t know about you, but those are all things I know intellectually. Putting God in the equation gave me a different perspective; I’m not about to argue God is lazy/weak/worth less for resting, so why do I believe that about myself?

Third, Priscilla talked about how God gave the Sabbath to the Israelites when they were leaving Egypt and she argues that it’s because the Sabbath can set our hearts free (something the Israelites desperately needed after generations of slavery). Sabbath forces us to uncouple doing and worth, getting rid of performance-oriented worth. It disconnects time and accomplishments. We have to acknowledge that God is the source of our accomplishments because we’re taking breaks. It makes us let go of control. For several years now, I’ve taken a break from writing on my Sabbath and it’s sometimes a little stressful. I can tell when I’m starting to panic over finishing my book because I don’t want to take that break.

Unfortunately, rest doesn’t just happen. As I mentioned, it’s created. It’s about putting walls around various areas of our lives so we have margin. Margin is so key for life! A few weeks ago, I learned that the creative/problem-solving part of your brain shuts down when you don’t have margin. All our busyness is making us less productive–like hamsters who compare how far they’ve run on their wheels instead of hamsters who get off the wheel and actually go somewhere.

So what about you? Are you too busy? Do you have enough margin in your life to work smarter instead of harder? How can you create more margin?

Christian Living

Rushing through the Holidays

Raise your hand if you feel like the holidays are some sort of bizarre mad dash where the finish line is a date instead of a place. Yeah, me too. This time of year is so busy! I’ve had a few conversations with folks lately about why the heck we put so much pressure on ourselves to check off some kind of list of activities that have to happen before Christmas. Buy the perfect gifts, make the perfect meal, bake the right amount of perfect cookies, send Christmas letters/cards, put up a tree, go caroling, etc., etc., etc. Lots of things on the checklist.

I’ve been thinking a lot about being busy this year–not because I’m so superly awesome at handling busy-ness and having margin in my life and resting. No, it’s because I’m superly not-awesome at being busy. I get stressed and demanding and I forget to take breaks. I’m not a fun person to be around when I’m too busy.

This week I was reading a story that’s pretty familiar to me but it hit me in a new way. Here goes: Jesus shows up at your house. He’s actually physically there, hanging out on your living room couch, and He decides, while He’s there, to talk about the Bible. So you have the author of the Bible actually explaining what He meant. With me so far? Do you A) sit down as close as you can get and ask questions? or B) go bake some awesome cookies to share?

I chuckled as I wrote those choices because I cannot imagine NOT sitting down and getting the scoop on how God designed things to work. On how I’m supposed to work. It’s Jesus! There are hundreds of questions I’m dying to ask Him: What was it like becoming human? How did He fully surrender His life to the Holy Spirit? Does He remember being born? Or being in utero? What’s His relationship with His human parents like? Why the heck did He allow various things to happen in the world and in my life? To name a few.

Anywho, I was re-reading Luke 10:38-42 and it hit me that that’s what Martha was doing. Jesus comes to Lazarus, Martha, and Mary’s house and Martha freaks out because she’s so overwhelmed with her to-do list and Mary isn’t helping. She goes to Jesus about it but Jesus tells her that Mary had chosen the good and it won’t be taken away from her.

As I read, I was reminded of the Israelites during the Exodus: reading how visibly present God was (pillar of fire/cloud) and how many miracles He did for them, I’m always amazed at how little faith they had. And then it hits me how little faith I have. God’s still the same God today as He was when He provided manna in the desert for forty years and yet I’m worried about how to pay our car repair bills.

Looking at Martha, I was reminded how easy it is for me to tell God that I am too busy to do my quiet time, that I’m too busy to pray, that I’m too busy to stop and sit in His presence and just bask in being His child. If Jesus was physically here, I’d put my whole life on hold to spend time with Him. Yet when I’m given the opportunity to study His Word and hear His voice through His Word, I skimp on my time or rush because I have so many other things to get done afterward.

The holidays are busy. I’m not trying to say we should deny the reality of the situation. Schedules and to-do lists get nuts. But we have the opportunity to be with Jesus, to spend time with the God of the universe and to hear His words. Let’s not forget that even when life is at it’s busiest.

Christian Living

Too Busy to Change

Hey folks! Sorry I missed last week. I spent most of the past week and a half in bed sick. Ridiculous how a cold can just lay me low at this point in my life/where my immune system is at.

Do you ever feel like the week just sped by? I frequently do! I can’t believe that it’s OCTOBER–OCTOBER! My oldest daughter just turned ten–also a shock to my system 🙂 Time flies, doesn’t it?

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how being busy makes the time speed by like nobody’s business. When you’re busy, you just go through one day and the next and the next. There’s no time for extra things in your life (at least that’s how my life goes!).

This week my kids and I were talking about how people learn. Brain science is fascinating to me. Did you know that you can’t learn new skills if you’re in fight or flight mode? We’re hardwired to be unable to learn when we’re in survival mode. What puts a person in survival mode? Lots of things–anything that stresses them emotionally or physically. We need safe space in order to learn.

What does that have to do with being busy? Everything. If we’re busy, we don’t have that space unless we intentionally schedule it into our days. I don’t know about you, but some days I feel too busy to even catch my breath, as though if I slow down for a second, the rest of my day will collapse in a pile of unaccomplished tasks. My husband and I were recently talking about some changes we want to implement and trying to figure out when we have time to actually implement them.

I’ve recently become convicted that that level of busy-ness means that I don’t have space in my life for growing. Since becoming stagnant is my worst fear, this is a big deal to me. The sad thing is that, in our go-go-go society, being busy is almost unavoidable. So what can we do? How do we keep from waking up one day and realizing years have gone by without us growing?

I think one major thing is to create space in our days and weeks. My husband and I try to fit in a Sabbath every week. I personally love this practice. I was just reading a couple of entrepreneur books and listening to them talk about how key it is to work EVERY single day made me sad for the authors. I actually grew up with that work 7 days a week mentality but have since been convinced of the benefit of taking a Sabbath. It’s one of the things I do that remind me who is really in charge of making my life work–like going to bed at a reasonable time (Ps. 127:2) or tithing.

I also have a daily quiet time–something I think I would go insane without. I do prayer and Bible study and read back through my journal to remind myself of the things God’s been teaching me lately, but I also have time to just think and listen.

The other thing I’ve been working on is making sure I’m busy with the right things. James Clear describes the difference between motion and action: “Motion is when you’re busy doing something, but that task will never produce an outcome by itself… Action, on the other hand, is the type of behavior that will get you a result.” It’s kind of the difference between getting caught up in doilies and dishes and being intentional about the things God has called us to do. There’s a kind of space that comes just from being who God designed us to be, a freedom that’s found in doing the things He’s called us to do.


So how about you? Do you have space in your life for growth or are you too busy to change? How do you keep space in your life (or put it back in)?


The Trial of Busy-ness

June has been so busy. Like, ridiculously so. For some reason, summer tends to be that way for a lot of people. You’d think we’d have less to do since it’s sort of “vacation time”–but sadly, no. Although maybe it’s just a different busy. I’m not sure I know anyone who doesn’t think their lives are busy during the summer and busy during the fall as their kids go back to school and busy with the winter holidays and busy with spring break and spring yard work, etc., etc., etc.

I talked last time about how being in a hurry precludes our loving anyone. I’m realizing that anyone includes myself. I’ve been too busy to sleep enough many days. Because of my chronic illness, I really need 10-12 hours of sleep per night. But I feel like I just don’t have time for that. Sadly, I’m starting to get sicker again–pretty sure I need to re-think the whole only sleeping for 8 hours thing. I’ve been so happy that I have energy to cook and clean and write and school my children that I’m running myself ragged again. It’s made me think about Psalm 127:1-2: “Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat–for he grants sleep to those he loves.” (NIV)

I’ve been thinking about how, in a lot of ways, busy-ness is just as much a trial as suffering. It’s exhausting. I love in verse two, where the Psalmist says “in vain you rise early and stay up late”–how often do we Americans do that? We’re always burning the candle at both ends.

In my Bible study last week, we covered Psalm 123: “I lift my eyes to You, the One enthroned in heaven. Like a servant’s eyes on his master’s hand, like a servant girl’s eyes on her mistress’s hand, so our eyes are on the LORD our God, until He shows us favor. Show us favor, LORD, show us favor, for we’ve had more than enough contempt. We’ve had more than enough scorn from the arrogant and contempt from the proud.” (HCSB)

I love this Psalm, for lots and lots of reasons. It hit me in a new way though as I was thinking about how nuts June has already been and how busy the rest of it is shaping up to be. Beth Moore has this great little chart in her section on Psalm 123: Where I look–> What I hear–> What I feel–> What I expect (Stepping Up, 43).

I’ve been thinking about that with my busy-ness this past week. Being busy typically is not a trigger for me to think: “man, I’m going to need extra time with God.” Or even to think: “Is this really what God’s calling me to do or am I trying to force something?” (a la Psalm 127).  But I want to be the kind of person who consistently keeps my focus on God. I want to have expectations that are in line with who God is and what He’s doing in my life.

For instance, I’ve noticed I’m getting a little overprotective of my writing time. Part of it is because I have goals: I want to finish the first 300 pages of my fantasy novel (or series if it gets too long) by the end of this year. But when I’m stressed and rushed in my writing, I actually write less. It’ll take me an hour to an hour and a half to write the amount of pages I aim for daily vs. half an hour. It goes back to that “unless the LORD…. you labor in vain” thing. I’m convinced it’s what I’m supposed to be finishing next in my writing projects, but if I’m overexerting, it doesn’t mean more results–it means tireder Liz.

And overexerting is always a waste anyway. Isn’t that so interesting? I was raised that the essence of success is trying harder and if you fail, it’s because you didn’t try hard enough–not because you didn’t try smart enough, not because you were trying the wrong thing, not because maybe it wasn’t in God’s plan for you. But I’ve since learned that that is a lie. In my Tai Chi class, we talk a lot about the less relaxed you are, the less results you have–i.e., the more tense you are when you do something, the more likely you are to fail.

If we’re God’s children, we’re already favored by Him. Stop. Think about that. We’re already favored.  There’s no reason to overexert because God is the one building the house. God is the one watching the city. Faithfulness means working hard, but it doesn’t mean burning the candle at both ends–or rushing.

Which brings me back around to what my expectations are. I am already favored by God. I am doing what I believe God is calling me to do. But because I’m focused on all I’ve got going on, my expectation is that I can’t do everything I need to do and still have time to sleep. Pretty crazy, huh? If God made my body to need a certain amount of sleep and the responsible thing to do is to get that sleep, if I really believe that God is faithful and can smooth my way through all the things on my to-do list, I think my expectations would be quite a bit different.

Book update: We’re looking for folks to be guinea–er, testers for the Bible study that goes along with my book “To Push on the Rock.” It’s designed for small groups, but we also want some people to test it individually (mainly because that’s how I utilize my Bible studies because of my health issues so we want it to be useful to individuals as well as groups). The homework is fairly flexible–it can be as much as a daily study or as little as a once a week study. If you’re interested, please let me know.