The Lord recently reminded me of something I needed to internalize again, and it came from my own writing. I pray these words BLESS you and give you peace, particularly during this holiday season. This passage is excerpted from my very first book, Ordinary Mom, Extraordinary God in 2005 (which is why I refer to my kids as young!)
The Girl Scouts of America launched a new merit badge—the Stress Less Badge. The circular badge, framed in Girl-Scout green, sports a tree, a sun peeking through wispy clouds, and a gently swinging hammock.
As a parent, I see the toll stress takes on my children. Sophie takes standardized tests and frets. Aidan worries about a turncoat friend. Victimized by errand running (by a mom who has not earned her Stress Less Badge), all three children bicker.
Stress is an insidious disease; it moves and lives to find victims. (click to tweet) But more often than I would like to admit, it is a congenital disease, passed surreptitiously from parents to children. When I worry about finances, the kids seem on edge. When I am running late, Sophie takes on her adult tone and scolds the other two for meandering.
Now that my husband Patrick and I know about the Stress Less Badge, I think it is our prerogative to earn it on behalf of our family. We live in an age of dwindling childhood, where kids carry cell phones, and cram calendars full of sports, clubs, homework, and work. With all the rushing around, we have lost the concept of unstructured (non-media) playtime. (click to tweet) We have lost much of the innocence of playing games, eating together around the dinner table, and looking at the stars.
What are some real solutions? Here are three:
One. Slow down. Gandhi said that there was more to life than increasing its speed. Somehow we have bought into the notion that cramming our days will mean a higher quality of life. (click to tweet) For me, when I have come to the end of a hectic day, I am drained. When I am drained, pleas from my children to play with them fall on deaf ears.
Even this week, Sophie said, “I wish you wouldn’t pay the bills so much. I want to play with you.” We mock cultures that have slower paces, calling them lazy or unproductive. But I wonder, how much real life has passed me by in my race for productivity? How many times have I glossed over an accomplishment of my child because my mind is tortuously cluttered with to-do lists? Instead, God tells us, “be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). When was the last time you were still?
Two. Take a media break. Psychologist Mary Pipher, in her book The Shelter of Each Other, speaks of the damage of the media and its potential to add stress. She recounts an interesting story about a girl from Tonga. Pipher asked what it would be like to grow up in a world without media. The girl responded, “I never saw television . . . until I came to the United States in high school. I had a happy childhood. I felt safe all the time. I didn’t know I was poor. Or that parents hurt their children or that children hated their parents. I thought I was pretty.”
The only way to lessen the media’s influence is to choose as a family to spend time together without its blaring intrusion. (click to tweet) We need to set the example of quieting our souls. “But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me” (Psalm 121:2). It’s hard to quiet our souls or expect quiet souls in our children when there is so much noise cluttering our ears and so many flickering images clamoring for our attention.
Three. Simplify. Henry David Thoreau noted, “Our life is frittered away by detail . . . Simplify, simplify, simplify!” Growing up, I had a cluttered bedroom; as an adult, I have learned to de-clutter. The less I have in my home, the less I have to worry about. Although my children initially protest, I can hear their sighs of relief after we’ve de-cluttered together, bringing order to their little habitations.
G. K. Chesterton said that there are two ways to be satisfied: one is to continue to get more and more stuff. The other is to desire less. Paul said contentment is a secret to be learned: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11-13).
In addition to de-cluttering my home and learning contentment with what I have, I have also learned to de-clutter my heart. Holding grudges and covering up makes for a complicated life. To live simply is to forgive, let go, grant grace, and remember that people are more important than things. (click to tweet)
Lord, I pray you would help me to slow down. I lay my calendar at your feet. Take out what you will, Lord. It’s all yours. Remind me to turn off the media so I can be still and hear your tender voice. Teach me simplicity and contentment so I can foster those same traits in my children.
Find more devotions like this in Ordinary Mom, Extraordinary God.