the 8 o’clock rule

Earlier this year, I was reading a new book, A Woman in Youth Ministry, by Gina Abbas.  As she was talking about balancing life and work, she mentioned a rule that she and her husband had devised.  No matter what remains undone, they stop working after 8 PM.  Once the clock strikes 8, they are off the clock.  The rest of the evening remains for resting, spending time with each other, and reminding themselves that they are real adults who are allowed to relax and enjoy a portion of their day.

Wow.

For me, this has been a mental game changer in my life.  Giving myself permission NOT TO DO things.  My kids are usually in bed by 7:30, so that gives me a 30 minute window to get things done.  Get the leftovers put into the fridge, the dishwasher loaded.  Put my laundry away.  Clean up the living room.  But once 8 PM rolls around, I am done.

800-pm-clockBut what if there are still dirty pots on the stove?  That’s ok.  They will be there tomorrow.  But what if I still have to send a work email?  Do you really want people to expect you to be checking and sending work email at night?  But what if the living room is still covered in toys?  Well then the kids will have an easier time when they start to play in the morning.

I find this rule to be a great complement to the 20 mile march.  Because there are days (plenty of them), when the work doesn’t get done.  And knocking off after 14 or 18 miles… that is ok.  If I don’t carve out time for rest, renewal, and remembering to be myself, the chances that i will be successful tomorrow diminish as well.  Creating a rule for rest is something I find necessary, or else I won’t give myself permission to do it.  And isn’t rest, Sabbath, one of God’s priorities?  Sometimes checking out reminds me of my real importance (or lack of importance) in the world.  Reminding myself that things won’t crash down around me just because I am watching TV is a good thing.  A holy thing even.  We have a sustainer of the universe.  But it’s not me.

“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
Mark 6:31

Selah

So.  I haven’t written for a while.

There are legitimate reasons why.  Work has been crazy.  Sleep has been short. I’ve been reading through 1 and 2 Chronicles (not exactly a get up a cheer part of the Bible). Emotionally, I have been in a funk.  When I drag myself (and my toddlers) through the door at night, often there is not much energy, passion, soul, left.

All those reasons sound valid.  But here is the real reason I haven’t been writing:  I have been neglecting the thing that this whole blog is supposed to be about.

Selah.

I have forgotten to Stop.  And I have forgotten to Listen.

How many days have I just plowed through without pausing even once to listen to what the Lord is trying to whisper?  How many gentle lessons have I raced through like yellow lights with my eyes fixed on the next thing?  How many joyless days have I lived recently without margin?

restI believe that the rhythms of God are like those of music.  The rests are an essential part of the melody.  The song feels incomplete without those beats of silence.  It seems fitting that the word Selah can also refer to a musical interlude… a moment to stop and reflect, an intentional break in the text.

The writers of the Psalms clearly understood that life has a pattern and a tempo.  That our days, much like our music, were meant to have stops and starts, periods of activity and periods of reflection.  This is not a concept that is given much value in today’s culture.  And yet, I get the feeling that something essential may be getting lost in the frenetic rush to the next thing.

When you are working on a project for your job- do you ever take a moment to intentionally disengage?  To step back and look at the big picture?  Or do you stare at the blue screen until the words stop making sense?  When you are with your family, do you take a moment to stop and breathe deeply and marvel- to truly see these human beings God has blessed you with?  Or do you find yourself instead trying to sneak moments to check your updates on your phone?  When you eat- do you even notice your food?  Savor the flavor, the texture of this wild and magical world?  Who else on the planet has their daily choice of global cuisine at their fingertips?  Yet I find myself spooning pad thai and queso fresco the same way I might eat oatmeal- mindlessly.

When was the last time I gave myself permission to take a beat during my day?  When is the last time I paused- to think, to pray, to marvel?  What would these stolen moments have cost me, truly?  And would it be worth the price to gain the feeling of mindfulness, to know that I am actually living my life?

Thinking of a concept like this, my proclivity is to rush to guilt.  To feel bad about the fact that I haven’t been nourishing my soul, and to resolve to add this to my ever-lengthening to do list for the next day.   But I have the feeling that the practice of selah may be one that refuses to allow me to remain in control.  That to learn how and when I need to pause and to reflect, I need to learn to listen to my life, listen to my soul.  That feels to me more like a building of awareness than a task to schedule.

It feels… intimidating.  inconvenient.  Yet also necessary.

The glorious thing is, we serve a God of new beginnings. One who wants us to succeed, and is constantly whispering encouragement and blessings over us.  I have a feeling if we take a step in faith, he will meet us more than halfway…

The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
    His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
    his mercies begin afresh each morning.
Lamentations 3:22-23