Honoring Our Limits

Ordering groceries saves me about 90 minutes each week. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, I learned that several of my Instacart shoppers had been recently furloughed or laid off. I hoped that their wage, plus a generous tip, would help them set their own table each week.

Outsourcing can not only free up our time, but also benefit others through the provision of work. Yet the risks of  COVID-19 transmission have limited how much some of us are willing to outsource. Is it safe to ask our higher-risk parents to watch our children or to hire a babysitter? Could a cleaning service bring the virus into our home? Could we unknowingly spread the virus to them?

On the other hand, how will we manage all of our responsibilities without help? Our supply of hours has not increased. If anything, our anxiety about the pandemic zaps our energy and focus, making us feel like we are forever short on time.

I could certainly offer time-management strategies and life hacks. I could encourage you to read Cal Newport’s Deep Work, switch to a capsule wardrobe, and sneak some simple meals or takeout into the weekly dinner menu. (Who knew you could do so much with tater tots?) I would recommend cutting back drastically on social media engagement, unless that’s your job.

Strategies and hacks can certainly help us steward our time and honor our commitments. But I have learned that one secret to stewarding our time well is honoring our limits. We do this through embracing rest, turning to community, and practicing vulnerability.

Embracing Rest

It may seem counterintuitive to rest more when feeling overwhelmed by looming deadlines. Our instinct is to work more, and technology has made it possible to work from practically anywhere, as long as we have a power source and an internet connection.

A week before our first stay-at-home order, my husband started a new job at a home improvement store. He often worked the closing shift. In the mornings, he would supervise remote schooling while I worked in my home office. When he left for work, I would care for our children until bedtime. Then I would sit at my computer until my eyes burned and I could no longer form a coherent thought. The exhaustion compounded day after day. I felt like I needed to work every available hour, but my body and my mind screamed, “No more!”

Medical professionals have long touted the benefits of restorative sleep. It’s vital for our mental and physical well-being. Neuroscientists have discovered that we learn while we sleep. We need adequate physical rest to do our best work during our waking hours.

We need adequate physical rest to do our best work during our waking hours.

We also need rest for our souls. God has given us the principle of Sabbath as a pathway for pursuing this type of rest. When he began the work of forming a people for himself, a people who would be a light to the nations, God commanded them to reflect his image by entering a rhythm of work and rest: “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God” (Ex. 20:9–10). Through their obedience to these laws, God’s people would both testify to their wisdom and bear witness to the Creator of the universe (Deut 4:5–8).

During his earthly ministry, Jesus reminded God’s people that Sabbath is God’s gift to us (Mark 2:27). It’s easy to treat the Sabbath as bonus time for work, especially during this season when our regular rhythms of work and worship have been so disrupted. The benefits of Sabbath can feel particularly fleeting for parents of young children. Still, finding ways to rest from our professional work and perhaps to lighten our household responsibilities creates space for us to attend to God and to our hearts.

In addition to a weekly Sabbath, I have started bringing pockets of Sabbath rest into my work calendar. I have instituted no-meeting Thursdays, which have become a delightful day of slowing down and attending to the voice of God and the cries of my soul. What steps do you need to find adequate rest for your body, mind, and soul?

Turning to Community

“It is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18). Alone, Adam could not fulfill all that God envisioned for him, so God created Eve. Together Adam and Eve formed the first human community, able to turn to God and to one another in order to do the work God called them to do.

Sin has certainly affected our ability to relate to God and one another. Not every marriage will be a source of community for both husband and wife. But many people—single and married—may experience community with a friend, a small group, a mentor. It’s to those people we can turn when we are at the end of ourselves physically, mentally, and spiritually.

If you are married, consider turning to your spouse for support. This reality of two working parents requires regular negotiation of responsibilities and schedules, especially for families with children. I encourage you to ask your husband if he could assist with more of the housework and meal prep, or take a day off to care for your child so that you can meet your deadlines.

For those who are not married, or whose spouses are not willing or able to help, it may be harder to enlist help from your community during the pandemic. As community spread declines and vaccines become more available, perhaps you could hire a careful adult with minimal exposure to help with childcare. Or maybe you could offer a responsible college student free room and board in exchange for household help and babysitting. Just make sure you communicate your risk tolerance and expectations with every member of your pandemic pod.

Practice Vulnerability

Asking for help requires vulnerability. Often, we refuse to ask because we don’t want to appear limited or weak. This can be especially true in the world of paid work. Acknowledging our limits seems unwise. Asking for an extension on a project seems risky. Will our boss think we’re incompetent? Will this limit our opportunities for advancement? Will we be fired?

Since March of last year, I have had to send multiple emails admitting I was running behind on projects or asking to reschedule a meeting because of changes in childcare. Most of my clients and employers have been understanding and gracious.

What if grace, empathy, and compassion await you on the other side of vulnerability? I encourage you to ask your employer or client for an extension. Maybe they will say yes. If they say no, you may have to double down on turning to community and consider that such an inflexible work environment is not the best fit for you as a parent amid a pandemic.

Most of all, remember that God is able to supply all you need, be it energy or focus or time (Phil 4:19). The best way you can spend your time is asking for his help. He is able to make you content in all circumstances (Phil 4:11–12), and to strengthen you for the good tasks he’s given you (Prov. 31:17).

Meryl Herr

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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