There was never enough time for me to get from martial arts on one side of town to dance on the other. Uniforms and bags, children bickering, static on the radio, a one-year-old strapped into the car seat none too happy to be along for the ride.
I was already tired from classroom teaching that afternoon, and regretted filling my Thursdays so full. We were in the middle of a difficult foster care case, and any emotional reserves I may have had were now depleted.
I pulled into a parking space at martial arts and waited for my son. Negative thoughts flitted unchecked across my mind. I am so going to be late to pick up my daughter. Again. How do the other dance moms do it? I am always a disappointment. There is never enough of me to go around.
I pulled out my smart phone to distract myself with Facebook while I waited. The first post I saw was from someone I admired but barely knew. It was fall 2016, and she was expressing very different political views than mine about the upcoming election, and sharing what I felt was an inflammatory article.
My son appeared at the entrance and I dropped my phone, not even sure which feeling was uppermost right now. Frustration? Anger? Contempt toward myself or others? Impatience? Or was all this just overstimulated exhaustion?
Looking back on this moment, and so many others like it, I can see my mistake. In the middle of a difficult season in my life, in the middle of a busy, over-committed afternoon, when I was already struggling, when I had just a moment in a parking lot to come up for air, what did I do?
I read an inflammatory post on Facebook.
Essentially, in my moment of taking a breath I desperately needed, I turned away from oxygen and chose toxic gas.
And I’m not blaming the Facebook post. I am responsible for how I chose to spend that parking lot minute.
What I chose was not what my soul needed.
In the months since then, I’ve been learning to do better at soul care—to recognize that I’m a busy woman in a stressful season of life, like a swimmer, straining in the water, stroke after stroke—and I’m going to do better if I come up for air.
I’m going to do better if I choose, in the parking lot minutes of my life, things that are actually going to nourish my soul. Because it really is my choice. I don’t have to deplete myself breathing in toxicity. I really can choose a life that feeds me so that I in turn have something to give to others.
That raises the question—what nourishes my soul? I think for each of us the answer is going to be a little different. For me, it’s often not what is easiest. It is easy, for instance, to keep surfing online instead of standing up to make dinner, but all the minutes hunched over the computer, clicking and clicking with a short attention span for each thing, generally make me feel more depleted. The same goes for staying up too late watching too many Netflix episodes.
Sometimes soul care involves turning off the screen and moving my body toward something different.
Crazy how hard that is sometimes.
What’s the something different I turn to? Here’s my list for what nourishes my soul—for what I need to breathe when I come up for air.
1. Bible Time
Growing up in the church, I have had Bible time for all the wrong reasons, from rule-keeping to trying to earn God’s favor so that I would have a good day. Now I’ve settled into having a regular Bible time because I love God and it is good for my soul to meet with Him.
How you approach your Bible time is going to depend on your personality and your season of life. For me, I value the moments of complete silence while my husband takes care of our toddler. I pray. I read the Bible.
Over the past couple years, I’ve begun journaling as part of my Bible time. I used to keep copious diaries and I don’t anymore, but I’ve found that journaling is a helpful tool for me to process and to get truth from my head to my heart. Sometimes my journal is my own paraphrase of a Bible passage, a written prayer, or thoughts about how the truth I’m reading changes my life.
Get accountability and fellowship by joining a Bible study. Time that you give here is never time wasted—you will reap great benefit.
2. A New Approach to Social Media
For me, this meant drastically decreasing my Facebook use and starting over on Instagram, where I carefully chose whom I followed, essentially only public figures I admire and close friends. My Instagram feed is actually inspirational to me, but even now I try for not too much scrolling.
Consider your own social media use. How is it affecting your outlook? Are you addicted to your smartphone? Think about taking one day a week off social media, turning your phone onto airplane mode at certain times of the day or night, or giving up social media for Lent.
Again—none of this is about legalistic rule-following. It’s all about what feeds your soul and what is good for your life.
When it comes to my morning rhythm, my smart phone is actually my friend. I begin my day with gentle exercise while listening to worship music.
After I shower, I listen to a podcast for the 10-15 minutes it takes me to get ready for the day. I’m not an auditory learner so I hesitated to jump on the podcast wagon, but now I love this time of soaking up wisdom. And honestly, when I’m around kids a little bit much, just hearing adult conversation feeds my soul.
I also like listening to worship music or podcasts when I’m driving, folding laundry, or cooking. There is so much goodness here.
We live in an age when technology can distract and overwhelm us, but we can also choose to harness that tool for good. So much blessing is right at our fingertips.
I’m a reader, so I can easily tell that reading feeds my soul. My rules for reading are inspirational nonfiction or empathetic fiction.
To me, reading says, “I don’t have to accomplish anything right now. It’s okay to relax and have fun in a way that enriches my life and broadens my perspective.”
Reading may not be that for you, but what is? Carve out even just a few moments to relax and have fun.
Being an introvert, I’ve found that big parties and groups actually deplete me. But having an uninterrupted conversation with a friend, or having dinner with my book club, is that breath of fresh air.
Just this last Saturday evening I had arranged to meet a friend for tea at Starbucks. Before I left, I was snuggled on my couch with my kids, warm under a blanket, and wishing I hadn’t made plans to leave my comfortable cocoon for the cold, dark night. But I made myself get up and get out, and I had two hours of the most encouraging conversation. It was like it filled me up with enough to keep me going for days.
Cultivate these kinds of friendships. Make time for it. It is so worth it.
God created us in His image to be creators, and we honor Him and enjoy life more when we embrace this creative aspect of ourselves.
Sometimes when we get busy, creativity is the first thing to go, because it feels non-essential. But creativity is essential to being human. It brings delight to us and others, it helps keep us sane, and it reminds us of what life is really about beyond the demands of the urgent.
My creative outlets are largely writing and cooking. The primary reason I’m blogging more right now is simply that I can tell it is good for my soul to write.
What about you? Where does your creativity shine?
Please don’t misunderstand—I am not living a quiet, contemplative season of life with large swaths of spare time to devote to this list. I’m in a crazy busy season, but nourishing my soul is still a choice I can make right now. And when you and I are really stretched and busy, those moments of coming up for air become all the more important.
What would be on your list? Yours is going to be different, but I would encourage you to make one—even in your mind.
Consider what nourishes you. What fills you up, what feeds you, what gives you the energy to keep going? What is your oxygen?
And on the contrary, what depletes you? What feeds not your soul, but your negative thoughts? What are your unhealthy habits? How can you shift your life away from that?
If I could have a do-over on that parking lot moment, Thursday afternoon, fall 2016, I would be taking a slow, deep breath. I would embrace a still and silent moment. I would be answering those negative thoughts with truth.
It is not the end of the world if I’m five minutes late for dance class. I’m not going to compare myself with the moms who were on time. God is pleased with me. He’s made me enough for what He’s called me to.
And that inflammatory Facebook post? It really doesn’t need me to read it and comment. There are some areas where I do not need to be in the know. Instead, I choose to nourish my own soul so I can live my life well and love the people around me.
Photography: JenniMarie Photography