I want to do everything. I want to have coffee with everyone, make everything from scratch, go to every event I’m ever invited to, and have a party for every occasion, however slight. Two years ago I hit adulthood at full speed, thinking I could do anything I wanted to do, all at once. I attempted to join a book club that met every single week two weeks before my first year teaching (rookie mistake). I had grandiose visions of having every neighbor on our street over for dinner the first month I was in my first house (turns out it basically takes a month to get everything out of boxes). I wish I could say I realized that this wouldn’t work after my first week of teaching, but it took a lot longer. Really, it took my husband seeing my life up close and saying things like, “you’re exhausted, maybe you could say no to that.” Until then, I didn’t realize no was an option.
But now I know that no isn’t just an option. The fact is, even in the chaos, no was happening whether I liked it or not. By saying yes to being on committees, doing non-required work things and planning parties, I was saying no to things like sleep, exercise, showers, homemade food, and time to reflect instead. Because every time you say yes to something you’re saying no to something else. Rich or poor, we all have 24 hours in the day. If I decide to do something with hour 14, I am effectively saying no to a myriad of other things I could be doing with that same hour.
One of my favorite authors, Shauna Niequist, has written a lot lately about giving up exhaustion as a status symbol. But before all that, in her book Bittersweet, there’s a chapter called “Things I Don’t Do.” I went back and reread parts of the book the other day and came across that chapter with totally new eyes. She talks about how we have to decide what we’re willing to give up in order to have what we want. We have to decide not just what we do, but what we don’t do as well.
I do following Jesus (to the best of my ability, anyway). I do prayer and introspection and service. My husband and I have been committed members of a local body of believers for a long time–separately before our marriage and together afterwards. I do family. We see both of our “families of origin,” not only on holidays but at other times throughout the year. I do marriage. Loving my husband well is really important to me. I do work. I try not to overextend, but I do my very best to be a faithful employee, coming to work even when I feel kinda icky and completing tasks cheerfully. I do cooking. We make homemade, mostly healthy meals several times a week. I do Red Door, a ministry that’s really dear to my heart. I do smaller things too, like reading novels, going to yoga class, sending handwritten letters, and printing out pictures to hold in our hands.
But there are things I don’t do, too. Some of them are things that I would love to do, but have had to say no to. Some of them are things I just don’t really care about. I don’t garden. I got a rosemary plant from the farmers market two months ago and it’s already dying. I don’t wear makeup or fix my hair every single day. I don’t clip coupons (although I do load them to my Kroger card online). I don’t eat paleo, organic, gluten-free, or vegetarian. I don’t make my bed or hang my clothes up every day. I don’t bake (except for bread). I don’t run long distances anymore. Right now I don’t do women’s social groups, book clubs, or take any type of lessons.
Even the things on my “do list” don’t always happen fully, all at the same time. I’m learning that, even though cooking and Red Door are both something I do, some weeks we eat a great dinner every night and I feel behind on Red Door stuff, and sometimes things are really hectic with Red Door and we eat pizza. I’m learning to give myself permission to take a deep breath and be ok with that.
The Internet has lied to us about this, saying “you can do it all.” The content we’re exposed to every day through blogs, Facebook and Instagram only shows us what people do, not what they don’t do. Bloggers write posts about the picture perfect sushi themed birthday party they threw for their three year old, but they don’t show us the mounds of paperwork on their desk at work that they’ll have to deal with the Monday after the party. On Instagram you see beautiful pictures of someone’s garden, but you don’t see the unmade bed from when they got up early to water it. People are more likely to update their Facebook statuses to say “Promotion at work” than “Haven’t had a relaxing afternoon to myself in three years!” I used to look at social media or blogs and feel inadequate, wondering how people could bake gorgeous cakes and have beautiful gardens and make super creative art and cook gourmet meals and still keep it all together. Then I realized that, just like me, everyone else has 24 hours in the day. And if they chose to do something, they have to chose not to do something else.
This is one of my favorite adulthood lessons I’m learning because I’ve had to fight really hard for it. It’s one of the most freeing things I’ve ever learned. These truths are enabling me to give up guilt over things like not clipping coupons, because not clipping coupons no longer means I’m a bad financial manager or lazy. It means that instead of clipping coupons, I’m getting enough sleep. Instead of gardening, I’m going on dates with my husband. Instead of doing my hair, I’m reading a book. And those are choices that I’m ok with, choices that for me, at this exact time and place, are the right ones. Those choices used to seem tiny to me, but then I realized that when I add them all together they make up my life. And yes, I still sometimes want to do everything. But more than that, I want to live well.