This morning on my walk, I stopped to chat with a woman in my neighborhood. We were reminiscing that it had been nearly 20 years since our children had attended preschool together Her twin sons and my youngest are now juniors in college.
We talked about the "empty nest," the joys that our sons are growing into independent men, and the challenges of clarifying who we are in the world as women and people after the intensity of day-to-day parenting shifts to months without seeing the creatures we bore who took so much time and energy to raise.
"Do you feel like you have purpose in your life?" she asked. "Yeah, I do," I replied. "In fact, sometimes I feel a little overwhelmed with purpose."
Increasingly, I've been blessed with opportunities to do meaningful, life-giving, impactful work. It's exciting, fulfilling, and at times results in personal reflections along the lines of "how on earth did I get so blessed?"
Also increasingly, I'm invited to spend evenings and weekends doing this work. I've attempted various methods of self-care in order to make sure I actually take days off. Even wonderful fulfilling work requires balance and space from it in order to refresh and rejuvenate. Even people with purpose need to spend time with spouses, friends, family, and themselves.
I was at a women's retreat last weekend, and the keynote speaker was inspiring to me, with her clarity, humor, and message. She encouraged us as women to be clear about what is our repsonsibility and what isn't, to remember to care for ourselves and not say yes to everything, to think about what we need to do to take care of ourselves instead of constantly meeting what we think are everyone else's expectations of us.
I thanked her for being yet another voice in my head reminding me of that. I don't know about you, but sometimes, I find it too easy to ignore familiar voices when the topic is self-care. This was especially meaningful in the context of the retreat, where I was not only an attendee, but also a workshop presenter, so I was in that familiar place of balancing work and caring for myself at the same time.
Earlier this year, I implemented a "Sabbath" day during Lent. This involved not only not working on my business during that day each week, but also taking time to actively do rejuvenating and refreshing activities--meaning that this wasn't the time I could go to the grocery store or do other errands or tasks that I hadn't gotten done by overworking other days of the week. I explored things like going to an extra yoga class, reading a novel just for fun all afternoon, taking a leisurely walk or even, a nap.
I felt so much better taking a Sabbath during those few weeks last spring that I decided to continue to mark that space off in my calendar each week. Like many things, I do better at the Sabbath part some weeks than others. As recently as last night, I said to a colleague, "If we can do that call on another evening than Monday, that would work better for me."
I aspire to be able to be even more assertive with my protection of my Sabbath and say something like, "I'm not available on Mondays" or "That won't work for me--what other days work for you?" At least I did protect the time that week in the future, which was helpful, since, ironically, I was having this discussion with a colleague on a Monday evening, having agreed to meet months earlier after succombing to the "well-if-it-works-best-for-other-people-I-can-adjust-since-I'm-in-charge-of-my-schedule" which really means, if I'm totally honest, "here-let-me-put-your-needs-ahead-of-mine."
Let me be clear. Your needs are important. And you don't need to take care of me. But I do. I need to take care of me. As an adult, that's my job. If I don't do it, it's really no one else's fault but my own.
It's such a slippery slope, too, because the more I take care of myself, the more I'm able to set boundaries about caring for myself. And the less I do, the less I see the boundaries I'm flinging aside and ignoring (just this once) in order to meet some expectations I think someone has for me.
As women, these are crucial areas for us to explore. How do we balance all of this? How do we define ourselves when our nests are "empty," or, as my friend Mary likes to say, "spacious"? How do we care for ourselves and still have energy, love, and time left to care for elderly parents, young adults wondeirng what to do with their lives, spouses, partners, friendships, and more? There is no one-size-fits-all answer. But the questions are important. The conversations are important.
My friend, Suzy, who is also one of my yoga instructors, came in to class one day and told us how yoga helps us with the stories we embrace. One of her sons had commented on some pretty flowers on the table. She replied, "Thanks, your dad bought those for me." She said the rest of the story was that she got up that morning and told her husband that they were going to the farmer's market so he could buy her flowers and when they got there, she handed him a twenty and pointed out the flowers. And what she was embracing was that her husband had bought flowers for her, because he had.
Sometimes, we discount a beautiful gesture like that because we asked for it. Somehow, it doesn't count as much. I get caught up in that, too, but really, it isn't any less wondeful that I ow nhave a vase full of beautiful flowers on my table that my husband bought me last night because I said, when he walked into the store where we were meeting, "I think you should buy me flowers today--there's some pretty ones over there." And he picked some gorgeous ones out, and carefully put them in the plastic bag and in the cart.
You see, in order to take care of ourselves, we need to be aware of our needs and our wants. We need to know the difference, and make sure our needs are met and learn which wants will make our soul sing.
And if our souls are to sing, we need to remember that even music has rests built in, and even God, the creator of heaven and earth, took a day of rest.