Permission to Pause: Taking A Break Before You Break

Head’s up: Sponsored by Athleta.


Here’s a funny lie to tell yourself:

When September hits, things will slow down.
When my husband feels better, I will, too.
When the deal goes through, when the baby sleeps through the night, when the inbox hits zero (who are we kidding here, really?), then we can all just have a nice long soak in the tub, yes? Sneak in a bit of relaxation?

One of my favorite quotes about pausing is this, from Martin Luther:
“I have so much to do today that I’m going to need to spend three hours in prayer in order to be able to get it all done.”

It’s a bold concept: the idea that prayer, and meditation, and stillness – the collaboration of our own soul – can arguably be the most productive portions of our day. I believe it wholeheartedly.

And yet: I am continuously pressing pause on the pause button. Tomorrow, I think.

August, so far, has been all sorts of mayhem. We’ve packed it in with things we love: a weekend event for me, a 3-day golf tournament for Ken. Open house parties to celebrate the kids’ birthdays, splash pad breaks, college roommate reunions, Ken’s latest renovation project.

When I write it all down, it sounds like three hours in prayer would’ve been a good start.

Instead, I refilled my coffee.

When the thick of it all was over – the event, the parties, the tournament – I told myself we’d slow down, take a break, press pause. But then Ken landed in the clinic with a heaviness in his chest. Pneumonia, they said. Quarantine, they said. At least a week, maybe more?

I cancelled the week’s plans, made a slew of different plans. Stirred chicken soup, arranged sitters for an afternoon deadline. Grocery runs, sheet laundering. More sheet laundering. Busied the kids with zoos, gardens, fairs.

Day after day, I refilled my coffee. No time for soul check-ins, I thought. Tomorrow, I thought.

There is no martyrdom in this, I know, and after a week of running – on fumes and on coffee – I felt the familiar edges of my limits (starting with this), witnessed the telltale signs of impending burnout. My voice thinned, my fuse grew short. Tight, frenetic energy ran through the home. Its channel? Me.

A pause, then.

In a single afternoon, Operation Time Out was in full effect. I opened the windows, let a soft rain drizzle the sills. Threw on a wrap. Bee’s grandmother picked her up for an outing. Scout went down for a nap.

And for a languorous hour, it was just me and my soul and the lurking temptation to hit fast forward, to catch up on a week’s worth of emails, phone calls. To work, to clean, to do.

But I know better. To be is more important than to do.

Reading is my rest. Words are my meditation. Losing myself in a story greater than my own will forever be some small version of prayer for me – the prickling of my soul, the beginning of a new understanding. And so, the choice was simple: a bed, a book. The lighting of a candle, for good measure. Sweatpants. Windows open, pillows stacked, coffee hot.

An hour of reading, three hours in prayer.

Pausing feels indulgent because it is indulgent. It is giving yourself a gift you often reserve for others: the gift of your time, of your soul. It is being charitable to yourself. Merciful, even.

It is no small act, but it is no great one, either. It needn’t look like incense and folded hands, or dark chocolate and a pedicure. For some, self care is running wild in the woods. For others, sunglasses-clad on an inflatable flamingo. Hot yoga for one, hot dogs for another. Cartwheels in the grass. Comedians on the radio. Scripture on a sofa. To each their own.

To each, is the point.
Every last one of us.

The truth is, we can’t pause time. We can’t start it or stop it, can’t speed it or slow it. It’s the grand clock of our days, and it ticks madly with no help or hurry from us. We have very little say in the whole thing.

But we can pause our bodies, and our souls, and we can pay attention long enough to notice when we’ve outpaced life’s daily gifts. We can re-calibrate, setting our speed for a new race – one of endurance and not sprint. Something that feels solid and sure. Steadfast.

Three hours in prayer.
(Not a moment too soon.)


This essay was written for Athleta’s Restore collection – designed sustainably to inspire calm, rest and peace throughout your day. For more permission to pause, visit the Chi blog here. Thanks for reading!


  • Beautiful words Erin! I think I have told myself the same lies to. Once ______ happens then I can rest and slow down. I’ve been so stressed out this summer bc my oldest is still not potty trained, He is still sleeping in the same room with my husband and I (in his own bed). I continue to puke and feel nauseous even though I am more than halfway through my pregnancy. But like you said to be is more important than to do, and sometimes were outpacing life daily gifts. I can chose rest whether or not all the deadlines are met or goals accomplished on my own time table. Thank you for this sweet and gentle reminder.

  • I’ve been needing some pause in my day lately. I suffer from extreme anxiety and not-so-extreme depression so for me, meditation is non-negotiable. It’s so difficult making the time for it with 3 littles under 5yrs but if I don’t, I get to a bad place. I’m so relieved and glad that self-care, meditation, slower living is ‘trendy’ these days. I don’t really care how we got to this point or why or what it says about our go-go-go society, I’m just happy a slower pace is coming to be more commonplace. Being more ‘mainstream’ makes it a whole lot easier, for me, to say ‘no’ to events or people knowing they value self-care as much as I do. Thanks, Erin for keeping the movement growing!

    • I can so, so relate, Bri – I’ve had many struggles with anxiety and depression and have found that when I’m not managing my energy well (or keeping the negative self chatter at bay), they tend to creep back in. Rest is key, for me, so if I can’t sneak in eight hours of sleep, I suppose a nap and a book is the next best thing. ;)

  • For me as well, it’s the pause that matters, be it 10 minutes of reading before bed, 10 minutes of meditation before the rest of the house gets up in the morning, 10 minutes of dancing just because. Pause, breathe, rest. Ahhhhhhh. = )

  • I am in the middle of a large project aand happened to read this while taking a little break so that I wouldn’t break under the stress. Your article was beautiful confirmation. Thanks!

  • Thank you for this. I love your words. The rest of the internet makes me feel bad about myself and gives me anxiety. Then I come here and it’s like I can breathe again. (Why do I keep reading the rest of it?!?) Your book is one of my favorites because it reminds me that life’s a journey and we’re all doing the best we can and learning as we go. I’m going to set down my phone and go crawl in bed to read it yet again.

  • This brought tears to my eyes. Thank you, Erin. My daily meditation practice has been critical for me to be quiet and slow enough to even remember to pause and Be Still through the day… and I’m finding myself increasing the time of quiet as stress levels climb with my own growing list of reasons to be busy or stressed or mounting to dos.

    “To be is more important than to do.”

    Amen. The lie that rest comes later is fierce, especially when I do nothing in the now to make it a reality. Thank you for opening my heart a bit more to this truth during this season.

  • Perfect timing. I’m on “vacation” but haven’t paused. Today is my day. Thank you for the gift of your reminder.

  • Self care…personal and much needed. Thanks for reminding us to treat ourselves to the rest we would insist others have.

  • This just about made me Cry. So perfect. So very needed. Thank you for the reminder. I’m going to plan in at lest one hour tomorrow. ;-)

  • I love this, Erin and also your gorgeous, cozy Athlete outfit! Thank you for reminding all of us it is so very important to tend to our souls! Our lives are not going to slow down as the seasons change, but each of us can make a concerted effort to pray & nourish our spirits! Reading is also my happy place along with yoga :)

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