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!