As the year winds down, I am reflecting on something that was both difficult and important for me in 2017. There were numerous things that I had to let go of in my schedule, habits, and life in order to manage and adapt.
Ultimately, God taught me to forsake some things to make room for others.
As I think about how I decided to step down from various things or take them out of my life, I remember how difficult it was to stop some of them. Saying no, leaving groups, and making other changes, frees up space and time in our lives, but they mean that we come to moments where we have to reevaluate ourselves. If our identities are too caught up in what we do or how we appear to others, it can seem impossible to make the shifts in our lives that are necessary if we are going to follow God’s leading and allow room for the new.
With all of that said, here’s a little about what I let go of throughout 2017.
Drinking Coffee Everyday:
I enjoy drinking coffee, whether it’s black or a soy latte. I like Venti iced Americanos with three pumps of cinnamon dolce and light soy. I will order a double shot of espresso on its own for a busy afternoon. At home, I make espresso roast in our little Mr. Coffee and happily drink it with some almond creamer.
However, all of my coffee drinking was making me sick. Now, I didn’t realize it at first, but after my summer CPE in 2016, I was drinking too much coffee. By the fall of 2016, I was drinking 4-6 cups a day. Never one for breakfast, I had coffee instead. I started getting mysterious leg cramps and waking up in the middle of the night with painful charley horses. Falling asleep, even when I stopped the coffee before 2PM, was difficult. At night, I could feel my heart racing in my chest. I was starting to experience anxiety. Grimly, I realized it was the coffee. When I stopped drinking it, I went through terrible withdrawals for almost a week.
By 2017, I knew I had to replace the coffee with something else. So, I started each day with a hot cup of matcha with soy milk and 2 teaspoons of agave nectar. The change was incredible. The leg cramps and pain disappeared. The sense of anxiety went away. Suddenly, I could sleep at night. This one change really helped my well-being throughout the year. It’s now something that I have a lifelong commitment to using only in moderation and definitely not every day.
Leaving a Board and Council:
It was hard to give up the sense of belonging that came with being on the board of a nearby college campus ministry. I had been on the board for two and a half years. In the same way, when my term ended on the church council, I didn’t seek to renew it, as some did. These monthly commitments and the time to travel to them had become too much in an already packed schedule of work and seminary. I loved serving God and others through these experiences, but I was coming to feel like I was holding on to these positions for my own glory, instead of God’s.
Driving out to Hiking Spots:
This was one of the most difficult things that I had to take out of my schedule for 2017. I have been an avid hiker for almost two decades, and I started trail running in the fall of 2015. All of these practices have been beneficial to mental health and recovery from traumas in my life, but in 2017 I began to see that I didn’t have time to hike, and not accepting it was resulting in not exercising at all. You see, where I live now means that I have to drive 40-60 minutes or more one roundtrip to hike. It just became too expensive and time consuming to do all of that driving to hike or trail run. So, I began to actively use an indoor, manual elliptical machine instead.
Dedicated Gaming Sessions:
I have been playing video games since the age of 3. They have been a lifelong source of fun, socializing, learning, and inspiration. However, by early in February 2017, my free time had dwindled to such a degree and my exhaustion from staring at computer screens for my jobs and seminary courses meant that I had to almost entirely cut gaming out of my life. I had to conserve my mental energy and ability to concentrate for work and school. It was hard to put aside my 3DS, let my Steam account grow cold, and avoid my WiiU, but it was worth it. I had more energy to get things done. There were many months in 2017 I didn’t have the time to play games at all. I could have, but I would have lacked energy for other areas of my life like spending time with my husband or seeing friends.
Happily, I don’t foresee this trend needing to continue for 2018 because of how some of my work life has shifted away from the computer and will continue to do so as I enter into, God willing, my pastoral internship in the second half of 2018.
Streaming Video Binges:
Similar to video games, I had to look at my habit of spending a Friday evening or Saturday evening once a week watching 4-6 hours of Netflix or Amazon Prime and see it for the ridiculous habit it had become. We don’t have cable or watch TV, and I have found my decades without TV to be a wonderful source of freedom and peace in my life. Not being bombarded with commercials or paying for a cable service is beyond worth it. So, I realized that I needed to apply this principle to even the commercial free and more inspiring sources of entertainment that I sought out online.
If you are similarly wondering why you aren’t getting things done or think that you need TV, watching cable sports, or something else to relax, I encourage you to take a hard look at whether or not this is true. Staring at any type of screen is draining and finding ways to limit this to open up new areas of our lives is a simple, powerful, and freeing act.
Here again, I battled with the temptation to stare at a screen. So much of our lives revolve around screens. I live far away from most of my friends, and I use Instagram and Twitter to feel connected, or so I told myself. However, I took a hard look at this habit as well, and I realized that I was neglecting things in my actual life or shaping my actual life around my social media habits. To make matters worse, I had one week this past summer without classes and with less work than usual, and I found to my horror that when I checked the battery usage on my phone for that week that I had lost over 31 hours to using social media or the internet on my phone. That’s pretty astounding. While it was far from the average weekly usage, I knew that this one week binge represented a growing problem.
So, I asked myself “Who is social media making me into?” As of that moment, I was the same person online as off, but I was worried that maybe that would change. I didn’t want a like, retweet, or comment to have power to shape my sense of identity, worth, or connection, so I deleted the apps from my phone and used the restricted websites option on my iPhone to block social media sites from Safari. At first it was hard, but soon I felt less stressed and more focused throughout the day. I realized that all my reasons for wanting to stay connected throughout the day were actually just excuses or poor justification for distracting myself from things in my actual life. Once I stopped using social media, I had more mental energy, which had been diverted for too long by wondering about what to post or who was posting.
There are several other things that I let go of in 2017, but these are some of the most notable. Some of them, I have added back in as the year comes to a close, at least a little at a time. For instance, I’m on my Christmas break right now, so I have been gaming a lot!
As you are reading this, I challenge you to think about what you might need to let go of in your life. It may be something that you think you really enjoy or our passionate about but that is actually wearing you down in ways that you don’t realize. Ask yourself, why you want to let go of something, and what you want to make room for.
Finally, as I look over this list, I am asking myself a new question for 2018. Instead of looking for what I need to say no to, which I have a better idea now of how to do, I am asking myself:
What do I need to unlearn about myself in 2018?