day 22: simple parenting.

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Is it just me or do you feel like parenting today is incredibly anxiety-filled?

There are so many options, so many opinions, so many products to ensure a successful parenting journey. I experience more guilt related to being a parent than in any other area of my life.

I know it’s because we love these kids so much. We want to give them the world. And all around us are voices telling us how to give them world. We just get one shot at this thing called child-raising and we’re terrified we’ll miss the right voice and mess our kids up.

Well on my journey toward Purposeful Simplicity I’ve come to the decision that I’m leaving the rat race. I’m standing up and saying, “I’m not giving my kids the world.” And I’m exiting the field.

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I’m never going to be the best parent: the most creative, the most enthusiastic, the smartest. My kids will never have all the options available to them in life.

And you know what? I’m done with stressing about it.

The rat race makes me tired. I’m tired of looking around obsessively comparing myself and my kids to other people. Are they behind? Are they ahead? Have that had that opportunity? Is _________ choice we made going to mess them up? I’m tired of defending the parenting choices I make to anyone who will listen. Frankly, it’s exhausting. I’m tired of perpetuating a cycle of guilt and worry and striving in parenting.

I’m leaving all of this behind because the voices trying to convince me to give my kids the world are wrong. There isn’t a perfect childhood. There’s just childhood. There isn’t a perfect family. There’s just family. It’s beautiful and complex and broken and we learn as we go and God redeems all of it.

Our job is just to be faithful to steward the souls He has given us. We obey Him. We love our kids. We grow in our own faith so we can love them even better. We show them how to live in submission to God and how to look outward and love other people.

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All the rest is just trappings. Parenting methods. Where they go to school. Who their friends are. What we eat. Whether we travel. What kind of toys they have. How much TV they watch.

Purposeful Simplicity is asking God for wisdom in the trappings. These things matter but they aren’t the end-all. God uses all kinds of parents and all kinds of life circumstances for His glory. We may choose one path in this season of life and choose another path later on.

Purposeful Simplicity is living at peace with where God has my family right now and turning a deaf ear to all the voices telling me I should be giving my kids something else, something better. It’s saying, “God’s voice is the only voice that matters,” and being still enough to actually hear His voice. It’s realizing there’s a world of freedom within the borders of His will.

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Purposeful Simplicity is choosing gratitude over guilt. Guilt says, I’m not doing enough, and it’s crippling, my friends. I know because I’ve lived too long under it. It’s also incredibly self-absorbed. Gratitude looks all around and says, with breathless wonder, Look at all You’ve given me, Father. Thank you. It’s learn to parent out of faith not fear.

Purposeful Simplicity is enjoying my children. Just for who they are, right here and right now. It’s leaving the rat race so I forget about myself and treat them like image-bearers of God. My kids don’t exist for me; they’re not little portfolios to prove my self-worth. They’re living, breathing human beings who will make their own choices and their own journeys. Right now I slow down and quiet myself so that I can listen and get to know their thoughts, their personalities. So that I can find gladness in just watching them be kids. So that I can find joy in being their mom.

Mostly, Purposeful Simplicity is entrusting my children to God. I’m not in control. I don’t know how they’ll grow up, what kind of life they’ll have, what kind of suffering they’ll face. But God knows. And He loves them so much more than I do. Parenting isn’t a formula to get right, it’s a long, winding, beautiful, painful journey of love that will change our whole family in ways I can’t even imagine. I trust Him to take care of my kids. I trust Him to be their perfect Parent.

 

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day 21: finding rest.

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As Americans I think we’ve lost the art of resting. I’ve met very few people who know how to both work hard and rest well, but when I meet them I sit up and take note. Because it’s something I need to learn.

Especially in our culture of parenting it seems sometimes like rest is a sin. The way people talk these days you’d almost equate rest with not caring about your kids. Parents should be running around the house waiting on kids hand and foot. Parents should be giving kids every opportunity they deserve, every chance to live a happy life and make something of themselves. Parents should not be resting.

I think this kind of posture toward parenting is unhealthy and unbiblical and it’s harming our children. Studies show that rates of depression, suicide, and lack of motivation in kids and young adults is on the rise (Boys Adrift, Leonard Sax), so clearly our striving doesn’t guarantee happier children.

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In his book Crazy Busy, Kevin Deyoung writes a very insightful chapter on parenting. He polls a number of grown kids asking their biggest regret about their parents. The overwhelming response was, “I wish my parents had been less stressed out.”

Isn’t that remarkable? Not “I wish they’d spent more time with me,” or “I wish they’d given me more stuff.” I wish they’d been less stressed.

I’ll talk a little more about parenting tomorrow, but this doesn’t just apply to parents: it applies to all of us. Our busyness and our stress affects people. I want us to think very carefully about the kind of life we’ve chosen and to ask, How is my ceaseless busyness affecting the people around me?

What am I communicating to myself and to God and to a watching world when I don’t take time to rest?

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And so David and I are learning what it looks like to work hard and to rest well. This is not easy, friends. There are a hundred temptations every day that pull us away from a restful life, that clamor for attention and threaten guilt if we don’t attend to them.

But that’s just it. There will always be those temptations. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. And so the real question is, Are we going to quiet the noise and choose moments of rest today anyway?

I don’t want our kids’ memories to be of stressed out parents. I don’t want our church’s memory to be of a stressed out pastor (although that does make us feel important, doesn’t it?).

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I want to define what I mean by “rest.” Rest is ceasing normal work responsibilities and making an unhurried connection with a person or an activity that energizes the body and mind.

I say “unhurried connection with a person or an activity” because my specific forms of rest will be different than yours but I think rest always involves slowing down. It involves being present in the moment. I like to sit with a book and coffee. My husband likes to be active: run, hike, build something. He’s working with his body but it allows his mind to slow down after an intense work week.

I’m learning that though I’d rather curl up with a book or my crochet, my body does sometimes need to be active in order for my mind to really rest. So I’m doing some gardening and going for walks or runs. Sometimes rest is going on a double date to a fun restaurant. Sometimes it’s  a family dance party or laying on the trampoline laughing with our kids.

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Part of rest for David and me is making a priority of growing real friendships at church. They are not just “the people we minister to.” No, God has given them to us to sharpen and grow us, and also to help us relax and not take ourselves so seriously. And so we’re seeking out times where we just hang out and have fun with church friends. Where we get to know one another on a deeper level and share joy and suffering. Where they begin to ask us, “Are you making time for rest?”

My desire for you and me is for us to be free to rest, and not only to be free but to be dogged about it. My desire is for us to realize God created us to work and also to stop working sometimes and just be. My desire is for us to stop caring what others think about our saying no, our slowing down, our not being at that event, and to come to a place of peace with how God made us. My desire is for us to find rest.

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day 20: purposeful housekeeping.

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Last week I wrote about finding purposeful simplicity in your home. I’m convinced that one of the biggest keys to being content with your home is keeping it clean. Now by clean I don’t mean impeccably dusted baseboards or sparkling windows (neither of which I have); I just mean a home that’s clean enough for you to rest in.

The best trick I know for keeping a consistently “clean enough” home has been learning utilize the little pockets of time in my day. I try to snatch that 10 or 15 minutes here and there and get one thing done: unload the dishwasher, put laundry away, clear off the dining table. I’ve found the more I do this and stay on top of housework, the more I can get done in a 10-minute slot.

Here are a few more tips I’ve learned:

1. Make straightening up part of your daily routine. When I walk through a room, I try to grab one thing to take with me and put in its proper place.  Judah and Amie have clean-up times after lunch and after dinner. Regular house-straightening gives the appearance of a clean home and at the very least gives you space to relax in.

2. Everything should have a place. Our house is small and we have little, old-house closets, so I have to stay organized about where things go. As much as possible, I try to find a specific place for everything we own. When I clean up, the item needs to go all the way back in its spot. Even with this system stuff gets shoved here and there and I still have to organize my closets regularly, but because everything started out with its own place, the re-organizing takes only a few minutes.

3. Don’t go to bed with a dirty kitchen. Wash and put dishes in the dishwasher. Wipe the counters and dining table. Put leftovers away. Sweep the floor or run the vacuum. I’m always surprised at how much better my attitude toward the day is when I walk into a clean kitchen in the morning.

4. Make your bed. Every single morning, right when you wake up. It takes maybe 30 seconds but calms and tidies the whole room. Judah and Amie make their beds as a part of their daily chores.

5. If kids can’t put all their toys away in 5 minutes, they have too many toys. I keep half of their toys in storage and rotate them. Cheap plastic toys that break quickly are enjoyed for a few days, then thrown away. An uncluttered room helps prevent children from feeling overwhelmed with stuff, let’s them be more creative with a few things, and gives them a sense of accomplishment when they do their chores.

On Saturday Amie said, “Mommy, come look what I did!” She had emptied, purged, and organized her and Judah’s closet all by herself. She said, “Everything was too messy and getting broken.” She was so proud of herself.

6. Don’t let laundry pile up. If that means you need to do one load of laundry every single day, then do it. I do mine every other day because I prefer washing a couple loads and then having a free day (although I’m sure this will change when we have a new baby). Make yourself fold and put away (or have your family put away) laundry as soon as possible after it’s clean. Otherwise you’ll just stare despairingly at that growing mountain throughout the week and want to give up. If I come to your house, leave your laundry-folding for me: I find it very therapeutic.

7. We have people over regularly, so I typically don’t do any real cleaning chores until then. Before we have guests I’ll straighten up, do a quick dusting of the furniture, sweep/vacuum, and wipe down the bathroom/mirrors and light a candle. All of this can be done in 30 minutes to an hour.

8. I tackle bigger cleaning projects once a month or so, and usually in a 2-3 hour stretch when David is out with the kids or they’re at a friend’s house. I use this time to mop the bathroom floor, damp mop the hardwood floors, wipe my stove top, etc. Yes, it’s kind of a bummer to use precious free hours to clean, but I know myself: I’ll enjoy my life and my family much more for doing it.

9. Finally, if you’re super busy and feeling overwhelmed even reading this list, don’t worry. This is a season. My advice is to find the one chore which makes your home feel calmer to you: Vacuumed floors? Laundry folded? Piles off counter tops? Start there. You’ll feel better about yourself and your house. If you can’t even do that, find a corner, light a candle, set a jar of flowers next to you, and enjoy your little pocket of peace.

Please don’t wait ‘til you have a “bigger and better” house to make it a haven of purposeful simplicity!

day 18: it doesn’t have to be perfect.

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If you’re struggling with contentment in your home or just want some inspiration, I can’t recommend The Nesting Place highly enough. I’ve read the book twice, and every friend who’s read it says it’s made them more happy with their home.

Myquillyn Smith shares her story of learning creativity and contentment with the houses God has given her with honest and humor, and all the photos of her home interior were taken in a rental house! You can check it out of the library, but it’s pretty enough to buy and keep on your coffee table.

 

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day 17: a letter to baby #3.

Dear sweet baby,

Today we got approved for adoption; we’re now officially a Waiting Family.

You have no idea what this means to me.

You’ve been in my heart for such a long time. Did you know that we tried to start the adoption process to meet you when Judah was just a year old? But God closed the door then, and He gave us sweet Amelie.

Then we moved to another country and we thought surely you would be waiting for us there. Once again, God’s answer was, “No.”

We had to move back home and my heart was so sad. I was really sick. I missed the place and the friends we left and my heart ached so much for you. I asked, “Please, now God?” But He said, “No.” It felt like we had nothing: no house, no job, no answers.

But I trusted Him. He is good and strong and He takes care of us. I knew I was holding on too tight, that I needed to let you go.

And we needed time to heal. We got a job we loved. We bought a house we love. We started to put down roots. I was content. But deep down in my heart there was a sad place. I’d been so sure God had you in mind for us.

I looked at our family and it was such a gift but I felt like someone was missing. I’ve never thought of Amie as our youngest child. We’ve been so happy as a family of four but to me it’s felt . . . quiet. But the door was closed and life was full and all around me there were babies to hold and love.

And then this March everything changed. God threw open the door and we walked forward, tentatively.

It’s been 7 months since then. It’s been a lot of paperwork and planning and saving and a lot of waiting, and I’ll admit some fear. That door had been closed so many times, would it close again?

But guess what: today’s the day our door is officially open for good. This is a really, really special day. We’ve come to the end of this long road and now we know: one day soon you’re going to be with us.

I want you to know that my heart is overflowing with happiness right now. I want you to know how much I love you and that the four of us can’t wait to meet you. I want you to know that all these years of waiting and moving here and there have been worth it because it’s you God wants to bring to us. He’s known that all along.

And I am so happy to wait a little more now, as long as it takes, for God to put you in my arms. I’m standing right here.

I love you,

Mommy

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day 16: a home you want to spend time in.

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I believe a life of Purposeful Simplicity and enjoying your house go hand in hand and here’s why: Part of simplifying your life is learning to be at peace with being at home. Now before you write me off saying, “Well easy for you, you’re a home schooling stay-at-home mom,” just bear with me for a second.

Even if you work 60 hours a week or drive kids to and from school, I still believe home can and should be a place of rest. I believe a simple life is one in which we grab pre-made food and make Target runs less and spend a smaller percentage of our day racing from activity to activity (I’m not saying never, just less).

A simple life is one in which whole hours of down time – and by that I mean just being at home – are scheduled into our week. For rest. For hobbies. For spending time with our family. For inviting people over. For meeting our neighbors while taking an after-dinner stroll.

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My passion is for everyone’s home to be a restful, cozy, inspiring place. Even if you rent your house or apartment and can’t paint your walls or live in 500 square feet, even if you have zero interior design skills, you can enjoy your home.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

1. When people say they dislike their house, my first two suggestions are: 1. De-clutter, and 2. Put a plant or jar of flowers in every room. Those two activities cost next to nothing, and I promise they’ll change the feel of your home.

2. When it comes to de-cluttering, just start with one space in your home at a time. Tackle your linen closet one day, your master bath the next, etc., etc. Make a bag for a yard sale or Goodwill donations, a bag for trash, and hack away. I read on a design blog that if you try and try and absolutely can’t ever keep back the mess, you have too much stuff.

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3. Let go of your desire for a magazine or Apartment Therapy-worthy house; instead find out what’s pretty and calming for you and learn to enjoy that. Your style may not be trendy or be what someone else loves, and that’s okay!

A good way to start making your place feel cozy is to display items that have special meaning to you. For me, this is often a piece of art from my parents or something we collected from our travels. For you it could be your grandmother’s cross stitch or your nephew’s artwork or curtains you sewed yourself. Put at least one meaningful-to-you item in every room of your house. Not sure how to display these items? Check out The Nester’s series on 31 Days of Vignettes.

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4. Paint works wonders. A coat of paint on the walls changes a whole room. If you can’t paint walls, try your furniture. Picture frames. Shelves. Even jars or knickknacks can be brightened up with paint (I love colors like turquoise but when in doubt, I go with white). This is a good search for Pinterest. I had a shelf from India I liked but felt like it was a little dark. So I gave it a makeover with a four dollar paint sample from Lowe’s, hung it in the dining room, and it looks like a whole different piece. It makes me so happy.

Before:

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After:

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5. You need natural light. If you have a dark house with few windows, maximize those windows. I feel depressed in houses where blinds are closed all day long. I understand closing them for energy-efficiency when you’re not home, but please don’t spend daytime hours in your house without pulling up the blinds and back the curtains. If your house is short on natural light you could also consider light wall colors and curtains to brighten it up.

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6. Find an outside spot and make it your happy place. If you have a matchbox sized patio or a shady corner of your yard, grab a couple plastic chairs and a little side table at a thrift store. Shop your house and make it cozy. Take a cup of tea or glass of wine out and just be. The fresh air will lift your mood and make you happy.

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7. Make your master bedroom (or wherever you sleep) a haven. David and I waited 10 years to do this (our bedroom was always our very lowest decorating priority), and, even though it’s not finished yet, for the first time we have a master bedroom we love. I can’t tell you how restful that is, how much I enjoying settling under my duvet at night with a book, and how I smile in the morning when I wake up and see our warm gray walls and reading corner and assortment of baskets.

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8. Finally, if you can afford it, have a monthly house budget: even just 20 bucks. Use it to buy a new plant or a can of paint or a string of lights for your bedroom. Hobby Lobby and other craft stores have fun quirky photo frames and you can use their weekly 40% off coupon to display a photo that makes you happy. I’d rather eat out less and invest in making my home a haven for our family. I’ve seen the fruit of that desire this year as we all realize we’d often rather just be home in our own backyard than go out somewhere.

Happy homemaking!

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day 15: take a deep breath.

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We’re half way through October and through the 31 Days Writing Challenge!

Shall we take a deep breath?

Thanks for being here with me this month. I spent the first half of the month talking about my process of finding Purposeful Simplicity: peeling back the layers, identifying the outside and the inside noise, remembering my identity, resting in who I am, not in what I do.

For the rest of this month, I’ll be really practical. I’ll talk about different areas of life and home that I’m trying to make Purposefully Simple. Click here for the first post in this series.

Happy mid-October!

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day 14: godly grief.

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas wordly grief produces death. – II Corinthians 7.10

I’ve talked thus far about what gets in the way of purposeful simplicity: outside noise and inside noise. Now . . . what to do with all this junk I’m facing as I realize just how noisy my life is?

Until I read the verse above it never occurred to me that I have a choice between the kinds of grief I feel: there’s godly grief (or sorrow), which as the apostle Paul says, produces repentance and leads to salvation without regret. This is the good kind of sorrow. It’s painful for a season, but the end of it is freedom and joy.

But there’s another kind of grief: worldly grief which produces death. I think this is the kind of sorrow that I usually experience, the sorrow that sees my sin and feels overwhelmed by it and despairs and never changes. Instead I busy myself more, so I don’t have to think about it so much. I get defensive, and say, “Well I’m trying my best; I’m not as bad as a I could be.” I work harder to do good things for God, hoping against hope the good will outweigh the bad that’s staining my life.

And here, my friends, is where I come to the real crossroads in my journey.

It’s hard enough to admit that I’m wrong. But many people are able to get this far, to admit that. But it’s a whole other thing entirely to humble myself and say, “Okay. I’ll change.” To accept the extravagant forgiveness God offers and lift up my head and smile for joy. And then to get up and life differently, little choice by little choice.

It’s easier to wallow. To think, I’m a terrible person; there’s something wrong with me to my core. I don’t deserve any better.

Do you understand that is not the gospel? It’s pride. It’s saying, “I have to earn my way.” It’s also unbelief, saying, “There’s no hope that the God of the universe could change me.” According to the Bible, those are two pretty serious sins.

And so here is where you and I have to stop and think and choose. We will have to do it over and over and over again in the Christian life. We will have to begin again in the gospel every day.

Will you choose godly grief with me? Will you choose to humble yourself and accept forgiveness and mercies fresh every morning, and then make the choice to change? Will you believe God is powerful enough to give victory over sin? Will you purposefully choose life?

It’s the path that makes all the difference.

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day 13: church noise.

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photo source

I want to talk about one more layer of noise that keeps us from a life of purposeful simplicity, and it’s church noise.

Christians have come to live lives that look very similar to that of everyone else, caught up in this vortex of busyness: we work, we go to school or home school, we do extra-curricular activities, we do outreach, we go to church events. We go, go, go and do, do do, our lives are filled-to-bursting with all this racing around.

We’re so scared of missing out on something that we say “yes” to everything. We put our kids in all kinds of activities so they’ll grow up with every opportunity possible. We become chauffeurs driving them around town. We wonder why we’re tired, burned-out, bored, and discontent. We complain to everyone around us about our busyness. We’ve forgotten how to be still.

And somehow we drag all of this baggage right into our churches. We do Bible studies and pot-lucks, and mission outreaches, and VBS, and Sunday school and serve on committees. We’re always being asked to participate more and volunteer more. And so it is that church becomes, more often than not, just another source of noise.

It’s easy to blame this on church leadership, but I’ll venture to suggest that we American Christians actually want this noise, even though we complain about it. We press our leadership to provide bigger and better — better programs for our kids, bigger youth group, better Sunday School teaching, more service projects and good causes. We cast blame when they’re not provided. We look around town and compare our church to other churches. We want what they have.

Here’s my fear in this cycle: My fear is that we’ve begun to equate church noise with Christianity.

I fear that we’re so busy doing things — good things, not-so-good things — and so busy demanding better, that we’ve lost our first love. We’re skimming the surface, rushing around like Martha, instead of sitting at the feet of Christ like Mary.

Church is not busyness.

Church is not bigger and better.

Church is not here to serve me or my family.

Church is not like the PTA or my gym or any other institution I show up to to receive services and demand my rights.

No, my friends. Church is way, way better.

Church should be a haven from purposeless busyness. It should be the one place that quiets the noise outside our hearts and the noise inside our hearts.

Church does not exist for my family; Church is the Bride of Christ, and we all exist as a body to worship Him.

My heart for Christians is that church be simple. That it be purposeful. Church is for worship of God and for reaching a hurting world.

How will we ever reach this world if we’re inviting non-believers into just one more cycle of purposeless busyness? They can get that at their country club.

I am not pointing a finger, saying that programs at church are wrong. What I’m pleading for is thoughtfulness. I’m asking that we not keep doing all of these activities without first asking the questions: “Does this help me worship God better? Does this help me reach people who don’t know Jesus?”

I’m asking that we as church leaders stop doing something just because we’ve always done it or because the church down the street does it, and evaluate what we’re doing — what we’re asking our church members to do, and to treat one another with great care.

By our requests for help are we pulling members into a cycle of busyness God is not calling them to? Are we taking them away from their families? Are we taking time away from sharing Christ with neighbors and coworkers? Are our outreach projects leading to actual living-and-breathing relationships with people? Do our church members have margin in their weeks for pursuing deep friendships with one another? Are our activities producing real, lasting fruit: Lives changed by the gospel and new believers in Christ?

My heart’s desire is to continue on this journey of purposeful simplicity, even when it goes against the grain, because if we as church leaders don’t model this kind of life, we can never ask folks in our body and folks outside our body to live it. If we don’t find our ultimate rest and identity and purpose in being rather than doing, if we don’t find delight and joy and laughter in a quiet life of loving just a few well and worshiping the God who saved us, then our preaching and teaching becomes hollow.

Christians often think being counter-cultural means avoiding immorality and doing good things. But I believe that to be truly counter-cultural in this day and age is to walk away from purpose-less busyness. That’s a life choice that people sit up and take notice of. It’s radically different. It’s something they start asking questions about: “Why don’t you do ______? Why are you so rested? Why are you so happy? How do you have time for hobbies? How do you have time for me? I want that too.”

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