If you were to have asked me, “How are you?” at the end of May or in the first few weeks of June, I would have responded, “Exhausted.” But I would have answered in a way that would have clued you in to the fact that I wasn’t just body-tired. It wasn’t anything that could be cured with a nap, or even a day off. I was soul tired.
You see — the last few years of my life have been my most productive ever. I’ve spent the last few years creating things that I’m deeply proud of — writing The Lipstick Gospel, writing a small group guide that’s helping women all over the country create the deep, soul-mate best friendships we all so desperately need. And in May I released something I’m so so excited about — an online course dedicated to helping women make the most of their single lives. (It’s coming back in September, so keep an eye out for it!)
And along the way, this community began to grow, and I began to grow as a writer and as the owner of a lovely little business, and along the way, that lovely little business started helping us pay our bills — which has been such a gift, I can’t even find the words.
But in the midst of all that productivity, I never stopped to rest. Partially because I didn’t think I could afford to, and mostly because I didn’t think rest was all that important.
People talk about rest a lot, especially these days, but every time I’d hear about it, or think about doing it for myself, I sort of thought it was a nice idea, but not worth moving things around for. I thought rest was like the sprinkles on top of an already totally fine ice cream cone. Nice, but not essential.
And that’s how I treated it in my day as well. The second my alarm went off in the morning, I’d hit the ground running. I had a long to-do list of things that absolutely had to get done. And at the end, almost as a courtesy, or a pity invite, I’d include, “Rest.” But we all know… the things at the bottom of the to-do list never, EVER get done.
This is how I’ve been doing things for as long as I can remember. And then in June, I finally realized I needed to make a change.
Thankfully, oh my gosh, thankfully, nothing huge broke. I didn’t lose my marriage, or my relationship with God, or my best friends, or my family in the process.
But I did lose something incredibly significant — I lost touch with the woman I really believe I was created to be.
You see — when I describe myself, I’m a joy girl. I’m someone who deeply loves life, the big things, but especially the little things. I cry at everything — not because I’m sad, but because my heart swells, and grows at the littlest glimpse of goodness.
Carl made me an amazing grilled cheese sandwich one time, and it was so good, tears filled my eyes as I shoved it in my mouth and tried to explain why it was so positively life-changing all at the same time. I was just overwhelmed by the deliciousness of it. And this is how I love to live life.
I’m at my best when I’m living this way — actually being there in each moment, taking time to savor the beautiful things, and really feel the hard things — allowing them to shape me, and teach me, and make me better along the way.
But this is the self I lost touch with completely in the midst of so much productivity. There wasn’t time to notice, wasn’t time to savor, wasn’t time to breathe, wasn’t time to feel.
It was all “Do,” leaving absolutely zero time for, “Be.” And in June, it finally hit me: I’d lost the very best part of me, and I had no idea how to get her back.
And so as I was heading into summer this year, I decided that I actually needed to rest. But I didn’t just need to rest, I needed to learn how to rest, because truthfully, I didn’t even know.
So… after 5 weeks of trying it out myself, here are some surprising things I learned along the way.
1. Busyness happens on its own. Rest does not.
This is the first, and biggest thing I learned about rest. It doesn’t just happen on its own. I think I thought that my body would instinctively take the rest it needed. Almost like breathing. My body needs air, my body gets air. I don’t even have to instruct it. It just does it on its own.
But at least for me, rest is not that way. My natural bent is productivity, is getting things done, is checking things off the list. And so if I give myself a day, or some space, I’m going to use it as productively as I possibly can, thinking that maybe there will be some time to rest when I’m done.
But that’s the trick. We’re never done. Our to-do list is never empty. There is always something else. And so if rest is going to happen, it needs to happen even when we feel like we’re not done, even when there’s more to do.
Here are two quick tricks I’ve been playing with this summer that have helped tremendously:
a. Include rest in the schedule
As you’re planning out your day, schedule in time for rest. Block it off, put your phone on silent and flip it over, and then do whatever the thing is you need to do to feel rested. But give it a space high up on your to-do list (not at the bottom), and carve out space in your day that is specifically for resting.
b. Create a to-don’t list
A to-don’t list is simple. It’s just a list of things you’re not going to do — things that are great, but not needed today. Or that might be needed today, but the world isn’t going to fall apart if you don’t do them. To-don’t lists are one of my favorite new tricks. So if you’re feeling stressed and over-committed, try making one! They feel deliciously rebellious, but they’re actually really important. Not everything gets to be essential today, and you’re helping yourself figure out what is.
Regardless of what tools you use to schedule in rest, make sure you schedule in rest. I’m convinced it’s the only way it actually happens.
2. Rest looks different for everyone, and it looks different in different seasons
One of the things I really wanted to start doing again this summer was to listen to myself. Instead of shoving my needs away, tossing them a cookie and telling them I’d get to them later, I wanted to start actually listening again. I wanted to be in tune with my body and my heart enough to know what I need, and I wanted to actually start responding accordingly.
It was a tough thing to do — it felt totally counter-intuitive at first — but slowly it got easier. I started to get to know myself again, slowly but surely.
I started asking myself kindly, “What do you need, sweet girl?” And then I’d do the things my heart, my body, my soul were telling me they needed.
The needs were different depending on the week, and depending on what was going on. But I was so surprised to notice that I knew what I needed to rest, I just hadn’t been taking time to listen.
Some things I noticed overall are that I need some quiet time every single day. I need time with God — to read, and pray, and journal. If I don’t have that, I feel frayed and disconnected all day. So quiet times became an essential part of my new rhythm of rest.
Exercise is the same way. Nothing calms my heart down like a good, long walk, and so all summer I’ve been walking as much as possible.
And the thing about this is that rest looks different for each of us in different moments, in different seasons. So what may work for me, may not work for you. Or what may work for you today, might not work for you tomorrow.
But I think if we can slow things down enough to look into ourselves and kindly say, “Sweet girl, what do you need today?” and actually give her those things, beautiful things start to happen. And that brings us to number three!
3. Rest ACTUALLY helps. It makes the rest of life so much better.
Yesterday I was booking a plane ticket home to go meet my baby. Okay, he’s not my baby, but he’s my best friend’s baby, which almost feels like the same thing. And so I was booking a ticket to head home, and I was talking to Carl about whether I should go for a week, or just a weekend. A week was actually cheaper than just a weekend, and I can work from anywhere, so that’s not an issue. But I just felt like a bad wife for leaving him alone for so long!
But the way he responded really told me something. He said, “Steph, you being gone for a week is actually better for me, because when you’re around your people it makes you so happy, and it fills you up so much, that that’s great for me. When you’re happy, I’m happy, and this makes you happy. So the best thing you can do for me is to fill yourself up this way.”
And really, that’s what I’ve come to realize about rest this summer.
Everything in my life is better when I’m rested, including me. I’m kinder, more patient, more loving. I laugh more, I notice how beautiful the world is, I connect with God better, I’m a much better writer, I’m a much better wife and friend.
I thought that my ability to hustle, and perform, and get it all done was what would make me a good wife, a good friend, a good writer.
But that’s just not the case.
It’s when I’m present, and I’m full, and I’m connected that I have the very best things to give away — and those things only come out of rest.
I’m at my very best for me, but also for you when I’m rested. So the very best thing I can do for both of us is just that.
And trust me — it still feels totally counter-intutitive sometimes, but I’m getting there. Day by day, I’m retraining my mind, teaching myself to rest, and watching beautiful things flow from the fullness and grace it creates.
Sweet friend, how do you rest? Do you have any tricks of your own for making rest a priority? Pop them in the comments below, I’d love to hear about them!
P.S. I’d love to tell you about all the things that brought my heart back to life this summer! Head on over to Instagram where I told the whole story, bit by bit!