Backup Plans

My default status is caution. Let’s just get that out front and in the open right away. I want to know every option available to me and have a detailed plan before I do anything.

This is beneficial in many ways and has saved me in the past from going down paths that I didn’t need to be going down. When I’ve thought through as many options as possible and gotten as much data as I could I’ve often made better decisions.

There are inherent downsides as well. Sometimes I miss out on great opportunities or I am too slow in making important decisions because I’m so focused on making the right one (and not wanting to be wrong).

Can anyone else out there relate? Raise your hand if you’re with me. 🖐️

Where It Gets Tricky

Both of my children want to be a part of the entertainment industry. My son wants to be an actor. My daughter, on the other hand, is much more inclined towards the makeup, costuming, and art side of things.

I would guess that I side with the majority of parents out there when I say I want my children to excel in everything they do. My wish for them is that they would be happy, healthy, and able to do the things they love. I don’t think that’s bad or unhealthy on my part. There is nothing wrong with wanting your kids to succeed.

Here’s where my desire to be cautious ends up throwing a wrench in the system.

You’ve all heard the stories of the want-to-be-entertainer who left home with stars in their eyes, showed up in New York or Los Angeles, and just basically tried to survive with part-time jobs while they waited for their “big break.” I can almost guarantee you that for a majority of those people, their “big break” never came. I don’t have stats to back up that claim, I just feel like it’s true. Just showing up somewhere does not mean that you will succeed there. Proximity to a culture does not entrench you in it.

I’ve told Trae thousands of times that I believe in him and that I want him to succeed. I’ve let him know that he has the skills and talents to do the things he wants to do. That’s not lip service or the “you-can-do-anything-you-set-your-mind-to” lie we sell to people. He actually, really does.

On the flip side, I’ve also told him a number of times what I didn’t want for him. I’ve told him that I didn’t want him to follow the same “big break” plan. I’ve let him know that one of my fears is that he’d have to try to afford to pay for some crazy expensive, super tiny apartment on a part-time salary while he hopes that this or that role would come through. I’ve told him (in no uncertain terms really) that he needs other plans outside of acting so that he can take care of himself while he waits for the acting thing to pay off.

I’ve told him that he needs backup plans.

On it’s face, this seems like sage advice. It’s good to have something in your back pocket that you can fall back on should you need it. It doesn’t feel like this is inherently bad or evil. But underneath …

My Role

One of the great things about life is that it is a constant classroom. You can always learn something from someone in just about any situation.

Just the other day I learned that, as a leader, it is my job in all situations to be coach, counselor, and cheerleader to those I lead. Parenting is no different. It’s my job to prepare my children for what the world will throw their way. I need to let them know that the world is tough, that no one owes them anything, and that the industry they want to be a part of is a cutthroat business. It’s my responsibility to prepare them for what lies ahead and then let them go to live in their abilities to make their thing happen. I need to be there for them when they have questions and be able to talk them through what they are experiencing. I need to be their biggest supporter in all things.

What my job is not is to project my own fears and insecurities onto their dreams. What kind of help do I provide in doing that? What good does it do? What does it tell them about my belief in them and the skills, talents, and God-given abilities they have if I tell them that they need to have some other plan because chances are what they want to do won’t work out?

All that does is show my children that I don’t believe that they can do what it is that they want to do. That I don’t trust enough in the skills, talents, ability, and work ethic they have been gifted with to be able to succeed. Every time I do this I place a little bit more of my doubt on top of the already heavy weight of their dreams. It makes it just that much harder for them to break through to a place where they believe.

That is no way to lead them.

Their gifts and talents were given to them by God. And here I am trying to supplant God and tell my kids that I have a better plan for their lives. That they better watch out because I’m not sure that what God has put in their heart is enough to sustain them. I’m ultimately showing my children and the world that I don’t really trust God to be able to take care of them. God gave my children to me to raise up and train and to provide my knowledge to them but he didn’t do that so that I would stop trusting Him with them. If I can trust God with my life (and I do) then why can’t I trust Him with their lives?

Unquenchable and Unwavering

At the end of the day I want my children to have an unquenchable desire for what they are called to do and an unwavering belief that they will succeed. God has given them everything they need for that to happen.

Maybe they will end up doing exactly what they are thinking they will do right now. Maybe they won’t. Maybe their dreams will change. That’s okay. They’re kids. They don’t have to have it all figured out yet. Shoot, I didn’t know what I really wanted to do as a career until the end of my sophomore year in college. Why do I insist on them having it figured out as teenagers?

The important thing for me is that I don’t squash their dreams. That in my fear of life I don’t make them fear theirs. That I always provide a safe place for them should their plans not work out. I need to provide direction as a coach, wisdom as a counselor, and support as a cheerleader. Then I just need to get out of the way and watch what God does.

It’s going to be awesome.

True Worship

The Lord says: “These people come near me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.”

– Isaiah 29:13

As long as I have been on staff, every December at NewSpring we have a three day conference that we call the Staff Leadership Conference or SLC. The purpose of this time is for the staff to take a step back, catch our breath from the day-to-day ministry that we do, and learn from some of the best leaders in the country.

Typically during this conference we have “worship” right at the start of each day. This, just like in church on Sunday, is meant to draw us in to the presence of God in order to hear the words that He would speak to us through whoever is communicating.

Last year, on one afternoon during the conference, we also had one whole session, a solid hour, of nothing but worship.

For me, this was one of the best sessions of the entire conference. I raised my hands, I shouted, and I begged God to see His face. I cried. I heard God speak very intimately with me. It was amazing.

More Than A Song

There is a connection between myself and my God that is at its strongest when I am in those moments. I hear things from God that I don’t typically hear. Perhaps my guard is down. Perhaps I’ve opened myself up to more of the His Spirit. Whatever it is, I can hear and see God an order of magnitude better during these times.

But I’ve learned that worship is more than just the songs we sing during a service.

Worship is how we treat our family before we get to church on Sunday morning. Worship is how we steward our money. Worship is what we say and do when that guys cuts us off in traffic, what we look at when no one else is home, and how we love on our mother-in-laws when they come in town for a visit.

So many times we sing to the Lord on Sunday with full hearts that shout about His great love and how we want to worship Him for eternity, but we don’t want to worship him at our jobs on Monday. We will cry like a baby with our hands raised high but we will get angry with the girl who messed up our $4 coffee order on Tuesday. We may not outwardly say anything to her or we’ll tell her it’s okay, but inside our heart is seething. “How dare she? Doesn’t she know who I am? Doesn’t she know I’ve got someplace to be?!?!”

What’s going on inside of you is much more worship than what is coming out of your mouth.

The Lord knows the heart. He can split marrow and bone. What’s inside of you, “the parts you don’t like to talk about at parties,” says Colonel Jessep from A Few Good Men, that’s true worship. God says that our hearts are far from Him.

Words vs. Motives

Outwardly, what we say sounds like God. But inwardly, we sound more like Satan. We go through the motions of worship on the outside because that’s what we’ve been taught to do.

  • “Yes, ma’am.”
  • “No, sir.”
  • “I’m sorry.”
  • “I’ll pray for you.”

These are all things we’ve been taught to say and do but I question them. We say these things because we think they sound polite (and they do) but if we don’t mean them or believe them, what’s the point? If our heart isn’t in it, if we’re just doing it because that’s what we were taught to do, then it’s just rote memorization and physical memory. It’s not worship.

One thing I think I’ve gotten right as a parent is that I’ve always told my kids that when they hurt someone they should apologize for hurting them. But I told them that I never wanted them to say “I’m sorry” if they didn’t mean it. I want to teach them to actually be sorry, not just say they were.

Words are just words. If you don’t mean them they are just trite contritions and wasted breath. People can see through your bull crap. They know, deep down, if you mean what you say or not. Don’t let your words just be lip service. Mean what you say or don’t say it at all.

I feel like that is kind of how God sees us and what He is getting at in the verse above. Mean what you say. It has to come from somewhere inside your heart, not just words that come out of your mouth.

Overflow

A quick warning then I’ll be done:

A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.

– Luke 6:45

Other versions have it: “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.”

This is basically saying that what comes in also goes out. Garbage in, garbage out. Just be careful that the things you are filling your heart with are the things that you’re okay with saying out loud. Because they will come out of your mouth. Probably when you least expect it.

Excuses, Excuses

Excuses Excuses Photo by Drew Beamer on Unsplash

This was supposed to be a mid-year recap but I honestly don’t have much to share. I haven’t really made progress on any of the goals that I set for myself at the beginning of the year. It’s not that I don’t want to. Far from it. I wouldn’t have made the goals I did if I didn’t want to achieve them. I really do want them to come to fruition.

So what happened? Well … we had just bought a house last year and that means that our expenses have increased so it’s been really hard to find the money to pay off our debts. We have been so busy with the theatre and superhero things that I haven’t had the time to just sit down and write my book. Along with the busyness comes late nights and that makes it really hard to get up in the morning to workout, which leads to rushed meals and just eating whatever I can rather than planning out good meals to eat. The list goes on …

Blah, Blah, Blah

I have a lot of excuses, don’t I? Let’s be honest, we all do. I’d wager that for a lot of us, whenever we fail, that is our go-to thing to do.

It’s someone else’s fault. It’s the circumstances of our lives. We didn’t succeed because of this, that, or the other thing.

Excuses are just a way of shifting the focus of attention for something undesirable onto someone or something else.

We jump to excuses immediately because we don’t like the feeling of failure. We don’t like it when we let other people (or even ourselves) down. We find it easier on our own hearts to put the blame somewhere other than where it needs to be.

Why? Because then we won’t be the one that’s in trouble. Excuses are easy. Excuses make us feel better about ourselves.

Excuses are poison.

What is the Truth?

Here’s the thing about excuses: excuses are almost always not the truth.

The truth is that although I want to succeed with my goals, I haven’t made the time or put forth the effort it would take to make them happen. They are hard goals and they require sacrifices I have been unwilling to make up until this point.

The truth is that I haven’t made my goals a priority. I haven’t put my goals on my calendar with a deadline. I haven’t placed them in front of me so that I can see them on a regular basis.

The truth is that my lack of success, my failure, is my responsibility. It’s not my circumstances. It’s not the people around me. It’s mine. It is my job to make sure my goals get met. It is my job to make the necessary arrangements in time, money, and effort to make them a reality.

So What Now?

Now I’m left with a decision. When I’ve removed the excuses and owned up to the fact that I own the responsibility for my actions (or inactions), all that’s left for me to do is to make a decision. I can either decide that the things I thought were important to me are no longer important and I can let them go, or I can decide that these things really are important, that I really want to accomplish them, and that it’s time to get to work. That’s it. It’s the only thing left.

I want to choose to get to work. Like I said earlier, I wouldn’t have set the goals if they weren’t important.

This means that if I want to get out of debt then I need to determine how much debt I have and what I can do to pay it all back. I’ve got to figure out where I can cut back on my lifestyle. I’ve got to determine where I need to make more money.

If I want to really write a book then I’ve got to stop playing around with watching TV or whatever it is that I do with all my time. I need to start writing … even if that means dedicating a whole day on a weekend (while still sticking to my rest schedule, of course). I need to put the time on my calendar and get to work.

No matter what it is that I want, the fact that I don’t have it is no one else’s fault but my own. The same is true for you. It’s time we all owned up to that. It’s time for us to start getting busy toward our goals.

It’s time to get to work. Anything else is just an excuse.

Rest: A Wrap Up

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

— Matthew 11:28-30 (NIV)

Introduction

So often we live without hope.

We think something that has been one way our entire life means that we are destined to carry on that tradition until we die. There is this idea that once we experience a certain pattern of behavior or circumstances that it (or we) can never change. “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” and all that.

The truth is we’re believing a lie. It doesn’t have to be that way. Our lives can change. We can change. It is possible to no longer have to follow the ways of old. To break patterns that we’ve held and lived with for so long.

One such pattern is how we rest. Or don’t rest, as it were. We all live with an energy debt that we can’t seem to pay back. We’ve lived this way for years. Our debt keeps growing and growing every day and yet, we don’t seem to do anything about it. Like the Energizer™ bunny of old we just keep going, and going, and going. We know it’s not good for us. We know we need to stop. But we don’t. We can’t. Or, at least, we don’t think we can.

What the World Tells Us

Look around you. Is there anything in your world that is telling you that it’s okay for you to rest? All around us shouts the messages of “work harder” and “hustle.” Cities are alive twenty four hours a day. We even have a city with the nickname “The City That Never Sleeps.” Our society tells us that if we only have one job, if we don’t have something on the side then we’re doing it wrong. We have TV shows we can binge watch anytime we want to. We have devices that have almost been permanently grafted into our hands. We don’t even know what it’s like to be bored anymore.

We’ve got to stop looking to the world as our example. There is a different way of life. There is a way to find rest … for our bodies and for our souls.

If you can look past the haze of society you can see that what’s real is that we can find rest. The reality is that we can stop and catch our breath. It won’t be easy or convenient. If you’ve been living according to the ways of this world then I can guarantee you that it won’t feel natural at first. That’s okay. What’s important right now is knowing that it is possible to pay back the energy debt that we’ve incurred over the years; that you can put a plan in place to make that happen.

Setting Expectations

As you well know, paying back a debt takes time. You won’t do it all in one day. It’s going to take you a while to catch up. One weekend away will not pay back your debt. One week of vacation will not give you a surplus to live from right away.

What will work is consistent, intentionally chosen rest over a long period of time. Debt is hard to pay off but if you are consistent in not adding any new debt and in paying on time you will eventually pay it off … even if you only make the minimum payment. So it is with your energy debt. If you consistently give yourself rest when you need it, even when it interferes with what you’d rather be doing, you will see the benefits of a life no longer shackled by that debt down the road.

Previously on …

So what did we learn during this series? Here’s a quick refresher:

  • Our problem is that we don’t know how to rest. We are finite creatures who only have a certain amount of energy before we need to rest and we constantly push that boundary. Doing more than we should. Going longer than we should. In doing so, over time, we have created an energy debt that seems insurmountable.
  • Rest is the act of being refreshed. Of recovering. Of gaining energy. Rest is not(or doesn’t have to be) just sitting still. The trick is to finding (and doing) the things that you love doing and that give you energy. The hard part is staying away from all the things that are on your list that you have to get done. Rest is “I get to” not “I have to.”
  • God knew we would need to rest so He went first and showed us the way. So now we rest because God rested. He knew we wouldn’t do it of our own volition, so He commanded that we do it. So now we rest as an act of obedience.
  • Out of all of that, a new thought arises. What if we’ve gotten rest backwards? Is it possible that all this time we’ve worked from a place of energy deficiency, but it’s actually possible to have an energy surplus? What if we followed patterns of rest that allowed us to rest for the work we are going to do and not from the work we just did? We can build up a surplus of rest. It is possible.
  • There are some ground rules to our rest. The first being that you can’t plan anything before you rest. You also need to schedule your rest – put it on your calendar now. If you don’t, you won’t. Lastly, if you have a spouse and/or kids, bring them along for the ride too. You can do things by yourself, and that’s important, but don’t leave out your family from enjoying rest with you.
  • There are four ways that we can use to pay back our energy debt and eventually start to live from a surplus. In order of importance those are sleep, sabbath, vacation, and sabbatical. One can build upon the other. Without good sleep, taking a sabbatical won’t really help you. It’ll be nice to have some time away, but you’re not getting the most benefit from the sabbatical. Unless you’re burned out and need time off as a drastic measure to allow yourself to properly function, you should focus on making sure you’re getting the proper rest in the order above. Start with making sure you’re sleeping well (7-9 hours per night) and move on from there.

Conclusion

As we wrap up this series, my desire is that you would see for yourself, to know in your heart, that there is hope. I want you to believe that rest is possible. I want you to believe that we don’t have to live from a burned out state anymore.

A few last tidbits:

  • There are many ways in which we can rest. I named four, but there are probably others. Take the time to find the ways that work for you.
  • Make rest a priority. You have the time. You may not think that you do … but you do. It’s worth setting other things aside in order to make this work. You can’t keep going on the way that you have. Something has to give.
  • Be intentional. Do this rest thing on purpose. Once you’ve set aside the time to rest then actually rest. You’ll thank yourself later.
  • Have hope, my friends. We can pay back the energy debt we owe and live from an energy surplus. We can rest for the work we’re going to do as opposed to resting from the work we just did.

Thanks for coming along on this ride with me. I learned a lot writing this series and I hope you learned a lot in reading it. I’m in this with you. You are my allies. Together we can find the rest we need. All of our lives will be better for it.

Burnout (a.k.a. 'Drastic Measures')

“If you’re wondering whether you’re burned out, you already are.”

— Sean McCabe

Four days.

It’s nearing the end of June and I’ve only taken 4 vacation days so far this year.

My math isn’t exact, but as of this writing we’ve had approximately 120 working days so far this year. Out of those 120 days I’ve taken a couple sick days (because my allergies are horrible in the spring here in South Carolina), we’ve had something like 3 paid holidays where I work, and I’ve taken just 4 vacation days.

To top it all off, those vacation days weren’t even strung together. I took 2 days are the very beginning of the year, 1 day a couple months later (for something … I can’t even remember), and a couple of afternoons for various things I needed to do or be at.

I have yet to string together any significant amount of time for rest from work for almost 6 full months.

I’m starting to feel it.

I’m not saying all of this in any way to boast. I’m also not some type of martyr. I’m just not very smart. I’m still learning. In fact, I’m writing this series of posts on rest not just to help you, but to help me.

Remember when I said that I was hesitant to mention vacation time as a practical way to rest? It’s because I have a hard time taking vacation time and using it to rest.

I’ve come to realize that I have a scarcity mindset when it come to vacation time. I want to save it and care for it and not use it. I feel like there will be something that will happen that will require my use of it for something other than rest. I’ll need time off from work for this or that thing and if I take my vacation time and use it for rest then what will I use when I actually need to take off for some other unexpected event? When it comes to vacation time, I live in the land of “What If?”

Suffice it to say that I don’t do vacation well and it’s leading me to burnout.

What is burnout?

“Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress,” says this article by Help Guide.

It’s my opinion (and I’m not a doctor) but the importance here isn’t so much on the “excessive” as it is the “prolonged.” A constant stressor or stressors over an extended period of time without a break (or rest) is the main cause of the problem. Yes, an excessive amount of weight can quicken the pace, but it’s been my experience that it’s the slow, long, drawn out kind of stress that leads to the biggest burnouts. You just don’t notice it creeping up on you until it’s too late.

Pretty much anyone can hold a weight, even a heavy one, for a short period of time. But they won’t be able to hold it forever. Even the lightest of weights will eventually need to be put down in order to give the muscles a chance to rest.

It’s the same with life. We can all handle some form or fashion of stress, of weight put upon our shoulders. At some point though, we all have to be able to put down that weight for a time in order to rest and recuperate. The purpose of this rest is a temporarily relief of the burden of stress in order to come back stronger and be able to handle more stress the next time around.

Some ways you can know you’re on the road to burnout:

  • You are exhausted all the time. You feel like it takes all of the energy you have just to get out of bed in the morning.
  • You have a loss of motivation. The things that once brought you joy no longer make you happy.
  • You start skipping out of work. Coming in late and leaving early on a more regular basis.
  • You start withdrawing from your responsibilities everywhere.
  • You notice a change in your eating or sleeping habits.
  • You constantly feel like a failure and defeated.

For me, I can tell when I’m starting to hit the burnout wall because I start to feel like not going in to work. I love my job and I feel like I’m doing good work the majority of the time. When I start thinking “I really don’t want to go in to work tomorrow,” that’s a clear sign to me that I’m getting close to the burnout stage.

An item of note: A lot of these symptoms of burnout sound a lot like symptoms of depression, don’t they? I don’t think that’s a coincidence. One of the things that can lead to a full-blown bout of depression is burnout. Burnout is no joke and should be taken seriously.

Why is burnout a problem?

Like depression, burnout and the symptoms it displays are a problem because it affects your whole life. You can’t compartmentalize it. The stressor might be only coming from one place but it affects everyone and everything around you.

You might be stressed at work but when your kids do something that annoys you, you lash out in anger that you just can’t seem to control. Your family life might be the source of your stress, but it affects you in such a strong emotional way that you just can’t get out of bed … which affects your work performance (and maybe your paycheck).

What can you do to recover?

So if you identified with some of the symptoms above and are starting to feel like you might be burned out, what can you do? I have some thoughts.

  • Identify the stressors: Take a long hard look at your life and determine what it is right now that is causing the majority of your stress. What is it that you absolutely need a break from?
  • Gimme a break: You need to take time off as soon as possible. You can’t keep doing the same things over and over again and expect different results. You need to get away from whatever is the primary culprit to your burnout. It could be work, family, extracurricular activities, or something else perhaps. Whatever the case, it’s imperative that you take a break from whatever it is that’s causing the majority of your stress. And you need to do it now.
  • You can start small: If you’re only starting to feel like you might be getting burned out, maybe just start with a small time away. If it’s work or family, maybe a short weekend away where you only do the things you love to do is enough to get you started back on the road to recovery. If it’s an extracurricular activity or something else, perhaps it’s time to take a month off. Just a short break to get things back in order.
  • Go big: On the other hand, if you are in full out burnout mode then you need to take more drastic measures. It’s time to go all in on rest. You need time away from your stressor as soon as possible. If you can, make this a real, large, extended time. Two weeks at least. You’re probably going to use that vacation time, but it’ll be well worth it.
  • This isn’t just an escape: Family or relational stress is tough and it’s real. The thing is, you just can’t up and leave your family for a month as an escape from the stress. But you can identify what it is about your family that is causing your stress, take time away from everything else, and work on that problem. Maybe it’s a week away with your significant other where you talk through all the things. Maybe everyone in your family is all on edge and you all just need a way to work some fun into your lives again. The big deal here is that you can’t just run away from your problems. You need to face them. No matter how much time you take away, if the problem isn’t handled, then you’re just going to come back to the same problem. Which isn’t going to relieve your stress long-term. What we’re looking for is long-term recovery.

Note: Generally speaking, you can follow the plan I’ve laid out in the other posts as a way to catch up and pay back your energy debt. In case of burnout, those rules really don’t apply. You have to do any and everything that you possibly can to find rest and recovery as quickly as possible.

What can you do to prevent it?

I’m reminded of a couple of quotes here:

The best defense is a good offense.

… and …

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

They might sound cliché but they are 100% true. Once you’ve done everything you can to recover from the initial burnout you’ve got to put some guard rails in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again. So what can you do?

  • Take time off regularly: You’ve got to make rest a priority going forward. Sleep. Sabbath. Vacation. Sabbaticals. These are all the building blocks of a life without burnout. Use them as often as possible.
  • Have a check in: Set up a regularly scheduled check in with yourself to see how you’re doing. It doesn’t have to be every day or even every week. But set aside some time once a month or so just to make sure that you’re still in a good spot. Identify any early stressors and do what you can to handle them before they become a problem.
  • Talk to a counselor: They are trained to handle situations like this and can help you decide the best course of action going forward. They can help you make the best decisions and can keep you on the right path moving forward.

Now breathe.

Whew! Thanks for hanging in there with me on this one. Burnout is serious and it’s important that we take our time and do it justice. It’s important to identify if you’re burned out, take the necessary (even hard) steps it takes to recover, and then put up those guard rails to keep yourself (and everyone around you) healthy.

I’ll be back next week to wrap up this series on rest. Don’t miss out on the exciting conclusion!

Practical Ways to Rest - The Bonus Episode

Thanks for coming back! As I mentioned last week, we’re going to cover a special bonus way to rest today. If you missed any of the other posts in this series, please start by catching up with the links below. You could probably read this post on it’s own, but it will make so much more sense in the context of all the other ones.

For some of us, an essential ingredient is missing from our rest recipe. Our toolbox of rest is missing one key item that inhibits us from getting the rest we truly need.

The one thing we’re missing, is sleep.

The Problem With Sleep

There are probably as many reasons that people don’t sleep as there are people. I’m sure that everyone has a reason.

For some, it’s probably something like F.O.M.O. What will they miss if they go to bed now? I know that’s a big deal when it comes to sporting events that go late into the night. For others, maybe it’s habitual and they stay up binge watching things and they don’t realize how late it is.

Maybe it’s those little ones that keep us up at night. Or maybe something really good (or really bad) has happened in our lives and we can’t sleep because at this moment all we can do is lie in bed and think about that thing.

There are people who work second jobs, or side hustles and they stay up late trying to get things done. Then there are others who just legitimately have difficulty falling asleep.

Caffeine plays a legitimate role in our inability to sleep as well. We consume caffeine at an incredible rate and if taken too close to when we need to be sleeping, could be the cause of us staring at the ceiling, wondering why our brains won’t shut off.

Another culprit is the proliferation of electronic devices we use late into the night. The blue light from our phones and TV’s can delay the release of the wonderful, sleep-inducing chemical melatonin. When we don’t get right amount of melatonin, we don’t get the right amount (or quality) of sleep. Other research is starting to suggest that the proliferation of “blue light” is affecting our sight.

There are probably many other reasons I can’t even think of but whatever the case, we tend to not sleep, or to not sleep well.

The Most Important Time of the Day

Why is this important? Our lack of sleep is hurting us and ultimately, is adding to our energy debt that we so desperately want to pay off.

We’ve heard all of our lives that we are supposed to sleep for 6-8 hours each day. Do we really need that much sleep? According to a study by the National Sleep Foundation, the answer is yes.

The researchers studied over 300 scientific publications regarding sleep and created a chart, spelling out for us the optimal sleep times for people of all different ages. For the average adult, 7-9 hours of sleep is recommended.

There has been other research done that suggests that our bodies function best in 90 minute sleep cycles. In these “sleep cycles” we go through all the stages of sleep and we wake up on the other side more refreshed and energized. This suggests that if we sleep for 6 or 7.5 hours we would wake up and have more energy than if we wake up in the middle of a sleep cycle after the typical 8 hours of sleep.

On top of all of this, there are the health problems that occur when you don’t sleep well. As well as a myriad of health benefits that go along with a good nights sleep. One of the most important of these is that your body heals itself while you are asleep.

When you lift weights during a workout you actually tear your muscle fibers. It’s only during sleep, when your muscles are resting, that the body is able to come in and heal those tears, repair the muscle, and help it to grow back bigger and stronger.

If you want your body to function properly, be able to heal itself, and come back stronger, then you need to sleep. It is essential for you to have the best quality of life.

A New Routine

So what can we do? Is there any hope for us?

I believe there is, but it’s going to take some work on our part. It might not be easy and it probably won’t be convenient. It’s worth it though. Your rest and your energy debt will thank you.

If you don’t already have a nighttime routine, it’s time to create one. If you have one already, let’s change it up to actually work for you. Creating habits around bedtime will eventually make it so that you don’t even have to think about what it is that you need to do or when you need to do it. It will just come naturally to you. Not at first, mind you, but it will come.

What does this routine look like?

  • Say Goodnight to Caffeine: For starters, no more caffeine at least 3 hours before you go to bed. Research suggests that it takes 6 hours for half the caffeine you consume to be eliminated from your body. You have to stop stimulating your body so that it can create the natural chemicals it needs to rest.
  • Shut Down: Begin shutting down phones, TV’s, and other devices at least an hour before bed. This gives you time for the blue light issues we talked about earlier to work themselves out.
  • Rearrange your schedule: You probably won’t be able to stay up so late anymore. Determine the best time for you to wake up and work backwards from there. If you need 7.5 hours of sleep and you need to get up at 6am, then you know that you have to be asleep no later than 10:30pm. If you’re shutting down your electronics an hour before bed, that means that you’re new bedtime routine starts at 9:30. If you’re used to going to bed at midnight or later, this is going to be a big change.
  • Read a book: Consider spending some time reading a book before bed. It will give you something to do that isn’t looking at a screen and it will help you wind down. There is something about reading that makes me sleepy at any time of the day. When I read before I go to bed, it’s pretty much lights out for me.
  • Lavender: It’s been shown that lavender is a calming scent and can aid in sleep. If you’re really struggling, maybe consider a diffuser or some other way to incorporate lavender into your nighttime routine.
  • Know Yourself: It’s important that you know your tendencies and what it takes for you to sleep. There are some people that can fall asleep really easily (raises hand) but there are others that just naturally have a harder time. If that’s you, your nighttime routine might need to start earlier than others. Form habits around the things that you know work for you when it comes to falling asleep and make them a part of your routine.

Our lack of sleep is probably the #1 cause of our lack of rest and the highest contributor to our energy debt. From an “amount of time resting” perspective, this should truly come before Sabbaths. Without sleep the other things we’ve talked about really don’t matter. If we aren’t sleeping, we will continue to create a deficit in our energy needs … even while taking a sabbatical.

But here’s the good news, you have a choice. You don’t have to be a victim of poor sleep. Changing your routine can help lead to better, more restful sleep overall.

One note for us all: If you’ve changed your routine and you still find yourself struggling with sleep, don’t be afraid to seek out a doctor. There could be a legitimate medical condition that is affecting your ability to rest.

Next week we’re going to talk about one of the biggest problems we could face when it comes to having a large energy debt and how it can throw this entire series of posts out the window. Caveats abound! See you then.