Mommy! Mom! Mommy! Mommy! M-o-o-o-o-m!
This is how my eight-year-old daughter likes to get my attention. All she wants is for me to set aside my phone, put down the dirty dish I am cleaning or the piece of laundry I am folding, and listen to her, fully and completely. There are moments, too many than I would like to admit, when I lose my patience and snap at her, “Just a minute!” However, when I do stop, when I do put down the phone or dirty dish and focus my attention on her, I find the kind of peace that comes from truly connecting with one of my children.
My daughter—in fact, all of my three children—love it when I can dedicate time just to be with them and listen to them. But it can be very hard to carve out the time for this kind of conversation. On any given day, my husband and I race home from work just in time to pick up one (or more) of our kids and take them to an activity—soccer, gymnastics, scouts, basketball. Or we race home so that we can go to an activity of our own like choir rehearsal or a parish committee meeting. By the time we get back, it’s eight o’clock, and we are hurriedly scrounging to put something on the table for dinner.
My dad will often look at our family’s schedule and say, “You need to slow down.” But how? How do you decide what to say no to and what to say yes to when all you are saying yes to are good things?
My husband and I often wrestle with this question, and it came up again when I read Rachel Balducci’s new book Overcommitted: Cut Chaos and Find Balance. Using stories from her own life, along with reflection questions and helpful advice that she has learned from both friends and experts, Balducci helped me find a way to tackle our hectic schedule more peacefully and be more focused on God and his will for our family.
Balducci is not speaking just from theory. She is a mother of six children, an author, a blogger, a newspaper columnist, a professor, and a co-host for The Gist, a talk show on CatholicTV. So she knows what it means to walk that tightrope between active and overcommitted.
It Begins with Prayer. In her book, Balducci says the way to a balanced life is through prayer. Reflecting on the story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42), she says that Mary chose the better part because she was able to set aside her own agenda and peacefully give Jesus her full attention. Peacefully. Just as I found a kind of peace when I stopped what I was doing and gave my daughter my full attention. It made me think about how much more peaceful I could be if I put aside my plans and gave God my full attention.
So prayer comes first. But how do we find time to pray? By making it the first thing we do each day.
When you wake up in the morning, in those moments before you are fully awake, get in the habit of opening your mind and heart to Jesus. I once heard this described as those moments before the devil knows you’re awake. It’s a precious time between you and the Lord. These first few magical moments can set the tone for your day.
Since reading this book, I have taken this to heart. Every morning before I get out of bed, even before I turn over to see what time it is, I pray. I will admit, I still struggle with handing everything over to God, and I think I talk more than I listen, but there has been a renewed sense of peace.
Rocks and Sand. Balducci also gives an illustration of filling a jar with rocks, pebbles, and sand. She says if we fill the jar with sand first, there will be no room for the rocks. But if we fill the jar with rocks first, then the sand will find its way between the gaps.
She uses this image as a good way to think about prioritizing our days. We first start with the rocks, our nonnegotiables such as having time for God, work, and caring for our family: things that need to be done every day. And the one rock that needs to go in the jar first? Prayer.
Once we have established these nonnegotiables, we can then fill in the gaps with the sand—things like running errands, responding to emails, or checking the latest news headlines. This illustration prompted me to ask a few questions. How long do I spend checking my phone? Have I made that a rock? And have I made prayer sand by praying only if it fits into my day?
This is what makes us overcommitted, Balducci says. When we prioritize the sand over the rocks, we become unable to devote our energy to the important aspects of our lives, and we begin to feel overwhelmed. We are blessed to have so many wonderful opportunities for ourselves and our children. But when we say yes to too many of these opportunities, we end up stressed and chaotic.
Put It into Practice. At the end of each chapter, Balducci provides “Three Tips,” or statements, to remember; “Personal Reflections,” in which she asks questions that we can apply to our lives; and a “Moment of Grace,” in which she offers a prayer tip and a prayer starter to help us pray at the end of each chapter. Each of these was really helpful in showing me how to apply her words of advice to my specific situation.
Ironically, the coronavirus epidemic struck while I was reading this book. Everything that had been overwhelming stopped abruptly. So in a sense, it seemed counterintuitive that I would be reading this book at a time like this. But I think God had a hand in this. With the extra time and with the loss of so many activities, I found it easier to separate the rocks from the sand. Rachel Balducci’s book has helped me come back to prayer, reflect on what is important, and say yes to the plan God has for me and my family.
Jenn Kmiecik lives in Middletown, MD.
Rachel Balducci is cohost of The Gist, a talk show for women on CatholicTV, and blogs at Testosterhome.net. She and her husband, Paul, live in Georgia and have five sons and one daughter. Rachel’s latest book, Overcommitted: Cut Chaos and Find Balance, is available at bookstore.wau.org.