I struggled to hand out the tests and go over the instructions, feeling that at any moment I was going to pass out in front of my class. Steadying myself on the lectern, taking frequent sips of my water, I responded to their final questions, and attempted to step out of my classroom, and down the hall to see if the teacher next door would watch my class, while I went to splash cool water on my face. I never made it to the restroom, and collapsed on the floor in front of the neighboring classroom door. The next thing I remember, my assistant principal was helping me to the main office, asking me over and over again, “You doing OK James?” Obviously not! I had just collapsed in the hall and vomited all over myself. Jaime soon arrived and took me to the hospital, where I spent two days recovering from severe dehydration and exhaustion. My recovery was just enough to be discharged. Once I got home, I fell back into the same mental and physical patterns that had led to my collapsing at school. Jaime and I never talked about what had led to the incident because…there just wasn’t time. Back to the busy…. back to us both gasping for air in an effort to sustain the life that joylessly continued. And the truth is, it didn’t have to be that way.
I am by no means an expert, but I have learned a lot in the past few years about the need for frequent mental and physical intermissions. It’s not just because I am a school principal and a single parent. No, these needed breaks are because I am a person who is unable to be on the go at all times, with all cylinders running at pristine condition. This week, I set aside some time to listen to the Global Leadership podcast, featuring Julie Funt (Whitespace in the Workplace). Actually, I have listened to the podcast twice, because the information she shares is just that great. I’ve included the link below and I would highly encourage you to make 30 minutes available in your schedule to take a listen and absorb all that she shares. In this particular program, the announcer and guests reflect on Funt’s Whitespace Simplification Questions:
- Is there anything I can let go of?
- When is “good enough,” good enough?
- What do I truly need to know?
- What deserves my attention?
Now, I heard Julie speak during the summer of 2016, and already was in “wow” mode when she shared each of the simplification questions, listed above. How my past would have been different, had these questions been posed to the life Jaime and I were creating. I do need to pause here and ensure that you understand that I am not saying those days were miserable. We were brand new parents then, and those moments were full of trial by error parenting (funny how that doesn’t go away!), and at the same time trying to figure out how this new person fit into the life that was in place before she (Felicity) had arrived. What was miserable was the lack of reflection and honesty from both of us. We both were exhausted. Jaime and I both were trying to figure out our next move – professionally and spiritually. And what we failed to recognize then, which caused great harm in the years to come, was that we were slowly “figuring it out” (not even close to figure it out) without one another.
You and I must create whitespace in our lives – to not only ask ourselves the simplification questions, but also to come up for air, and make some room in our lives to figure out who we really are and what we have been wired to do. We need time to play, to be creative, to collaborate, and as Bill Hybels says, “to tinker”. Looking back, I was beyond resentful when I would meet other people who were less stressed than I was. How in the world did they find time for a walk, a stroll on the beach, a bike ride to dream out loud? The truth is, those people had only found what they had intentionally set aside—what they prioritized. They didn’t have “extra magic hours” that were reserved for everyone but me. I chose to ignore the deeper needs in my life, then, and for a season, it cost me more than lost time at work.
My story, thankfully, does not end with that last line. What has made the difference? A stiff dose of truth. In order to create whitespace, you must be truthful with yourself, or else your response to each of those questions will only further support the destructive behaviors you consider both essential and normal. As a Christian, I know that I cannot be fully available for what God has for me to do, if my definition of excellence is perfection. God wants so much more from you and me! He is ready and willing to share His thoughts and plans, if we would just clear our schedules and let Him know that we’re available.
Make it a habit to pause!