The Uncluttered Life
by: Brandi McIntosh
We were living the only way we knew. Our schedule was overwhelming. Our 6 year old, Gavin, was in baseball and Tae Kwon Do a couple nights a week, and we often brought our younger kids along. There was also heavy involvement in church activities and many responsibilities we had taken on there. With all of this piled on top of the time Gavin was away at school, there was little time remaining for us to be a family. There was an emptiness in all the busyness, and a hurt in all the hurry.
My husband, Dan, was the first to challenge the way we were living. I recall us arriving home late one school night, his hands full carrying Ellie (lying limp over his shoulder) and my hands full with Gavin’s baseball gear. Gavin was exhausted, walking alongside his father as he held on to him, his head bobbing against Dan’s side. Dan paused, released a troubled sigh, and very seriously said to me, “Why do we feel the need to live like this?” Truth be told, we were drained, but until that moment I assumed that was the only acceptable way to live. A lifestyle free from hurry seemed scandalous. We had felt the worldly obligation to over schedule and rush and had jumped in without questioning it. Life wasn’t necessarily bad, but it was a life in which we were not truly connected as a couple, nor in tune with our children’s hearts, nor grounded with purpose. We were spread a mile wide and felt an inch deep.
When Dan questioned the way we were living, I was reluctant to change initially. There were fears of our kids ‘missing out.’ After much thought and prayer a sense of relief began to wash over me as my eyes were opened to the fact that we were already missing out on what mattered, and that whether we lived in the 21st century or not, we could choose a different path.
This marked the beginning of a shift in our thoughts and a pivotal change in our lives as we began to disregard the messages of our culture and instead uncover the longings God had placed deep in our hearts. Little did we fathom then that this would eventually lead us to homeschooling, moving 100 miles from the city and everything we knew, buying a little house on 11 acres and adding chickens as well as a milk cow!
Now we were on the course to simplify our lives and to guard our time. For the first time we dared to dream of a life rich in simplicity, a life that would give our children a strong foundation and tie us together as family. A life lived open enough that we could spontaneously bake a batch of cookies together, venture on wildflower hunts, identify the constellations while lying on the grass, grab our kayaks and head to the lake on a whim, learn to build a barn and our home together, linger long over dinner as we read aloud another chapter, worship alongside each other in our home and our country church, open our home to share hearts with others, create trails on our land for exploring and go cart driving. And by the grace of God, this is our life. A life in which there is time enough for the kids to explore their interests, whether it’s learning to build a magnetic generator and reading all the great books, taking his kayak out on the lake or playing his guitar (Gavin), writing the story of our family since we’ve moved to the country, floating in her kayak, taking painting lessons from her aunt or playing the piano (Ellie), climbing yet another tree, figuring out how to build what’s in his head with his Legos as well as wood, and completing his Wild Explorer Club assignments (Quinn), or all of us out on our land playing around.
It’s often messy with all this togetherness and we screw up more than I like, but that gives us opportunities to learn to love well and practice forgiveness. Our children’s relationships with each other go deep. They truly enjoy each other as they have ample time and space to do so free from the pull of screens and distractions. There is time and space to hug, create, play, laugh, explore, share hopes, discover passions, thoroughly deal with heart issues, and be. To just be. It’s vital for our soul’s nourishment and growth, but is the most rejected activity today.
Throughout the years we’ve realized that anytime we gravitate toward a busy lifestyle (even recently) we begin to deal with our children as tasks, moving through our days giving them orders and going through the motions of family life. However, when we are living intentionally and slowly, rather than merely dealing with our children, we have found that we truly see them. At those times we have the capacity to hear their hearts and share ours. We’ve also seen a strong correlation between an over-scheduled life and negative, disrespectful attitudes in our children (and us). When our lives are cluttered it can be difficult for me to even recognize that there is an issue in my child’s heart, and even harder to take the time to get to the root of it and address it.
“It’s easy, given the times we live in and the implicit messages we absorb each day, to equate a good life with having a lot and doing a lot. So it’s also easy to fall into believing that our children, if they are to succeed in life, need to be terrific at everything, and that it’s up to us to make sure they are - to keep them on track through tougher course loads, more activities, more competitive sports, more summer programs. But in all our well-intentioned efforts to do the right thing for our children, we may be failing to provide them with something that is truly essential - the time and space they need to wake up to themselves, to grow acquainted with their own innate gifts, to dream their dreams and discover their true natures.” Katrina Kenison
We realized in order to maintain this kind of life in our hyper-scheduled world we would need to have a game plan. I personally love to plan and this has often been my downfall, even after we resolved to live simply and drop unnecessary commitments. I have been far too eager to fill up our calendar. This has led to no less than me crumpling under a panic attack, and bickering among the whole family as we race around attempting to keep up.
So the decision was made several years back that before we commit to anything from an extracurricular activity to hosting friends for dinner we are to pray through what we are giving a ‘yes’ to and especially what we are therefore saying no to. We question whether this commitment will be beneficial to the child 10 years from now more than time spent curled up with an inspiring book, or in the quiet schooling of nature, or time spent in lessons from a neighbor or family member. Is it a more valuable use of their time than time with siblings or “the time and space they need to wake up to themselves, to grow acquainted with their own innate gifts, to dream their dreams and discover their true natures,” as Kenison stated. What are the influences in the environment? Do I want to put them in an event to see them perform or to win a medal? Am I longing to see them accomplish something because I wish I had? How will it affect the whole family? Is it more important that they learn to do a back handspring in a gym on a beautiful day, or hike in the outdoors where perspective is renewed, where they are refreshed, and learn to reverence God and grow a respect for all living things?
Seven years ago after our marriage had taken a devastating turn for the worse, Dan and I developed the habit of praying together each evening after we put the kids to bed (and this has done no less than transform our marriage in amazing and surprising ways). The more we have sought the Lord together, the easier it has become to hear His voice on the matter. Early in our marriage we prayed together occasionally wrapping it up with a quick Amen, but never taking the time to listen. To be still and expectant together. This has turned into my most anticipated part of each day. When we take the time to seek Him, He doesn't leave us in the dark. And when we turn down a commitment because God is leading us to, we carry freedom rather than guilt. We’ve never regretted a decision we made after seeking God on the matter, but I’ve uttered a thousand ‘thank you’s’ to the Lord for steering us clear of the ‘too much’ I would most certainly have signed us up for otherwise. God has led us to a life that is not void of challenges, but a life in which we can focus on what matters at the end of the day, rich in simplicity and deepening joy.