The courage to rest

February 3, 2014 | 70 comments

A few years ago, I found myself in a state of being perpetually overwhelmed. I mean, I still feel that way a lot of the time now, but back then it was worse. There was more of a sense of hopelessness, a feeling that I was sinking and couldn’t figure out how to pull myself up. Nothing I did seemed to get us any closer to having a peaceful routine or a house that didn’t look like it was b-roll footage from Hoarders.

I pondered and prayed and whined about the issue for months, then, finally, something clicked. I had an epiphany that would change my life, that I still think about almost every day.

You don't even want to know the story behind this note. Suffice it to say it was an overwhelming day.

You don’t even want to know the story behind this note. Suffice it to say it was a good example of a day where I felt overwhelmed.

Lately I’ve been sliding back into to-do list quicksand once again, and it’s been really helpful to think through this old lesson. I’ve written about it before, but I thought I’d re-tell the whole story for those of you who haven’t heard it:

In January of 2008, I found myself standing in my living room, mired in a swamp that consisted of Christmas presents yet to be put away mixed with bulging suitcases that were still unpacked from a trip taken weeks before. I surveyed this disaster, looked over at the kitchen that was littered with dirty dishes and tipped-over sippy cups, and I had a pretty major “I NEVER HAVE TIME TO GET ANYTHING DONE AROUND HERE” freakout session. I explained to Joe (read: shouted in language that would make a pirate uncomfortable) that I could not live like this for one more day.

Joe suggested that I take some time to relax, so I walked (read: stomped while sighing loudly so that everyone could know how bad my life was) upstairs to my bedroom. I saw A Mother’s Rule of Life on my bookshelf, and I picked it up in a desperate search for inspiration.

The book fell open to a page where the author listed the daily schedule of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, as part of an explanation of what a Rule of Life is. As I read that page, I knew that this was an answered prayer. If I had heard a thunderclap it couldn’t have been more of a dramatic moment. So many sources of tension and unanswered questions all came together as I mentally stepped through this sample day:

Daily Schedule for the Missionaries of Charity

4:30 – 5:00: Rise and get cleaned up
5:00 – 6:30: Prayers and Mass
6:30 – 8:00: Breakfast and cleanup
8:00 – 12:30: Work for the poor
12:30 – 2:30: Lunch and rest
2:30 – 3:00: Spiritual reading and meditation
3:00 – 3:15: Tea break
3:15 – 4:30: Adoration Prayer
4:30 – 7:30: Work for the poor
7:30 – 9:00: Dinner and clean up
9:00 – 9:45: Night prayers
9:45: Bedtime

A million thoughts flooded to mind, but here are the big ones:

  • The primary work of the Order, serving the poor, only takes place between 8:00 – 12:30 and 4:30 – 7:30.
  • There’s buffer! Notice that time for meal cleanup and getting dressed is built in to the schedule.
  • They say that their lives are centered on God, and this schedule reflects it. There is time dedicated to prayer each day.
  • They have a set (and early) bedtime, making time for sleep even if they feel like more work could be done.
  • Look at how focused this schedule is! They only attempt to do two things: pray and work for the poor.

Just reading through the schedule made me ache for that kind of peaceful rhythm in my life.

It was comical to contrast this Rule to my own days, and not just because I’m not a nun. Even allowing for our different vocations, my routine was lacking so many things that theirs had. Of course the details of a family’s schedule would be much different, but mine was founded on entirely different principles. The Missionaries’ schedule speaks of simplicity and focus. It’s a routine of people who see themselves as utterly dependent on God and use their time accordingly. It’s generous in its allotments for each activity, and shows a great care for temporal needs like sleep and relaxation time.

I took a moment to imagine what their schedule would look like if it were based on the same principles that guided our home schedule. I laughed out loud when I imagined something like this:

Daily Schedule for the Missionaries of Charity…If I Had Created It

5:30 – 6:30: Mass [sleeping in, so no time for rising, getting dressed, or personal prayer]
6:30 – 7:15: Breakfast and clean up [less time here — hurry up and get to work!]
7:15 – 11:30: Work for the poor [more time here so we can help the poor MORE!]
11:30 – 12:30: Teach religious education classes to children [new activity — let’s teach too!]
12:30 – 1:15: Quick lunch [cut time here, no more rest — too much to do]
1:15 – 3:00: Visit hospitals [new activity — the sick need people to visit them, right?]
3:00 – 3:15: Tea break [this would usually get cut because of hospital visits running late]
3:15 – 7:30: Work for the poor [no Adoration prayers — there’s important work to do!]
7:30 – 9:00: Dinner and clean up [shorter time so that they can hurry up and get to work]
9:00 – 10:00: Make Rosaries to give to the poor [new activity — the poor need rosaries!]
10:00 – 10:30: Night prayers [shortened since we’re busy doing ALL THE THINGS!!!]
10:30-11:00: Spiritual reading
11:00: Bedtime

So, yeah. If I ran the convent like I run my house, we wouldn’t limit ourselves to one area of focus! We’d visit hospitals and make rosaries and teach religious education to children and even squeeze in a few more hours of work for the poor. I’d slash prayer time to try to accomplish more practical things; I’d squeeze in a few more hours of productivity by cutting down time allowed for meals, cleanup, and rising.

And after about a week, Jen’s Missionaries of Charity would be stumbling through each day in a state of near-panic, collapsing into bed at night feeling wired and scattered. They’d rise each morning with a sense of failure clinging to them as they scrambled through their morning routines, knowing that there’s no way they’d accomplish the tasks set before them.

In other words, they’d live in a state of feeling perpetually overwhelmed and behind. Like I do.

When all of this dawned on me, I decided to re-create my own daily routine with a single goal: to bring peace to my household. I got out a blank sheet of paper and titled it Daily Routine. Rather than starting by writing down the long list of things I supposedly “had to” get done, I started by writing out how long it takes to do the very basic things like preparing and eating meals, getting myself and all the kids dressed, bath time at night, etc.

Then I wrote down time for the things that are supposedly my priorities in life: prayer, quality time with family, decent sleep, and so on.

Time for playing with E-Z Bake Oven and then cleaning it up: INFINITY!!!

Time for playing with E-Z Bake Oven and then cleaning it up: INFINITY!!!

Only after that was done did I attempt to fill in the empty slots with time for checking items off my to-do list. I couldn’t seem to make it come together, so I turned to Joe for help. He suggested that I prioritize my list of tasks, and then we’d go through the list and write in each task where there was an open slot on the next day’s schedule.

I brought my list over to the couch and began ticking off items. “Put away laundry. Make a deposit at the bank. Call the insurance company about –”

Joe interrupted me. “That’s all.”

“Wait, what?” I asked. I was totally confused. Was he saying he didn’t want to do this exercise anymore? I didn’t understand why he cut me off.

“That’s all you can do in a day, ” he said. “Look at your schedule. It’s full. That’s it.”

To my horror, he was right. If I were to stick to a schedule that’s ordered toward peace — one that has plenty of buffer, that blocks off ample time for the things we claim are our priorities, and that respects my needs for sleep and rest — I couldn’t do everything I was currently attempting to do. In fact, I couldn’t even do a fraction of it. Bringing peace to my household would come at the sacrifice of a very large chunk of my to-do list.

I realized in that moment that those constant feelings of not getting enough done were not primarily because I was lazy or disorganized. I was so busy beating myself up about those phantom failings that I wasn’t taking an honest look at the real problems:

My stubborn unwillingness to take anything that I’d deemed important off of my to-do list.

My lack of trust that God could work it out — that the fabric of the universe would not completely fall apart at the seams — if I couldn’t do what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it.

My prideful refusal to hand off tasks to other people, since they wouldn’t do it “right.”

When I began to try to live by the new, focused schedule, I found that more than anything it was an exercise in letting go of control. I understood on a visceral level why it’s monks and nuns who are known to have the most peaceful daily routines: because it requires great trust in God to walk away from your endless list of demands when there is still technically time to get a few more things done. It requires tremendous faith to rest.

As I find myself getting overwhelmed yet again by having one (or fifty) too many things piled on my plate, I’ve been thinking about this lesson often. There’s an almost exhilarating rush in those moments when I close the laptop with so many emails left unread, shove the laundry baskets aside, and push the paperwork into a pile to be sorted tomorrow. It feels dramatically counter-cultural, and even exciting in an odd way, when I muster up the courage to rest.

Praying the ancient Vespers prayers at sunset. That's the life.

Praying the ancient Vespers prayers at sunset. That’s the life.


  1. The other Becky

    Thank you so much for this today. I woke up this morning with the clear knowledge that I have three full days of work today. This will help me sort out what I am actually going to do today, and trust God with the rest.

  2. Loren Tran

    “What makes us happy: Not by having more but by Being more.” ~ Bl. John Paul II, Pope
    I’ll let the saintly Pope lead us to dissect more what He meant for each of our lives. Pray for us Bl. Pope and Bl. Mother Teresa.

  3. Amelia @ One Catholic Mama

    This is so interesting. I like the idea of having the courage to rest and building it into your schedule. The thing that struck me with the nuns is that they take 1 1/2 hour for mealtimes each day. I love that. We’re always trying to rush mealtime into something else and then I get stressed and overwhelmed because things are taking longer.

    I like how they have that much time planned in for meals. Definitely seems to make for a more relaxed schedule.

  4. Rosie

    I just started reading that book a few days ago and have a feeling it will be life-changing, but ohhhh it is still so hard to set a schedule around here when the babies’ wake-up times vary from 5:30-7:30 AM and there’s just no knowing when they’ll wake up… So if I try to wake up early to have some “me” time, that usually means one or both babies will be accompanying me, demanding to nurse or be read the same book over and over and over again (and if I refuse, I can pretty much guarantee being hit in the eye or mouth with the book repeatedly…). There’s just no reasoning with 14-month-olds :/

    How do you find your schedule changing when you have a baby? I just feel like we’re STILL in survival mode and by the time we get out of it I’ll probably be pregnant again…

    • Jennifer Fulwiler

      I know. That part is so, so hard. One of the solutions I came up with (that I was going to write about later) was to hire some babysitting help — just local teenage girls who will work at low prices, not a professional nanny or anything. I used to have a 12-year-old neighbor come over a couple of hours after school about three days a week, and her only job was to HOLD THE BABY (and I’d set the older kids up with something to occupy them). It was a huge life-saver.

      When I haven’t had that kind of help, I tend to sneak time for myself in the evenings after the little ones are down (though that does inevitably lead me to go to bed too late). It’s definitely hard!

      • elizabethe

        There is an organizational term for this problem. It’s called “living in an interruption rich environment” and the first key is to admit that you are not actually in control of your schedule and to find tools to work around that to figure out how to make a schedule that works for you.

        I learned this from Julie Morgenstern’s “time management from the inside out”, which is a GREAT time management book with examples of different ways to make a schedule and different strategies for overcoming scheduling problems and different tools for figuring out your schedule (the weekly time map is LIFE-CHANGING, you make a new one every time your circumstances change).

        What I do to handle the early morning wake up is to figure out what time I do regain control of the day — so, no matter what, I find that everyone is up and ready for breakfast by 7:30. So I start my schedule at that time with “make breakfast.” The real challenge here is to keep the schedule before that blank so that you can respond to whatever happens with no conflicts or, praise God, sleep, if everyone sleeps.

        Then, for when they baby/babies do wake up early, you have a list (mental or written) of things to do for that occasion — whether that be playing with the baby or something else that the baby will let you do. (I always catch up on “my” TV or podcasts or just enjoy spending focused time with baby — which I then check off my daily to do list of “spend focused time with each child”)

        It’s frustrating, but for me, half the frustration comes from thinking that you SHOULD be MORE in control. But the truth is, you are NOT in control and you have to admit it to yourself as a truth about your life right now. It really helps.

  5. Rebekka

    You’re wrong – I desperately want to know the backstory to the kitty litter note. If anything will make me feel better about the disaster that is my kitchen (which, since the washing machine is in the kitchen, features a vomit-covered car seat in the middle of the floor said write this), it is the fact that I have never needed 2 tons of clumping kitty litter.

    • Jennifer Fulwiler

      LOL!!!! I would want to know too if I saw that on someone else’s blog.

      The note was written by Joe. After we got the cat he very unhappily found himself as being the person in charge of the litter box, which did NOT bless him since he’s not a cat person to begin with and felt like he spent more than enough time dealing with poop already. He bought some fancy litter box that supposedly makes changing the litter much less gross, but evidently it doesn’t work with crystals litter. Long story short, one afternoon there was some kind of cat litter box cleaning explosion that ended with all sorts of disgusting stuff all over the back porch and all over him, hence the note.

      • Kelly the Kitchen Kop

        Jen, you crack. me. up. So does Joe. 🙂

        And you’ve got my wheels turning (again). I think I first heard about that book here on your blog years ago. Got it and read it. It was too rigid for me. But the helter-skelter of my days isn’t good either. Waking up “knowing that there’s no way they’d accomplish the tasks set before them.” That’s me. I have to pull it out again and see if I can find a middle ground that works. Thanks for giving me hope!


      • Mary

        speaking of cats and vomit-covered car seats.
        I have a vomit-covered cat-carrier sitting on the floor.
        Went over to daughter’s house to check on her cats. One meows at me,
        leads me downstairs to the litter box. He tries to poop, but
        can’t. I take him over to vet, he vomits on the way over.
        Diagnosis, he’s constipated, has to spend the night with several
        enemas and sub-cutaneous fluids. Just had to share.

        • Elizabeth K.

          Mary, I tried to like your post and then realized I wasn’t on Facebook. This kind of thing happens to me all.the.time.

  6. Anne McD

    Wow. Okay, so when I woke up this morning, I hit the floor on my knees (usually I get a prayer in while making coffee or showering, if I do…) and told God, “look, there’s just too much. How am I supposed to get this all in? It’s just. not. humanly. possible.” I’ve actually been fighting that book for ten years. I just have so much trouble with the schedule. M. Teresa had a convent full of adult women who did what they were supposed to do, not six kids 12 and under who complained and fought every. blessed. time she told them to do anything, and to top it off, she was never pregnant! (kind of like my argument that the Blessed Mother never had Jesus by the back of the neck, telling Him that if she had to take Him out of Temple one. more. time…) And the to-do list isn’t extras, its basics for daily life, like, clean dinner off kitchen table this morning, clean floor because everyone’s feet are dirty, clean bathroom because the child missed the potty, clean another bathroom because we don’t want the Health Dept showing up…. Its too easy to get discouraged, but I have to think about your post some more. Maybe there are things we’re doing that just aren’t supposed to be on the schedule?

    • Julie

      Oh, Anne, I so sympathize with you. I found that book equal parts inspiring and maddening. (And sometimes much more maddening than inspiring!) I think the lesson of the thing is to pay attention to how your day normally proceeds and try to find realistic ways to make it more peaceful. I’m working on that right now — observing things like, “My boys go NUTSO when they’re hungry.” So maybe I need to make consistent mealtimes a priority. And “I get overwhelmed and mean when my kitchen counters are messy.” So maybe kitchen counters should rank high on my list too. It’s so hard when there are so many actually, really important things that need to get done. But maybe fitting them all in gets to be a tad easier when we take the time to observe our family’s typical stressers, triggers, peace-makers, etc. Best to you in figuring it all out!

    • Jennifer Fulwiler

      This is a great point. This exercise is one of the things that got me started thinking about that stuff I’m always talking about about how people weren’t meant to raise kids in isolation, modern mothers are set up for failure because we’re trying to do the work of a village all by ourselves, blah blah blah. When I read some of the sample schedules in A Mother’s Rule of Life, I was super impressed, but thought, “God bless you, but…I’d die. There’s just no way I could do all that, day after day.”

      I realized that we really, really, desperately need help. And there have been plenty of times when we couldn’t afford help in terms of babysitting or housekeeping or whatever, but knowing that I had more expected of me than one person could reasonably be expected to do gave me peace, at least in the sense that I wasn’t beating myself up about it so much. 🙂

      • Anne McD

        Its funny, after my (desperate plea) prayer this morning, God has been showing me many little things. We have a mission at our parish this week, about finding true peace (yes please!) that was a good start to my morning. Then, I read a friend’s blog post about the problems with the internet, both blogs and Facebook, which really got me thinking. I was pondering your earlier post, Jen, about how we weren’t supposed to be living in isolation with a cache of children under our feet all. day. long, and coupled with The Hubs and my watching “Vanilla Ice Goes Amish” on DIY last night (seriously, God works in mysterious ways), the wheels have been turning in my noggin. These people work together, and they aren’t on FB all day. FB and such are building shallow relationships, not real ones that are forged through face to face (or,at least, one on one) conversations. Lots of thoughts, I’ll have to write them out so I don’t jam up your combox 😉

  7. Julie

    Thank you for this. It’s just what I need right now, as I stare around me at the piles of paper, counters filled with dirty dishes, bags of never-unloaded groceries, and dirty clothes strewn all over the floor of my kitchen. Just the perspective I needed.

  8. Becky C.

    I would love to see what schedule you did come up with. I think this is something so many of us struggle with!

  9. Lisa Rose

    When my husband is home for a day he will work really hard outside all day, say in the barn or garden, then just knock off at 5pm, come in and take a shower and get ready for dinner. This dumfounded me; there was more that could be done! He just quit because it was time to?!
    He instinctively knows what you are saying while I, in spite of this good example, still struggle with not feeling guilty for planning downtime. Ironically, not planning for it makes me feel like I should grab it whenever I can (like now) and who knows how long an “unplanned” break will run – it’s not planned! Your way (and his) is so much better, but SO counter intuitive for me… Excellent food for thought though. Thanks for writing about this, I am going to try some prioritizing today. I really appreciate hearing I’m not the only one.

    • Caroline M.

      Because we women tend to indulge in needless guilt about resting more than men do (not always, just a trend I’ve noticed.)

  10. Nell

    I’m so glad you posted about this. I’m always making very long to-do lists, and now that I’m pregnant with my third I can run so ragged during the day that I’m actually too tired to fall asleep at night. I love that Joe cut you off with a shorter list. My husband will do that too, in his gentle fashion.

    Thanks for keeping us all grounded and reminding us that even you, super mom, also need to prioritize and stay sane that way. Maybe there’s hope for the rest of our sanity, too!

  11. Shauna Schenke

    Wow. I needed this. My house looks like a version of the Hoarders because my husband has always lived like that, while I am a neat freak completely displaced from the environment I need and desperately crave. I, too, am busy with little ones at home– very active, strong-willed, loud little ones while I desire alone time and more quiet for my highly active brain to think. Perhaps if I scheduled in prayer and did not expect to get so much done, my life would change for the better too. My priorities ARE indeed focus on God (behaving like Christ) and loving my family well. That does trump my desired to-do list. It even trumps the organized home I spend so much energy dreaming of and railing about. Prayer. Others. Life priorities. God’s ultimate priorities. These are what matter. Thank you for breathing life into my usually chaotic day.


  12. Cheryl

    Oh, I feel your pain, and also your desire to change. Last fall I knew–KNEW–God was calling me to create peace in my home. And that was it. No serving on committees, working with moms’ groups, being team mom, room mother, Sunday School teacher, blogger, anything. That was my ONE calling for now. Oh how hard it’s been to turn off the part of me that wants to do those other things because it’s “what a housewife does.” I’ve re-oriented my to-do list and my daily schedule to focus on our home and our lives together. (My four kids are now 10-15 years old. Oh Lord, it is the driving that kills me. And the worry–they are so close to leaving the nest. Closer than I can imagine.)

    Your post is the macro view, and the harder one to achieve. Then the other part, that I’m working with now, is to orient my goals around that calling, and make progress on those goals knowing that they are fulfilling my calling. For example, make the basement look less like “Hoarders” and more like a welcoming place to hang out, so our home is a place of peace for our kids and their friends.

    It is good to know you are not alone, and neither am I, in our callings in this season of our lives. Blessings to you.

  13. Amy

    I love this. I don’t even have a daily schedule and have been meaning to figure one out. I think I needed to read this first 🙂

  14. Megan at SortaCrunchy

    Bless you, my sweet friend. Divine words for me, meeting in the place of my deepest need today. Truly. Thank you.

  15. Emily B

    THANK YOU. Thank you…..I needed this today (probably everyday). I am close to having an empty nest but still always try to do too much and rarely feel like I have accomplished what I should have. Maybe if the first thing on the list is to rest it won’t be so hard to stick to the rest of the schedule.

  16. LPatter

    THANK YOU for this today! So in need of this, always, in my temperament, but especially right now – I have “learned” this lesson in ways before, but not enough that it doesn’t creep back in slowly.

  17. Theresa@OrdinaryLovely

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I really needed to read this today as the mid-winter homeschool blues have coincided with the birth of a new baby. It seems like nothing will ever get done and the things that do get done hardly make a dent in the upkeep of the household or the kiddos education. You’ve given me much to consider. And hope! Thanks 🙂

  18. Kelly

    Like! I hit the imaginary “love” button. You hit the nail on the head. I almost always feel I have not gotten enough done, so I get all defeated and think, why even try? I also am so drawn by her wonderful list. I WANT those things to be my priorities! But feel helpless against the tyranny of my have-to list + my own overwhelmed-ness.

    The crazy part is that I know everything that you’re saying. I just FORGET EVERYTHING GOOD on a daily basis. sigh.

    I will bookmark this post, and hopefully not forget to look at it.

  19. Karen Bell

    WOW. Just what I need to hear and was pondering today. Thank you, Jen!!

  20. Abigail

    Thank you for sharing this. What great encouragement for this homeschooling mom of 8 early on a Monday morning!!

  21. Tori

    Jen, you really have a way of speaking directly to me lately. Last night my husband and I were talking about this very subject, because I am smack in the middle of that overwhelmed and discouraged place that you describe. I thought the solution was to get a working schedule of ALL THE THINGS, because it would all run more smoothly that way, right??? I set myself up with a popular system (which in all fairness would probably work really well in another season of life) and promptly failed day after day not only to get it all done, but I even failed to enjoy the times that were supposed to be “relaxing.” So I am going to take this and run with it. Operation Household Peace is under way as of now!

  22. Sharon

    Thank you, Jen, for your candor and insight. Thanks also to Emily B. My children are older, and in some ways, that complicates EVERYTHING(!) because their interests, commitments and schedules impact mine. Last night was a lesson in priorities, needs and wants in my home. As a result, I didn’t get the rest I needed and so my ability today is compromised. My husband and I did start the discussion, and that will continue this evening. In the meantime, I will have time to consider priorities, needs and wants in light of your insight. At least I don’t feel alone in this dilemma; I had been beating myself up for “should’ve known better by now.” Thank You!

  23. Caitlin

    This has spoken to me on many levels. Thank you so much for sharing!

  24. Lindsey

    How does this work with homeschooling? I have a sinking feeling it does not. I would like to feel less overwhelmed but I have a newborn right now so I don’t know if it’s possible. Thanks for your post, Jen.

    • Jennifer Fulwiler

      For me, it’s been a matter of 1) not trying to do too much in homeschool (and having the kids do as much independent work as possible), and 2) realizing that I have to take even more off of my plate to make time for that. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s really, really hard to find that peace and balance when you’re trying to do so much.

  25. Allison

    I’m not a mom, or even a wife, but I have been recognizing the need for this order and peace in my own life while I am at college. It’s becoming more and more crucial for me that I need to schedule in time for prayer, “fun” reading, and spending time on myself in order to reasonably accomplish all the tasts that I have purposely given myself to do. Thank you for your thoughts, and for putting into words that we don’t have to finish

  26. Caroline M.

    This is also a big problem for those of us with “outside the home” jobs and no kids (those of you who do both – i.e. 2 full time jobs – have me in awe). I come home and feel instant panic because I must do ALL THE HOUSEHOLD THINGS but don’t feel like it after a 9 hour work day with round-trip 2 hour commute. My husband usually cooks because he’s a student, but because he’s a busy student there are days when we look at each other and say yeah, let’s just scrounge around and see what’s edible. Having any kind of meaningful peace can feel impossible when you have very few “non-scheduled” hours in the day.

    • Marie

      I have a similar situation and I feel heartened to know I am not alone. I struggle with Sunday evenings in particular because I always feel like I should have done more that weekend before jumping back into the workweek – even if I have been moving non-stop all weekend. Sigh.

    • Jennifer Fulwiler

      Thanks for this reminder. I experienced this too when I worked and didn’t have kids, but I’d forgotten that. It’s easy to fall into a “grass is greener” mentality where I think it would be sooooo easy if life were like it were back then. Thanks for that perspective!

      • Dixie

        My life changed so much for the better when I made a very hard-and-fast rule about not doing work on Sundays. For me this meant schoolwork, since I was in graduate school at the time and the schoolwork was truly neverending. But the point is that the rule helped me not to feel guilty and to get things done earlier in the week. Somehow knowing that I was going to get a break on Sunday made me more productive at other times. Could you try that with a rule against Sunday housework/errands (with a couple exceptions, like maybe the dishes)? Maybe that would help you get more done on Saturday, and then on Sunday you could relax without that guilt and dread hanging over you. I.e. reorient the weekend so that you can run around on Saturday, catching up on errands and cleaning, but you know you will have a break the next day. It might mean an even busier Saturday, but then, ahhhhh…Sunday.

        I worried about whether I would get my work done, but it really improved my life and in fact did NOT lead to less work getting done overall. Might be worth a shot!

        • Elisa | blissfulE

          I’ve had the same experience with blocking off Sundays!! Rest day! At first I thought it would be so detrimental, but it’s been incredibly positive, and it helps me let go of the less important things on other days of the week, and feel more peaceful in general, too.

        • Caroline M.

          Right now the problem is that due to various fun factors I’ve been having to do overtime on Saturdays – and 2 weeks ago on both Saturday and Sunday, which was as awesome as it sounds. In fact, this Sunday I didn’t have to work but was just doing other things – church, groceries, etc – and it was such a relief! I told my husband that it was amazing what just 1 day out of the office does. When my schedule gets a little more normal I would like to do that though. Thanks for the responses!

  27. Michelle Marvian

    Who bought them that oven!!!!!!

    Well, thank you for this. I.was.there.last.night. I can be like a freight train out of control or maybe a race horse. I even mentioned how if I could just rest in between tasks, I would get more done and feel less inclined to mutter and complain. I know this to be true, but therein lacks the trust in which you speak of.

    Not to mention, I’m missing all of the cute things Joey is doing in an effort to GET IT ALL DONE. Ugh!

  28. Jennifer Gregory Miller

    And this is what I suggested as a theme! Wonderful, Jen, and thank you!

    MROL just didn’t click for me. I can’t remember which blog recently was quoting — it was a male writer, using his wife’s use of the book, but the quote was from Holly’s pastor something about we respond first to the law/rule and then follows love. I completely disagree, and so would Pope Francis. First comes love, then comes structure.

  29. Velvet

    Perspective-inducing. Must lie down and contemplate.

  30. Lynne

    Pondering this deeply. Thanks.


    Mother Teresa’s schedule resonates with me. Seemingly little activity amounted to a world of difference for many. Thanks!

  32. Jenn @ Heart and Hearth

    Wow .. I JUST posted about my own version of this moment. Although my realization was triggered by a leak, and caulking around a bathtub. It is such a startling shift, but honestly, I am already enjoying the freedom in a kinder routine. I always used to think, “I just need everyone to leave me alone so I can work 24/7 for two weeks and then everything will be all right forever!!!!”

    So not the case! Giving myself a simple structure with buffers, and being okay with letting things slide in favor of spending time with my daughter and husband, or reading … so much more peace! Thanks for posting this and giving me more to think about!

  33. Jill

    Hi, Jennifer. This is exactly what I am learning through my struggle with adrenal fatigue. My recent stay at a convent for healing gave me such insight into the balance of work and prayer. Indeed children and spouses and the lack of a chapel in my home add new dimensions, but in the end it all comes down to giving your life to the Divine Will every day. I finally blogged about my experience if you wish to hear the whole story. And it is much easier said than done, but having outside help has proved extremely beneficial.

  34. Flannery

    Thank you! How is it working for you?? I homeschool and I just had our fourth baby two weeks ago. I am trying to think of the right way to rest and only do necessary things because I know I won’t heal properly otherwise… for now I think I need to spend some money on a family friend who cleans houses … and send the older kids to auntie’s house sometimes when she can take them. (I am very grateful for these opportunities because up until this fall we lived a plane ride away from any family and didn’t have many helping hands for our first few kids.)

  35. Anna

    Wonderful post. Now, if only I can master this! Two years ago, I worked with the MCs in Calcutta at a home for mentally handicapped children. This schedule works so very well. The sisters would lose their minds if they tried to rush things in homes like this one. Children who cannot walk and/or talk simply require extra time to complete tasks. If they tried to hurry, they may become frustrated and lose sight of the tenderness and patience that caring for these little ones requires.

    The children catch on to this rhythm of life very quickly. While I was tutoring my little boy there, he started to get up, and said, “auntie! tea time!” I tried to refocus him on our work, saying, “No, the bell hasn’t rung ye….” And then the bell for tea rang.

    As chaotic as things can be in this work, there truly is a prayerful and joyful atmosphere in every moment. Thanks so much, Jen, for the reminder of how important it is for each of us to refocus our lives on prayer and love.

  36. Bonnie

    Whenever I get caught up in this “I am way too stressed out to do even one more thing” mode I start crossing things off my to-do list. Wanted to make it to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve? Line-out. Wanted to bake a cheesecake for New Year’s Day? Line-out. Wanted to get over to the drug store because they had hydrogen peroxide and Jello on sale? Line-out. Wanted to put up a big Happy Birthday sign across the front hall as a surprise (but first I have to go get the sign made at the local party goods store)? Nice idea. Line-out.
    Then I simplify what I must do. Do I really have time to straighten out that closet in the spare room for when Grandma and Grandpa come to visit? No? Put the worst mess in a box so they have room to hang their clothes. The rest? Well, they’ll just have to see my mess. Do I have time to make those great little spinach and feta cheese phyllo dough appetizers for the party we’re going to on Friday night? No. Line-out. Bring crackers and cheese.
    Too bad we are driving ourselves crazy with self-imposed tasks because we are shooting for the stars. But we’re not Martha Stewart with a staff of 100, and we don’t have to compete with some ideal mom/wife/homemaker “as seen on T.V.” or mythical imagined woman who “does it all.” So many of my generation were told not to expect to match the impossible standards of the 1950’s sitcom mom; June Cleaver or Margaret Anderson (Father Knows Best) whose house was always immaculate and who wore pearls and and an always clean, starched and immaculate apron. But in modern times, we have this Supermom archetype who homeschools the kids, takes care of the pets, runs the household (cooking, cleaning, bill paying, shopping, minor home repair) while whipping up chateaubriand for dinner and pursues her own at-home career, all while not breaking a sweat. Somethin’s gotta give.
    My mantra? Let it go. Let it go. I imposed it on myself, so I have the right to let it go.

  37. Barbara C.

    This is something I’ve really had to learn as part of my recovery from Codependency. I was running myself ragged to the point where it was effecting my health (I wasn’t eating properly, having migraines, and was generally depressed).

    What I ended up doing was making myself a job description of the bare minimum chores that I would be responsible for in a week: loading/unloading dishwasher, homeschooling, meal preparation, laundry, sweeping, vacuuming, paying bills, and basic bathroom cleaning. I had my husband look over the list and sign off that it was reasonable, and then we agreed that anything on that list was the responsibility for both of us as we sit fit. If he doesn’t like the stain on the kitchen floor, then he can mop it. If I don’t like the car being messy, I can clean it. Otherwise we agree to live in filth. LOL It’s helped me to let a lot of things go without feeling guilty.

    I now have a daily check list of my bare minumums + three prayer times and taking my vitamins. I get to as much as I can, but sometimes even those things have to slide if something more important comes up that needs to be done. Then I just look at it as a trade.

    I do like Mothers Rule of Life, but you do have to be flexible when you have a baby in the house. Sometimes it’s more important for mom to squeeze in an extra two hours of sleep when she can stick to the strictest schedule. Some days you just have to decide what the bare minimum of the bare minimum is: food and schoolwork.

    I do like Mother’s Rule of Life, especially the 5 Priority P’s: Prayer, Person, Partner, Parent, Provider.

  38. Colleen Duggan

    I’ve worshiped the false god of productivity. Too many times to count. And it has become alarmingly clear to me what a poor example I set for my children when I do not yield to rest.

    Recently, after sitting at the table for at least five hours, my ten year old cried in frustration, “I can’t take a break! I have to FINISH THIS!!!”

    Even though I gave him permission over and over again, he couldn’t let go of his task. He didn’t fall off the turnip truck; he’s learned this over-attachment to a to-do list at the hands of a master.

    I have a long way to go but I love your reminder to embrace rest. It’s so counter-cultural and sorely needed for “productive” family life.

    God bless!

  39. Megan

    Hahaha, so I took half a minute to read your post. In my car. On my phone. In between dropping the kids at daycare so I could go frantically grade papers in the Starbucks next door for a few hours. And I thought, “YEAH, I can do this! See, look at me slowing down already, taking some time for ME! And when I get home, I’ll do only a few tasks on my list, and then rest, and pray, and turn off the TV and spend time with my kids. Hooray for Jen Fulwiler and Mother Teresa!”

    My happy feeling about this lasted until five minutes after we arrived home, when my two-year-old upended a LITER AND A HALF of vegetable oil all over the contents of the pantry and most of the kitchen floor.

    Maybe we’ll try again tomorrow.

  40. Mary

    I heard a Scott Hahn talk where he said this is why God gave us the Sabbath. It’s really important to spend some time *not working* so we can remember that it’s not *our* work, but God’s, that really gets things done. When I can’t take the whole day off (usually because I wasn’t very diligent Saturday, or maybe for the reasons you described in your post), I try to make an effort to spend a few hours doing something that isn’t “productive.” Going for a leisurely walk, having friends over for a three-hour brunch/hang-out, calling my mom to chat, etc. It’s often harder to do that than the dishes, but afterward I’m usually like “Yeah. I needed that.”

  41. Jen G

    Jennifer: Do you or Joe have an idea of how this might be applied at work? I’m not sure it can be done, since I have an extremely deadline driven job, and more often than not, people are being asked to do the job of 2 (or 2.5) people these days. I’m praying to God and St. Joseph for guidance. Thank you so much!

  42. Shelly

    A popular blogging mom just published a book about this topic if you have any time to read it. It’s called Say Goodbye to Survival Mode by Chrystal Paine at Money Saving Mom. I haven’t bought it yet, but it’s on my “To do” list.

  43. Jenn @Home is Where...

    Jen, thank you for this post, how I needed this reminder. Blushing here, I have that book, “A mother’s rule of life”…guess I need to re-read it…. I really need to choose to do less. I am going to send this to my sister, who seems to be laboring under a load of guilt for never catching up. Thank you.

  44. Julia

    Good on you, Jen. I’m neither married nor a mother, and I’m in awe of you and other mums and how you cope with your workloads.

  45. southafricanmama

    Wow. This has definitely been an attitude changing read for me.So much truth. I’ve known for the longest time this is what I need to do but my own pride, need for control and lack of trust in God are huge stumbling blocks for me. Thank you for this wake-up call and blessings to you.

  46. Valerie @ Momma in Progress

    The routine of my day pretty much revolves around meals, bath time, and sleep. If I accomplish three “to do” things in any given day I consider it a success. But, I still can’t stop myself from making lists.

  47. Eunisauraus

    Hi Jen, just thought I would share my own experiences too.

    I’m currently a full time law undergrad in the UK and like you I try to do a lot everyday. However, my life and spirituality has really changed ever since I got to know Opus Dei (OD) and thought that you might find it helpful to adapt some of their norms as well.

    St Josemaria, the founder of OD came up with this “plan of life” for all his members to follow. It centers around daily Mass, rosary, 30min of morning prayer and 30 min of evening prayer, the angelus, spiritual reading and examination of conscience at night. And basically to keep the presence of God in whatever you do at all times of the day.
    Daily Mass wasn’t a problem, but the 1 hour of prayers was. It has always been 5-min or 10min if I can squeeze that time out to pray but at the turn of this new year, one of my resolutions was to really set time aside to pray, and can I say, that was really life-changing!

    I’m sure you would have experienced this before. Somehow stopping whatever we are doing to pray and talk to God for that 30min does not mean time wasted. In fact at the end of our prayer and going back to whatever we were doing before, my work became even more effective. Somehow this always works! That piece of reading which I had trouble understanding, those mountain of cases to read somehow became really manageable after spending that 30min in prayer. It’s amazing. And I really advocate making time to pray. As a friend who always says this: “don’t find time to pray, but make time to pray”. It’s really amazing.

    Continuing with the spirit of OD which is to sanctify ourselves in our work (every kind of work we are doing – teacher, cleaning, tending to kids etc) I believe it would really help you as you go about managing the household each day, to offer whatever you are doing to Our Lord and it just becomes really meaningful! That includes trying to clean the poo or puke off the couch etc. Everything can be holy.

    And of course, thank you so much for writing always. Your posts never fail to speak to me, and I can’t wait to get hands on your book!!!! 🙂

  48. Elizabethe

    My all time favorite post – thanks for sharing it again. I think of this one all the time.

    You know, there’s some unstated quality in the Nun’s rule that is really about focus as well. About letting yourself not multitask. About when you’re folding the clothes, just fold clothes. When you’re watching tv, just enjoy your show. How many times have I become frustrated for lack of time when I am trying to cook dinner, empty the dishwasher, shoot off an email or blog comment, and have a tv show or podcast on, all while I am barking orders at the kids to wash hands or set the table and who are ignoring me.

    But if I step back. It’s no wonder the kids don’t listen to me, I don’t even listen to myself.

  49. Deme @ House For Five

    This was beyond timely for me – thank you, Jen! I’ve just feel that pull in all directions, and towards things that are good, but it’s exhausting to even think about. And that feel that I will never again be able to JUST FINISH A CUP OF COFFEE. I didn’t even know how to adjust until I thought about what our main priorities are….I wrote down our current schedule (not the one I like to think we follow but what we actually do….too much computer time, too much TV, not a whole lot of purposeful anything happening). Then I started fresh with a much more narrow focus of taking care of our home with prayer and rest in mind. Funny how time on the computer did not even make it’s way to the schedule until later in the afternoon. It’s one thing I try to “squeeze in” here and there and everywhere (along with that illusive cup of coffee), which ends up taking over and distracting me from anything really productive. Even that time on the computer – not so productive because I haven’t carved out dedicated time for it. So all that really to thank you for this. I’m still working out what a schedule that reflects our family goals should look like but it was so nice to be reminded that we don’t have to feel guilty for making time for rest and that we don’t need to be doing more.

  50. Lynn

    Yes and Amen to this wonderful post. I go by what I call my “flex schedule”. It has parts that don’t change and then it has parts that move and interchange depending on what is going to work with the family’s day. Multi-tasking is counter-productive for me I have discovered. Prayer at beginning and end of day really does make it all somehow work out. And in moments of feeling overwhelmed I ask myself “just for today what can be done?”. God bless.

  51. Theresa

    We have got to make time for prayer. This is the most important thing we can do for ourselves. Jesus said for us who are weary and heavy-laden to come to Him and He would give us rest. Jesus is what we need. Nothing else matters.

    I used to think it was impossible for moms with a lot of little kids to pray but it is not. I have been praying now for years and it has made such a difference in my life. I know a lot of moms rise early and pray first thing in the morning but I’ve found that praying as soon as I put the kids down for naps works best for me so I am sure to have a solid chunk of time to be with God. He helps me and is there with me during the long slow tedious days and understands better than anyone just what it is like for me to have to endure screaming fighting and whining from my 6 children ages 9 and under. He is my best friend. Go to Jesus!

  52. Michelle

    Hi Jen, this is one of its type article when it comes to parenthood / advice. I hope I am permitted to share with my audience?

    The timing is damn good and almost right for everyone. But we all gave different schedule like you know.

  53. Lorena

    Oh, my, yes. What a peace settled on me as I read this post! What a sigh of relief, to let go. To trust. And yes – courage! Thank you so much for this post, which came to me just as we are contemplating letting go of a good number of “important” things in our schedules.

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