Entering the kitchen, I stopped short. A quick survey revealed placemats and cutlery from dinner cluttering the table, a stack of dirty plates in the sink, half-cut veggies for tomorrow’s breakfast casserole littering the counter, and two ice cubes that had fallen out of the freezer and sat melting on the floor. Not to mention the dining room that still needed sweeping and the laundry tumbling away in the washer upstairs.
Though my family is good at helping clean up, I knew I still had work to do. By the time I finished, it would be bedtime for the kids. And after a round of brushing teeth, reading books, and snuggling, I’d be too tired to do anything but fall into my own bed.
The cycle was unsustainable. But how could I juggle the work that still needed to be accomplished and say no to hanging out with my husband and kids without feeling guilty? Just as importantly, how could I build in a few minutes to myself after the work of the day to quietly refocus, find balance, and enjoy spending time with those I loved most?
In Mark 6:30-32, Jesus recognized the value of rest and recovery. In fact, he encouraged the apostles to spend time alone recovering after working hard:
The apostles returned to Jesus from their ministry tour and told him all they had done and taught. Then Jesus said, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat. So they left by boat for a quiet place, where they could be alone.
Though it’s taken time, over the years we’ve developed a few strategies to help us reset in the evening by finding a few minutes to be alone, leaving us refreshed and ready to engage once more with one another and our kids.
Take time to pause when shifting between work and home. If you work outside the home, pause before you enter the house. In the late afternoon, I’ll often spot my husband sitting in the driveway with his car idling, finishing up a call or returning emails. He’s careful to finish everything that absolutely has to be done so that he can give our daughters his full attention when he enters the door, undistracted by his phone.
If you work from home or are a stay-at-home mom, you can still take time to pause. There are many days I’ll sit quietly on the darkened steps that lead to our basement for a few minutes, just to breathe and relax, or slip out to the garage or sit on the front porch to finish a phone call in relative peace.
Run an errand by yourself. It seems counterintuitive to do something that’s technically work when trying to get a break, but I love running errands by myself. A quick trip to Target or the library gives me enough time in the car to simply sit quietly or listen to part of a podcast. Sometimes a quick change in scenery is all that’s needed to help me take a few deep breaths.
Put your earbuds in. If you just can’t find time to be truly alone, try putting your earbuds in for a little while. Even though you’re physically present, listening to music, a podcast, or an audiobook can help you feel like you’re mentally escaping for a little while. I often wear earbuds while I grocery shop. At home, I like to put them in when I’m folding laundry, as it makes the task pass more quickly.
Take turns with your partner. Offer to trade off, with each of you getting a few minutes to yourself. When my husband was a child, his mom had a routine: Every night, without fail, she left him in his father’s care, set a timer, and took a bath for one solid hour. One hour where she ignored any knocks on the doors or questions; one hour where she didn’t have the responsibility of being the parent in charge. That routine was important.
There are many evenings where I’ll tell my husband to go watch a movie in the basement by himself for a little while or he’ll tell me to read a book while he juggles the kids or takes care of putting them to bed. It’s amazing what as little as 15 or 20 minutes by yourself can do to help restore your good spirits.
Solitude is something Jesus—who once spent 40 days in the wilderness by himself—certainly understands. What’s more, his example reminds us that it’s ok to put aside the work of our hands and return to it the next day. When we do, we’ll often find ourselves in a better mental, emotional, and physical state than we were before.
A career in journalism set Kristin Demery up to publish her own stories of living this wild, precious life. She now is an author of five truth-telling books, including the latest 100 Days of Kindness, and part of a trio of writers collectively known as The Ruth Experience. Kristin served as a newspaper and magazine editor and her work has been featured in a variety of publications, including USA Today. She still works behind-the-scenes as an editor for others while writing her own series on kindness, friendship, and living with intention. Find more from Kristin at theruthexperience.com.