Yes, the law of subtraction. That’s what came to me at 3:30 that early January morning when my mind was overloaded, trying to figure out how to add another activity to my already busy schedule. My friends had insisted, against my protest, that I needed to be in a DivoceCare group now, no putting it off. I laid in bed, looking at the horizontal shadows on the bedroom wall that were created by the neighbor’s outside light shining through my blinds.
I listed all the things I was responsible for and couldn’t let go of, then I named the activities that I enjoyed– but weren’t required.
What could I let go of for a while during this time of change in my life?
The law of subtraction goes against our cultural norm of addition– adding on one more thing then another, insisting if we just manage our time better we can do it all. I spent much of my life trying to do that, attempting to be Superwoman. Five years after I completed breast cancer treatment and I’d returned to that Superwoman way of living, I found myself at a point of exhaustion.
A book that a friend gave me during chemo, Living the Simple Life by Elaine St. James, helped me to evaluate how to make a change in my life. Her book gives many examples of how, over the course of several years, she simplified her life.
Some of the things she subtracted were unnecessary time spent shopping, watching the news, adding on a new sports activity, automatically saying “yes” to dinner or coffee invitations, taking on roles when she felt honored to be asked, then later realizing her ego was why she’d accepted the position.
In my memoir, He Heard My Voice, I describe in Chapter 4 just how weighed down I’d become.
After praying and consulting with others, I decided that I had to take away all my voluntary activities. That seemed so irresponsible for me at that time, especially since many were with my church. But ultimately, that decision opened up the space for me to take care of myself. Reading Living the Simple Life had helped me to see all the ways those activities impacted my well-being.
Now, all these years later, I pull down that book from my shelf and think it’s time to reread it for this new chapter that I’ve entered. In my DivorceCare group last week, we watched the video and I was impressed by a graph of the physical, mental, and emotional demands on our lives. It showed how the emotional demands going through divorce are greatly heightened–the bar lighting up with red to show the intensity. As the workbook states:
Divorce hurts worse than other people realize
I had no idea how hard this would be; my parents weren’t divorced and I’d falsely assumed that this was something that just happened to other people. Now I see how much energy going through this takes and why my friends were right to insist that I add the group to my must do list.
Lying in bed that night, I decided I’d take a ‘sabbatical’ from my writing group. We’ve been together for many years and I know them like family. They understand when the demands of life zap our energy for the work required to produce our own writing and critique that of fellow members. Better to see them in the fall after I’m further along with this new life chapter.
By then, I’ll reread Living the Simple Life and consider how it applies now as I move forward in a different way. I want to balance my addition with subtraction, choosing carefully how to live my new life.
How About You?
In what ways do you need to balance your life– either through addition or subtraction of activities or responsibilities?
What steps can you take toward doing what is right for you in the week ahead?