The Law of Subtraction

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.


Path along Mt Constitution–Puget Sound. A glorious view of what is ahead.


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?

11 thoughts on “The Law of Subtraction

  1. You are so methodical. There seems to be a “zero-sum” game that you use to direct your life. I admire that because if I were to use that structure I would collapse while trying to keep up with everything. Do what makes you happy and let everyone else worry. Best to you.


    • Hey John,
      Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.
      Sometimes, I’m methodical. I do struggle like everybody else with trying to keep balance–subtracting and adding in a healthy way.
      The length of a blog post doesn’t allow me to share all my mistakes! I don’t ever want any of my readers to think I have this all down–it’s a process for me, like everyone.
      Wishing you the best for the week ahead,

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Good morning, Connie! How wonderful to “see” you again. I celebrate the publishing of your memoir with you. I celebrate putting into practice the law of subtraction. I agree, it is directly opposite to our world which says “add more”. May God bless you big this very day. In Christ, Julie


    • Hey Julie,
      I’ve missed you! I’m not as active on Twitter because I’m so busy. Yes, my book was published last April and because of the life-changing event of my husband telling me he wants out of our marriage after over 40 years, I’ve been dealing with working through that. I know God is in control of my life, but it’s been hard.
      I hope you and your family are well and that you’re continuing with your ministry.
      Thanks for reading my blog and I’d love for you to read my memoir (in paperback and ebook through Amazon).
      thanks for your blessing,

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh Connie, I am sorry for the loss of your marriage. One of my sisters at church describes the grief about her divorce as bigger than the grief of losing her daughter to cancer. I would love to read your memoir. Please be patient with me as I am preparing to speak for the next 3 months. I will keep your book on a list to be read. I have not been much on Twitter either, I was spending too much time there. Let’s keep in touch via blogs dear Connie. In Christ, Julie


      • Julie,
        Thanks so much for your kind and generous response. No worries about any time frame on reading my memoir. Yes, going through this divorce has been even harder than the simultaneous struggle I had with a toxic job and breast cancer treatment that’s the foundation for my memoir.
        I’m happy that you’re busy preparing to speak–being used by God in the work He has ‘prepared in advance for you to do.’
        blessings on you this day, Julie.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Several years ago I learned the power of “No” – that’s one word is a sentence. It sounds stark and un-moving because it is. I had to learn that saying no to others meant saying yes to me 🙂 it’s worked ever since.

    Once caveat, however, is that I’ve not always filled up the void doing that created … and that’s OK. I cleared my friendship cupboard of needy people and have been far more selective on who has been allowed in.

    Great post!


    • Hey MJ,
      You’re so right that saying “No” is a big part of simplifying our lives. It’s hard–I think especially as women, who are mothers, daughters, caregivers etc to say no, but once we see that time is limited and we must choose wisely, it helps. People who are needy are stuck, and sometimes they depend on friendships and avoid doing the work they need to do.
      I’m glad you’re benefitting from “clearing out your cupboard” and wish for you that you’ll continue to say “yes” to yourself– being healthy and whole.
      Thanks for reading and commenting, MJ. Best to you this day.


  4. Pingback: Weekly Round-Up | Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer

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