Allowing the Spinning Plates to Fall

The soul is like a wild animal––tough, resilient, resourceful, savvy, self-sufficient. It knows how to survive in hard places. But it is also shy. Just like a wild animal, it seeks safety in the dense underbrush. If we want to see a wild animal, we know that the last things we should do is go crashing through the woods yelling for it to come out. But if we will walk quietly in the woods, sit patiently by the base of the tree, and fade into our surroundings, the wild animal we seek might put in an appearance. ––Parker Palmer, qt. in Sacred Rhythms

I suppose every adult has some number of plates spinning through the air in a single moment, but they seem to grow in quantity and intensity once children are involved. Consider for a moment, how many conversations are happening right now about parenthood, around the sleeping, feeding, educating, entertaining, maturing of a child? I couldn’t possibly number the ones in my head even as I type. Add homeownership, marriage, work, self-care, or community, and the amount of plates grow exponentially. It is no wonder our own souls begin to fade in the process.

I don’t mean to imply that the work of spinning or juggling as a mother, wife, or entrepreneur is not beautiful or rewarding. By contrast, it is the most deeply rewarding work, the most patiently preserved garden. The point I mean to say is simply what I have noticed in myself over the years of juggling: sometimes my inner person will hide in the midst of it all, waiting for quiet stillness to appear.

But how does one find that level of stillness and quiet daily, smack in the midst of all of the various tasks and needs of the day? In The Hidden Art of Homemaking, Edith Schaeffer writes, “one is always having to neglect one thing in order to give precedence to something else.” Truthfully, I am not always good about neglecting anything, so at times, the plates weighted with my own expectation are the most difficult of all. I gather my best ideas for motherhood and marriage and home and homeschool and the words and practices I want to share with others and the way I want it all to look, too. Yet I forget that I am only one person, living only one minute at a time. It does require time for the soul to appear, for some of us more than others. So how do I find this space daily? In the simplest terms, I allow some of my plates to fall. I neglect something else in my day––something beautiful and good and productive––in order to preserve it.

That said, it doesn’t mean it is easy. I mean neglect? Fall? Crash? Do those words make you a little uncomfortable, too? What about the image of crashing plates with other people watching? Ugh, my palms feel sweaty just writing it. But that’s the point. Prioritizing our life, not just to accomplish what we hope for the day, but to preserve and protect the things we value will always cost us something. It is easier to neglect something that seems of little value, but ideally our lives grow to become full of things we value, relationships and activities with meaning for our lives. At some point, there will not be enough time in a day to take care of all the things we want or need to do, and when evaluating time and energy, we must prioritize with a deeper value, even when it leaves a few expectations or goals broken on the floor.

Perhaps like me, you are fumbling through expectations and planned goals. Maybe the way you have juggled your routine recently is no longer working well for you or your home. Perhaps you’re waiting for someone to give you permission to pause, to plant yourself by a tree in silence. If so, here it is. Be still. Put aside the checklist or the children or the dinner, and simply listen. What do you hear? Maybe you are not where you want to be mid-year. Maybe your family is still working through something hard or your timing is simply out of sync. Maybe you feel overwhelmed by debt or by a project or feel chased by a need for more, a feeling of scarcity. Maybe your marriage is struggling or your homeschool year ended flat or your children are really difficult right now. Friend, be gentle with yourself, with your expectations and demands as you grow. I have been reminding myself again this week, I don’t have to do everything at once, and neither do you. Allow a few plates to fall and break, and watch how you survive. Take a deep, soul-filling breath and examine what is really most important for you, for your home right now. Allow the pain points to rise, the gaping wounds to reveal themselves. It’s the first step in healing.

Nurturing and strengthening my inner person––my mind, emotions, and spirit––are crucial to all I do as a wife, mother, mentor, writer and so on, although when the plates of responsibility stack up, I can forget my need for that space and reflection. I assure you it is just as crucial for you, too, although the practice of how that works out for each of us will vary. I encourage you, make time to nurture your inner person, especially if you live and work with people, even if you are extroverted. Here are a few ways I have or do currently make time.


HOW TO MAKE TIME FOR THE SOUL

set an alarm or reminder for a specific time each day/ It’s unromantic, but so practical. My favorite time to read, write, and pray is first thing in the morning, so I always have an alarm set during the week. But setting an alarm doesn’t need to be for the morning, consider parts of your day that might work best for your own person and set an alarm to remind you to pause for a bit of time.

practice with your children / When our children were younger and not/sleeping at all hours, we had a quiet hour in the afternoon, often coinciding with nap time. The older children could read on their beds or listen to audiobooks and I enjoyed my own quiet, too (and sometimes a nap).

use intentional screentime for the children / I know, I know, but a 30-60 minute window in the day for screens for your children or teens can be the exact gift of time you need as a mother or homeschooler. Be intentional with the time to do something restorative, to make time for the soul.

identify time-sucks / Look to how you already use your hours? Are there blocks of time dedicated to mindless scrolling on your phone, or Netflix binging, or another unnecessary activity to replace or adjust for time alone.

take a day of solitude / We do this quarterly, and it is so, so wonderful. I wrote more ideas over here.

6 replies
  1. Tanya
    Tanya says:

    I have been slowly but surely learning this lesson this summer. I have been discouraged many times in the past that when I attend to one thing, I automatically have to drop another thing. There just isn’t enough of me, though I sure try to do it all! It has not been easy to change my habits of trying to do everything really well, and I end up suffering in the end. I’ve been learning to let myself sleep in when I feel that I should be up and doing something, but I need the sleep to help my hormones function properly. I’ve had to let go of making great, well-rounded homemade breakfasts and let the kids eat more cereal than I would like them to be eating. I’ve barely seen friends this summer as I focus on my health and mental well-being. I have said no to many kids activities I wish we had time for. I feel like I’m refocusing and recalibrating, and I’m proud of the work I’ve done so far.

    Reply
  2. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    Wow, Bethany, this was a wonderful post! It spoke directly to my heart and soul, as weary as it is. “Allowing the spinning plates to fall” might become my new mantra. I especially identified with the thought of how we neglect one thing in order to focus on another thing. As a perfectionist, this is not easy for me, because I have the need to do it all and to do it all well. It is killing me and talking all the joy away. I will try to be more intentional about letting some of the ‘plates’ fall. Thanks for the good ideas. 🙂

    Reply
  3. Christa Threlfall
    Christa Threlfall says:

    This is helpful, Bethany. I think all of us struggle with the idea of not meeting other people’s expectations (and the expectations we have of ourselves!).

    One thing that is extremely helpful for me to remember is that if I don’t have time for soul care, I’m spinning plates I never should have taken on in the first place. Sometimes the crashing of plates is exactly what my soul needs to come back to God and reorient my heart and soul to his desires for my life.

    Reply
    • Bethany
      Bethany says:

      So well said, Christa. As a people pleaser and a task-oriented doer, I am prone to pick up things that aren’t meant for me. I agree that letting some of the things fall certainly feels like freedom, in a backward way. Wink.

      Reply
    • Megan
      Megan says:

      Wow! Thanks for all of the wise words and encouragement, ladies. I was having almost this exact conversation last night with my husband- through tears. I was feeling the burden of expectations from extended family, church, kids, friendships. As a homeschooling mom of 5 kids, I sometimes feel that I am barely able to meet the needs here in our own home without the myriad of other things that are always added on top. But I’m trying to remind myself that I should focus on what God is calling me (and us) to in this season and to accept that some ‘plates’ may fall. That feels so hard for a people-pleasing perfectionist, but that statement about neglecting one thing to focus on another really resonates with me as well. xo

      Reply

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