A friend of mine is often saying that God is a God of order, and that makes total sense to me. But for a long time I have had a hard time planting that reality in my life. Among my friends, my home is the least orderly. I have the biggest family and the most boys, and our home looks like nine people live here! For not a small amount of time I have felt the burden of this lack of order and wondered, if it's true that God is a God of order, how do I live peacefully in a life that seems so lacking in it?
This past Monday I had what has indeed become a rare opportunity to stay home for the entire day. And though it was not deliberate, I found myself reflecting on order. We have been very busy with activities, concerts, and general Christmas preparations, but this day at home was a gift to me. Because it gave me the time to see one small thing - a thing that led me to reconsider my whole approach to life, and what it means to have order.
As I sat on my chair while the kids were at recess, I was drawn to the shelf above my TV. There are so many other areas of my home that are cluttered and in need of a good cleaning, but this day I decided I was going to do something about that one spot. It holds our gaming system, a couple of speakers for the sound system, a globe I use for history class, and has become a catch-all space for gaming paraphernalia of all sorts. I decided to take a few minutes to tidy it up. I hung one speaker on the wall to clear up some space on the shelf, removed all the extra things that did not need to be there, and removed an embarrassing amount of dust. I even decided to give our TV a wash down while I was at it. It was only a small job, really. But one of so many things I find myself looking at in the run of a day that make me feel my life is out of order. And now when I look over there, I feel a little better about my home.
I realized as I was doing that small task that I have come to define order too narrowly. I have made it something so precise that I could not possibly attain it, and for so long that reality has made me feel so unhappy. I understood order to mean that my home would look like most of my friends' houses. That trim would be installed around all windows and doors, and there would be no gauges and dents in the walls. Spaces would look neat and tidy and proper, and there would not be excess clutter. These are all still things I hope to achieve in my home, but at the moment with so many people under one roof keeping on top of it all seems impossible. And yet. I can still keep the spaces that I have, roughed up and unfinished though they may be, orderly. I can put things away. I can dust. I can make peace with the jobs that I need to save for another day and tackle the ones I can do now. That small realization helped me breathe so much easier.
The more I thought of it, I realized there is even more to order that simply that which we see - and that is the order of my life. Am I doing things in the proper order, given the particular day and what I hope to achieve? This is where school and schedules come in. In the beginning of the year I took great pains to carve out a schedule for us. It was a daunting task because I have so many students at such differing grade levels, each with their own unique needs. It took me many weeks, but what I am realizing is that what I ultimately came up with was too busy and therefore unattainable for us as a family. When I over schedule us (and right now I am referring to our time in the home, how much time is spent on each subject and when, chores, etc.) what ends up happening is that we struggle to fit everything in. It's not long before things start to fall off the schedule entirely, and then I begin to feel like a failure, because when you're not achieving the goals you set out to meet, you feel like your life is in disorder.
This day as I pondered our schedule, I realized that a natural rhythm has sort of been evolving this year. I had planned a short recess at 10:45 am, during which time I hoped to pop in a load of laundry and have the kids back to school at 11:00 am until noon. What had gradually started to happen though was that our reading time (for which I only alotted 15 minutes afterbut often took double that) brought us closer to 11:00 am. Then the kids would go out and again it took me longer than the 15 minutes I allowed myself to do my laundry. So I would come upstairs and it would be 11:30 am, and the kids would be happily playing outside and I'd think, "I could call them in for a quick half hour of school, or I could use the time to get a few things done and make lunch." It's not hard to figure out which of those I chose most of the time! Once this became habit it made the mornings easier but the afternoons harder, because I found myself with more work to do in less time. On especially busy days I would consider getting the kids to start their school immediately after they were done eating, but felt guilty about doing that because then I'd be taking their lunch break away. But then it occurred to me that if they had an hour of play before eating, they don't really need another break after. The added bonus for us is that the baby naps right after lunch, and if I get started into school right away it gives me more uninterrupted time with the kids. We can all be much more productive in the two hours immediately following lunch while the baby sleeps than we can in the hour following is recess, when baby is cranky and I'm worrying about lunch and laundry. There was a natural order that was evolving over the last few months, and when I put my constructed schedule aside to pay attention to the actual rhythm of our life and what was working at the time, I realized that order is possible - it's just different from what I originally conceived.
There is also a natural order about our week, a balance of "in" days and "out" days. School looks different depending on whether we are in or out, but generally we function better as a family if we spend more days home than out. Last year I had wisely concluded if we keep our out days to two, and staggered them so they weren't back to back, that was the best way to set up our week. And it worked great! However this year things changed up on us, and we found that more kids in activities meant we were spread out over other days as well, and there was no way around us being out three days in a row this year, which is a bummer. But even there, I found an opportunity to fine-tune the order of the day so that it doesn't break us.
First - I protect our "in" days at all costs. When an opportunity for a homeschool dance class came up for our girls but it was on one of our "in" days, I struggled. I wanted to sign them up for it (especially since we used to do ballet with our oldest girl but had to cut it out because we didn't have time, and we don't do anything really girly for the girls). I asked the instructors about the possibility of doing classes biweekly, but they were not able to accommodate me. I had decided to try it on a monthly basis, but as I pondered the order of my life on this rare day home and thought about how good it felt to dust that shelf (something so small!) I realized that if I committed us to one more day out, there would be even less time for things like that. And I knew that if I wanted to maintain order in my busy life, I could not sacrifice that day in - no matter how badly I wanted this opportunity for my girls. The other "in" day is a non-school day for us, and in the past we had treated it as an outing or field trip day (not every week, but often every other week). But here too I've started to see the importance of keeping this day at home. I thought that if we had the day off school, we should still be doing something educational (that's the overachieving homeschool Mom in me). But instead we have been having friends over to our house every couple of weeks to watch a program together, and that has been working so much better.
The second thing I've learned is that an out day does not have to be an "out all day" day. When our days out were staggered I crammed as much running into each of those days as I could, so I could be productive (and so I wouldn't need to sacrifice in days for appointments or errands). Often we would do school at the library to help us get out the door on time, and just plan to spend our whole day in town and squeeze school in between our activities. This year while we have three days in a row out, on one of those days our commitment doesn't begin until late enough in the day that my husband can be home, so I only need to bring the children who are attending the class (rather than lugging everyone in town). This makes life so much easier because getting out the door with two children is a much smaller job than with seven. So even though that day is technically an out day, I do my best not to add anything else to it, so that the kids who don't need to be out can stay home for the day. This brings a lot more order to my week, and makes that third day out a little more manageable.
The cleaning of that shelf was the beginning of a whole new disposition for me. Since then whenever I want to do something I ask myself, "how does this fit into the order of my day?" This has drastically changed the way I go about my day. For example, I wanted to write all these thoughts down as soon as I had them (right after I cleaned that shelf, because that's how my brain works!) But by then it was 11:45 am, and I have learned that my day always goes better if we eat lunch at 12:00 noon rather than letting it go later. Since blogging takes me much longer than 15 minutes, I knew it would be more of a deterrent to the order of that day, and so I left it for another time when I could devote myself fully to collecting my thoughts without disrupting the day or setting anything behind. Several times that day a child would crawl up on me, and I would stop what I was doing and think, "how does this fit into the order of this day?" And then I realized something very important - those kinds of little things, reading a book to a child or tickling a baby, or listening to a middle schooler's new idea - these are things that absolutely worth making time for. They take a fraction of the time as something like writing a blog, and when I allow myself to stop and pay 100% attention to my children, even in small pockets of time, that restores order to my heart. These are the things I need to spend time squeezing in, and this is how we will all find a little more peace in the midst of this chaos - by being present to each other, the ones we love most.
Advent has gone by in a blur, but I really do feel like in one quiet day at home this week it all culminated into something important for me. I had been feeling for so long like order was not possible for me in this stage of my life, but God showed me that I was wrong. It takes peace. It takes quiet. It takes surrendering the things you can't do anything about, and faithfully doing the things you can do. And most importantly, it takes time and relationship with the people you love the most, to bring balance to all the menial tasks that seem so lifeless without the joy that comes from relationship with them. God is indeed a God of order. And when I am faithful to the natural order of my life, I find Him there. Encouraging me, lifting me up, and giving me the strength I need to do what He asks of me in love. I pray that the rest of this season of Advent will bring peace and order to each of our lives, and that Christmas will find us all renewed in Christ's love.
"For God is not a God of disorder, but of peace." (1 Corinthians 14:33)