Rise to the Top

Rise to the Top

There are a few days each year when Jon and I both have almost completely “off” from our work responsibilities. Most of what I do is simultaneously challenging and flexible…a great combination for me, but sometimes “flexible” is a euphemism for “you-are-pretty-much-on-call-every-day-even-if-you-are-home.”

And…let’s face it…I’m a mom. We are ALWAYS on call!

Some of these precious “off” days come along during the Christmas season. Even though these weeks are a bustling, busy part of year the same phenomenon happens each time. We talk more, sit around more, laugh more…and invest more…in what matters to us. In fact, with the extra time we go through a habitual, almost ritualistic, process of re-prioritizing. This process quite naturally feeds into the whole “New Year’s Resolution” phase that people make fun of, but for us it is more than just a phase…it is a needed yearly purge. We purge our minds, our schedules, our goals…and, in a sense, start over. What is important to me? What do I want my life to really look like? Where do I want to be in five years? Do I still want to be doing this? If not, how do I want it to change? What do I want to do better as a Christ-follower, a spouse, a parent, a professional?

It reminds me of the biblical concept of jubilee…a returning, a consecration. It is very much a holy thing.

It also reminds me of going to the chiropractor (even though I have only been twice in my life).


Sometimes clients come in after having a bad week and they are really upset about the place in which they find themselves. They are almost anxious about being anxious…depressed about being depressed. “I don’t know how I got this way! I feel crazy!”

Together we, the client and I, take a deep breath. We start by looking around. We climb up on the balcony and survey the land. We look at their life, what’s going on, the relationships around them, events at work, happenings at home. We talk about their daily habits…”little” things like sleeping, eating, exercise…general self-care.

I have come to trust one thing: whatever “it” is…whatever has set off the intense feelings of depression or anxiety…”it” shows up. No, it is rarely just one “it”, but pretty soon we realize that…wow…that thing that happened at work…it was pretty traumatic! And, that conflict with the friend…it seems like it has bothered you way more than you realized. It sounds like with all of that going on you haven’t been sleeping as well, or eating as regularly, or getting outside as much, or, or, or…

Sometimes one “little” issue can cause our emotions to go “out of whack” and we need a re-alignment. Like a chiropractor pushing and pulling the joints into place, we start with a few pulls and pushes, a change here, a refocus there…and we start helping our life, our daily coming and goings, to go back to the most functional position for us. We grieve and talk and process about the pain that certain experiences may have caused, and then we do the work of re-aligning…our bodies, our minds, and our habits.

Life is hard. We get bumped around. We start feeling crazy.

Re-alignment must take place over and over and over again.

We must be intentional about setting aside time for jubilee…a returning, a consecration…very much a holy thing.

This need for re-alignment, for jubilee, is one reason I have come to love our yearly ritual of re-aligning…of purging…of letting what is important…

rise to the top.

I listened to a podcast from NPR recently that discussed some research findings out of the work of Sendhil Mullainathan, of Harvard University. The research is on “scarcity” and how it changes behavior. Many of us are familiar with how financial scarcity can cause a person to think in the “here-and-now” over and against the future, thus contributing to poor long-term financial planning. Many of us have probably experienced that phenomenon at some point in our lives. However, this research extended these findings to the scarcity of time.

For many busy professionals time is limited. We will put off mundane, albeit necessary, tasks in favor of not slowing down. Putting off the task usually causes more problems in the long run, costing us MORE time. Just like a person who puts things on a credit card due to the scarcity trap and ends up spending more money the payback, a person who avoids doing the important, mundane task ends up spending more time making up for trouble avoiding it caused.

“That’s the heard of the scarcity trap: you are so focused on the urgent that the important gets waylaid.” says Sendhil Mullainathan of Harvard University on Morning Edition.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes it seems that in our race to rise to the top…the important things…don’t.

We hurry and scurry to get where we think we want to be and we don’t stop to wonder if that place on “top” is really where we want to be anymore.

That is what December and January are about for me every year. I get a break from the day-to-day grind and step back. I take a “balcony view” of life and survey the land. I notice that during these weeks the important stuff…what really seems to matter to me…rises to the top.

Somewhere in this space…in the margins this extra time creates…I discover me again.

I take my cue here. I ask myself some hard questions…some liberating questions. I spend some time being grateful for what I have and what I could do.

I know that being a responsible adult means you get up and you do what you are supposed to do every day. I also know that we could all use some time to make sure that what we are doing stays true to who we are…that we don’t just stay on a path without being intentional of knowing where it is going…or that it is a path at all and not just a hamster wheel.

We could all use some time to clear out the “junk”…the commitments that have accumulated over time that don’t really fit our values or priorities. One man’s junk is another man’s treasure. Well, one man’s treasure is another man’s junk. Just because someone else said “yes” to do something…doesn’t mean you should.

I imagine a pool of water with all of the important things trapped beneath the surface with the “junk” floating on top. Seasons of purging, of realigning, of tidying up our schedule, have a way of letting those important things rise to the top.

This new year, go after your dreams, but make sure you are still going after dreams that matter to you. People grow. They change. They mature. Let your goals do the same. Jubilee is about a return, a consecration…a LIBERATION of things bound up. Sometimes we need to liberate ourselves from…OURSELVES.

In the process of working hard to rise to the top…make sure what is important to you…what makes up YOU…is is allowed to rise up, too.

Picture from www.edmagazine.com through google images.