I am no stranger to leading a quiet life. My junior year of high school was spent moving between bed and couch after a crippling case of mono left me unable to do much except journal and wish for more sleep. My life from that point on has involved much less “doing” and much more “resting” than it ever had before; I have learned to value quietness and contemplation, in addition to big dreams and grand accomplishments. Still, even after eight years of this new life, I find myself struggling on a regular basis with my own need to be doing something that looks and feels “worthwhile” and “productive” with my quiet time.
Days before Christmas, my husband and I took a romantic trip to the labor and delivery unit of our local hospital to figure out why my then-28-weeks-pregnant self was contracting regularly. Although we never got many conclusive answers, we didn’t have a baby that week either, and eight weeks later I am still pregnant—and still contracting.
These last two months have seen me confined to the couch for a new reason: pregnancy complications. Once again, I’ve found myself spinning through the same old doubts and worries, letting the same anxieties creep back in to my head and my heart.
A week or two ago, I decided to put together a to-do list comprised of productive, worthwhile things that I could do from my resting place on the couch. For a few days, I worked industriously on my list, checking things off and feeling proud.
And then, one day, I was tired. The contractions had kept me up for most of the night before, and I was physically and mentally exhausted. I sleep-walked through the morning, doing little bits of nothing here and there, my sluggish brain unable to keep up with much of anything.
Halfway through the day, I found myself locked in a round of internal self-castigation. Look at you, wasting your whole day, said the nagging voice in the back of my mind. Can’t you do anything that would be worth something?
Suddenly, instead of just feeling overwhelmed and defeated, I found myself rising up against that nagging voice. Isn’t it worth something to care for myself, and for my baby? I found myself asking. Isn’t it worth something to take some time to cherish my body so that it can stay strong and do what it needs to? Isn’t it worth something, sometimes, just to rest?
I have always struggled with this idea—that resting, taking care of myself, can in and of itself be a worthwhile task. That I don’t have to be filling every single quiet hour with efficiency and the kinds of accomplishments that can be crossed off my beloved to-do lists.
That day, I created a note on my computer and wrote these words as a reminder to myself: “I don’t have to be curing cancer in my resting time. I can be doing whatever I need.”
Sometimes, what I need is to be busy, to be getting a lot done. But sometimes, what I need is just to go easy on myself. To give myself a little grace. To let go of all my often-unrealistic expectations and just be.
In a society that values busyness and accomplishment, that can be a difficult pill to swallow. But still, I imagine that if I ever get the art of “simply being” down someday, I will be a better person for it.
Do you struggle with allowing yourself time to rest and rejuvenate?