Cultivating what matters

Change for the better

“’Kaizen’ has been my word for this year,” Sam explains. It is a Japanese term that means change for the better or continuous improvement. She tells me about a process that commenced for her a little over two years ago.

At the time Sam began reassessing her priorities. She was working for the Christian Humanitarian agency, Baptist World Aid (BWAA) and regularly coming into their offices in a northern part of Sydney from her home in Newcastle.

“It was a six hour round trip, three hours each way. I’d been doing it for quite some time, around three to four years at that stage.” The toll of her work, as a Communications Specialist, plus the travel was affecting her. “I was feeling pretty tired. Even though the mission of BWAA intersects with my faith and my passion for justice in our world, I realised I wasn’t doing a great job in resting or creating space to thrive or flourish in my personal life.

I’m just not good at stopping

Sam explains how resting has been a recurring theme. “Even when Dave and I got married we cancelled our honeymoon to Borneo. I had exams coming up and I was too stressed. We decided to put it on pause, but it never happened. I’m just not good at stopping.”

Work as identity

Another issue was the encroachment of her work becoming too much a part of her identity. “At the time, my work was very much who I was. I was so passionate that I hadn’t stopped to think about who I was outside of that. It had been my goal as a Christian to work in this kind of development space for some time. My role at BWAA was very much a full stop on my resume.”

Around that time a close friend and colleague of Sam’s, asked her some searching questions. “As I began to reflect on what was important to me in my personal life, I realised it was the opposite of my hectic, busy life. When I drilled right down to it, I realised that I needed to create time and space to live the rhythms that God had intended for us.”

My heart was crying out for change

These reflections led Sam to realise that she needed to declutter her life and to somehow reframe her identity as more than the work she was doing, as important as that was.

“My heart was crying out for change. I wanted to experience intentional, purposeful God-led rest.”

Regaining control

Sam speaks freely of the many systems that she had absorbed in trying to get a firmer hold of her life. Things she’s learned from books such as Digital Minimalism, Bullet Journal Method and Miracle Morning.

One book stood out though, “The one that brought them all together. John Mark Comer’s, ‘The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry’. Looking back, I was trying to bring about change in my life in my own strength. I’d been looking at all these processes and then I read Ruthless Elimination of Hurry and it pulled them all together for me. ‘Ah, there is a spiritual imperative for all of this’, I thought. I realised that this was the thing that my heart had been crying out for and what I was lacking.” Sam also talks about “Powersheets”, which is a system of journaling and goal setting.

“It was developed by a Christian woman in the States, and it takes you through a series of questions which are intended to help you ‘Cultivate What Matters’. It is a grace-led process, which has been huge for me. I’m not great at following through on my goals, so it’s easy for me to get disheartened. But I’ve been using this process now for three years, and I’m amazed at some of the progress I’ve made – little by little. It’s played an important role in my journey as it helps me to recognise what really matters in each new season.”

Home no more

This process of evaluation for Sam gave her a platform to transition through several important events in her life during 2021. In April, she and Dave were suddenly given notice to move out of their home in Mayfield.

“Mayfield had been my home for six years and I really loved the area. I felt quite connected. So the move was something I wasn’t happy about.”

It seems that Covid had created the groundswell for a seller’s housing market. “When the property market in Newcastle exploded post Covid, as it did elsewhere, our landlord decided to sell. People could telecommute and didn’t have to work in an office. Places in Newcastle became vastly more appealing than they used to be.”

It seems like a lot of people were looking for a tree change.

Dave and Wasabi, one of their three dogs

“It wasn’t our decision to move. We weren’t ready. It was very stressful at the time.” One of their many stresses was finding a home that could accommodate their three dogs. Naturally, Sam was anxious about the possibility of not finding a home at all. “I thought that there was a real possibility that we were facing a period of homelessness.”

To exacerbate their anxieties, Sam’s father had been seriously ill over a protracted time. Dave, who was retraining for a new career, had intentionally not been looking for work to be available to help his parents-in-law at short notice. “On paper we didn’t look like the most attractive tenants with Dave not working, even though he was getting a small pension from the Army having been medically discharged.”

Sam and Dave decided to create a wide area to search for a new home, going as far south as the Central Coast to further north in the Hunter region. “We looked morning and night. We applied for more than 30 different places before we were finally offered one. This happened for the best part of a month.”

Their new home is in a new development near Maitland. After all their stress, the home has turned out to be perfect for the new life that Sam had been working toward when she took stock of her life two years earlier.

Sam and Dave, supporting their beloved Newcastle Jets

Dealing with significant change

Two other significant events also occurred around that time: Her Dad died and she decided to commence a new life in self-employment. Yet, as she looks at these major events, she reflects how she was able to navigate them without falling apart.

I had the support of people who had known me for years

“I’m not good with change, yet I was able to get through all this. God guided me through, because there were so many things outside of my control.” In terms of the details, Sam was offered a great opportunity to transition to contract work as a copywriter. Within three days of handing her resignation at BWAA, her Dad was gone. Yet, there was a tangible blessing in the timing of his death, as she was still working for BWAA during her notice period. “I had the support of people who had known me for years at BWAA and had been with me on this journey and were able to see me through to the end of that journey.”

Naturally, there is still a lot of grief to be processed in the loss of her Dad. There is also a different grief which comes from moving away from a home full of memories and the grief of leaving a role that she loved.

Dave and I can separate our work life from our home life

Yet, the fact that sometime earlier, Sam had prepared herself to focus on cultivating the things that really matter to her, such as an intentional life of faith and closeness to God, meant that she was prepared for these significant inflection points in her life. She sees that her new home has provided her with the ideal context for cultivating what matters, “While I didn’t plan for this move, I can see from the physical layout of my new home that this space is purpose fit for the new season we are stepping into. Both Dave and I can separate our work life from our home life.  And the fact that I was offered a professional opportunity I wasn’t looking for, has given me the freedom to pursue what I am longing for.”

A narrative flip

Was there a decisive moment for Sam when she realised that she had to change her priorities? She refers to a “narrative flip”, that is, the moment she realised that there must be a sacred time of rest created in her life. It is as important as her work. “I’ve come to realise that observing the sabbath, as God tells us to, is actually (surprise, surprise) rather important. Rest isn’t really about recovery at all. Intentionally setting aside time is a necessary part of filling you up for the work you need to do.”

She also talks about recognising that God does not depend on her to complete his work. She can serve him whether she is working directly for a Christian Humanitarian agency or not. And there are many ways that she can continue to support that work. In a sense, by releasing her hold on a life driven by feverish achievement, she believes she can be much more fruitful to being the person she was created to be.

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