I rolled out of bed, gritting my teeth against the aches and pains of another restless night. Going downstairs to get my coffee, I could see the glow of Nicholas’s phototherapy light in the dining room. Good, he’s already up. I flipped the switch to turn on the coffee maker as I continued to the basement to get his medicine. Dose in hand, I checked on the progress of the coffee, grabbed pen and notebook, and went to where Nicholas sat in front of the light eating breakfast. Kissing top of his head, I set the little plastic cup in front of him, then sat down with the notebook on the table between us.
“Okay, let’s talk about today. The only appointment you have is with Susan at 1:00. So you should be able to make some good progress on schoolwork.” I started blocking out hours of time on the next blank page. “We can go to the gym once I’m done with breakfast.” I glanced at his nearly empty cereal bowl. “Meanwhile you can work on math.” I started filling in the boxes for the morning. “How far did you get yesterday?”
The coffee pot’s beep sang its siren song and I pushed back from the table, saying over my shoulder, “Grab your math and let me see.” I returned with my cup and he handed me the assignment.
I buried my nose in my mug, inhaling the rich scent. I willed the hot elixir to do its job. Give me the energy to do today. Every day we worked the plan, worked out, worked for wellness. But still I knew Nicholas was not working to his potential. We were all working twice as hard to barely maintain. Work. Tedious, exhausting, unrewarding.
We all needed a break. We eagerly anticipated some upcoming time away from the grind. My husband Dan and I would drop Nicholas off at basketball camp, leaving Alex, our newly minted high school graduate, to hold down the homestead and work at his dollar-store job. Dan and I would then go to a bed and breakfast by the beach for four days by ourselves. Dan, who had been dealing with a lot of pressure at work as well as the ache of having a son who was so ill, was tired and stressed and wound up. Alex looked forward to some peace and solitude.
We discovered by accident that Nicholas had mononucleosis. Because of some confusion with a blood test for his thyroid, the lab performed a full work up. We might never have found out about the mono if it hadn’t been for the mix-up, since he never really had the bad sore throat and fever, just fatigue. None of us noticed extra fatigue; Nicholas’s meds and depression already caused fatigue. The doctor instructed us to let him sleep as much as he wanted and to not let him play contact sports or exert himself too much, since mono renders the spleen vulnerable. No basketball.
Let’s just say — Disappointment.
Nicholas initiated the idea that he should stay with his grandparents so Dan and I could still go on our couple’s vacation. Of course I had concerns about how Nicholas would do away from us with his grandparents, feeling poorly, out of his normal routines and environment. Dan Sr. and Lillian love him very much, but living in different states has made it harder for Nicholas to have a close relationship with them. Still, I was also concerned about my husband and his emotional exhaustion and about our marriage. We badly needed time to relax, have fun together, rediscover our friendship and reconnect.
The morning after we brought Nicholas down to his grandparents’ house, Dan and I drove away with the windows down and the music loud. We were giddy with a sense of freedom. We had four glorious days of doing nothing more taxing than playing in the ocean, sitting on the beach, reading, napping, and lying in bed between these activities watching HGTV and snuggling. It was a very unusual type of vacation for us, and perfectly what we needed.
We need rest. We need fun. We need respite.
This year, Dan and I would not have been able to make that trip. We have had to find other ways to nourish our souls and our marriage. Creativity, intentionality, and priorities are the three legs of the stool where we sit to find rest.
Here are seven strategies we have used to carve out space for rest and recreation:
1) Schedule complete downtime. Put it on a calendar.
2) Listen to an audiobook, podcast, or radio show just for fun.
3) Go for a daily walk. Even better if you can go somewhere beautiful, but around the neighborhood counts too.
4) Play music during chores. Sing along if you like that. Maybe dance a little.
5) Trade time off with your spouse or a friend. Even a couple hours when you don’t have to be responsible for anyone else can do wonders.
6) Create small rituals. For example, I like to light candles during my Bible-reading and journaling time, during dinner, and after I clean the kitchen.
7) Practice calming breathing and mindfulness exercises. My friends Dena and Jason Hobbes just came out with an excellent book When Anxiety Strikes in which they present gentle and easy exercises to introduce physical and mental calm into our lives, along with wonderful meditations on Scripture. You can get this book here or here. I highly recommend it.
Your ideas will be as unique as you. Make rest and recreation a priority for your wellness. Intentionally create space for fun and respite. Ask God to provide exactly what you need.
I’d love to hear your ideas!