I almost gave up on writing this book. See, life got a little crazy when my family decided to hoist ourselves up and move from Minnesota to Arizona in a matter of months. I am the mom of this troop consisting of three little girls, one husband and a kitty named Honey Badger. So when we embarked on this new endeavor my to-do list jumped from empty-ish to over full Autobahn style. My book was the ﬁrst thing I packed up, because I’m a mom and my family comes ﬁrst.
But life has a way of fast forwarding deadlines and so I was probably the most surprised when my agent called and asked how the manuscript was coming and if they couldn’t have it… please… now. I think I sputtered at least three excuses about moving, boxes and having a four year old home with me before they oh-so-nicely reminded it was due in November. Due as in actually due. As in three months from now.
I might have panicked. But in true mom-style panicking, it outwardly looked like “no big deal I’ll forget my dreams and keep putting away the dishes”. It might have taken me two days to offhandedly even mention it to my husband before bed one night. I didn’t think I could do this, and was basically asking for permission to give up. But if you know anything about my husband you would know that giving up on dreams is not something he could ever imagine, and so he looked at me and said:
“At least you should try. Give it a reasonable effort.”
Which meant I needed to be vulnerable and passionate and dedicated to my own life in a way that I was currently ignoring. Because “trying” to ﬁnish writing a book in three months was quite different than “trying” to get all the laundry folded or “trying” to keep all the bathrooms clean. At least in my mind. Because you don’t just “try” to accomplish your dreams. You either chase them down – or you put them away.
The funny thing is that the whole process of deciding to reopen my manuscript required a tune up in my mental hygiene. You would think that after all the experiences I’ve had (both positive and negative) I would be a professional at the topic. But that’s the interesting thing about hygiene – it is tied to the conditions around you and practices you use for maintaining a healthy thought life. And quite honestly, the conditions in my life had changed substantially with a cross-country move and my techniques for maintaining my thought life had not been able to keep up. And so instead of ﬁghting for something important to me (this book) I was only willing to shelve it and keep trudging along unpacking boxes.
But let’s talk about mental hygiene again for a second because it’s so important to understand.
MENTAL HYGIENE = taking stock of the conditions around you and determining what you need to do to maintain a healthy thought life.
A major part of this process lies in taking stock of the conditions around you as they continually change. Mental hygiene is not all that different from physical hygiene in that regard as you can’t just walk around muddy because you showered yesterday. If you fall into a puddle today you have to shower again. Similarly, if you are having a particularly tough day you might need to be extra vigilant in taking care of your mind. Screaming kids might equal the need to watch an I Love Lucy after the you put them to bed for the evening. Unpacking one hundred boxes might equal the need for a massage. And you will ﬁnd that if you neglect your mental hygiene you will ﬁnd yourself going through your days frenzied, anxious and unclear as to what you really should be doing. Because just as your body would look ridiculous wandering around covered in mud, your mind will not function properly without some level of maintenance and care.
If this is a new thought to you, please sit with it and let it sink in. Your mind requires maintenance and care. Without this you will ﬁnd yourself spiraling downward into negative thinking, stress and isolation. On the other hand, proper maintenance spirals you upward into positive thinking, margin and action.
I can show you an example of this in my decision to ﬁnish this book. Since I had been completely failing in the mental hygiene department after the move, I was in the downward spiral when my agent called about delivering the manuscript. And so it should not be at all surprising that my response was:
– negative thinking = can’t do this
– stress = don’t even want to think about it because it’s too overwhelming
– isolation = didn’t even mention this to my husband for two days
However, the great thing about mental hygiene is that you can decide to make changes at any time which will transform your life. To me this happened when I talked to my husband who told me to try. And when I realized I was giving up on my dream without ever trying I decided to take a legitimate reassessment of my mental hygiene and get on the upward spiral again. And so, with a little work I changed my previous responses to:
– positive thinking = can do this
– margin = will need some help
– action = hired a nanny two mornings a week to watch my four year old so I could write
I was going to try. I was going to give this a reasonable effort. With a little revamp of my mental hygiene I was ﬁnding myself well on my way to succeeding.
And lest you think this is a new thought that I am propagating here let me point you to a story in the Bible, back in the Old Testament. The prophet Haggai encouraged the people of Judah to step up their mental hygiene as they were clearly having trouble maintaining their thought life. He instructs the people to “consider their ways” over and over as they are working fruitlessly to fulﬁll their own needs while ignoring what they really should be doing.
“In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, on the ﬁrst day of the month, the word of the LORD came by the hand of Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest: “Thus says the LORD of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the LORD.” Then the word of the LORD came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now, therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider your ways. You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your ﬁll. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes. “Thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider your ways. Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be gloriﬁed, says the LORD. You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the LORD of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house. Therefore the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce. And I have called for a drought on the land and the hills, on the grain, the new wine, the oil, on what the ground brings forth, on man and beast, and on all their labors.” (Haggai 1:1-11 ESV)
What I can tell you is that these people were downward spiraling: focused on problems, stressed and not listening. Haggai was encouraging them to just try, pivoting them toward the upward spiral which would lead to taking action and building the temple. If a prophet of God takes the time to encourage people toward good mental hygiene I feel like I am in pretty good company asking you to “consider your ways”. It is an age old question which we should work together to ﬁgure out.
Because of how reverent good mental hygiene is to my life, I want to share series of personal experiences in the pages to come. Just as my decision to complete this book has been effected by my ability to maintain good mental hygiene, there have been so many other instances! I hope that by reading more about my experiences falling into downward spirals and working into upward spirals you will be encouraged to examine yourself on a while new level. You just might ﬁnd yourself writing a book or building a temple or rocking that dream you almost boxed up.
At least you should try…