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In her book Reset Your Child’s Brain, Dr. Victoria Dunckley notes the high number of 11 year olds who feel stress over building a personal brand.

Yes, you read that right—11 year olds are feeling the pressure to brand themselves, to develop an “image” that sets a tone for their lives. Now, Dunckley is writing this from the angle of a psychiatrist concerned about the amount of time kids spend connected online, which isn’t my main focus. We share the concern, though, over the pressure for kids to spend time building an online presence.

People with successful personal brands, the personalities, writers, sports heroes, politicians, consultants who have strong “personal brands” spend an inordinate amount of time carefully curating what they post, responding to comments, using Instagram to drive traffic to their website and their website to drive traffic to their Twitter and their Twitter to drive traffic to their Instagram, all in the name of increasing engagement and thereby somehow “become known.”

And the goal of “becoming known?” Well, at the end of the day, it somehow ties back to money. There’s the hope of becoming known as an expert in the field with the goal of landing a dream job sometime in the future. Or selling advertising on a website or blog. Or developing a writing voice or a platform for future books. For many people, this is just a reality of the world we live in.

For 11 year olds, though, it’s not. When 11 year olds start developing a concern for a personal brand, it’s a strong condemnation of our culture. Developing a personal brand is essentially about being for sale. And while I’d wager that most kids don’t realize that this is what they’re doing, it is. The message has become so ingrained in us that we somehow believe that the only reason to be known is in order to make money.

Of course this isn’t at all the message of Jesus, who might have lived in a time before the struggles of online citizenship but still knew a thing about people vying for social position. His answer, always, was to remind people that the kingdom of God is upside down. Who you know, what you know, what you have—none of these things matter. In fact, they may even work against you—after all, the last will be first and the first will be last.

So what does all of this talk about personal brands and crazy social trends have to do with reclaiming Sabbath?

Our ability to understand our relationship with God is directly related to the time we set apart. We can’t immerse ourselves in a cultural push to always be “on,” and then expect to stay centered in the idea that our “on-ness” isn’t what matters. If we want to teach our children that their worth is grounded in their relationship with God then we have to give them space to experience this relationship. Not lecture them about it, not force them to join in family prayers, not even gently say to them “God loves you just the way you are,” but to experience the freedom that comes from just being them.

I’m afraid that for children these days, there’s very little antidote to the world’s constant push to prove yourself, to do more, to be better. This is a soapbox of mine and I could list examples for days—increased testing, diminished playtime at home and at school, lack of family time, competitive sports starting younger and younger, activities that fill schedules to the point where no one has time to breath, computer games built around addictive reward cycles, stressed out parents who don’t have time to connect…all of these things are teaching our children that they have to compete for status and attention.

I have a very real fear that true spirituality—the ability to listen to God through our internal selves—will disappear for many of our young people.

This is where Sabbath is important for children. Now, I know that the idea of enforced rest isn’t popular for kids. Remember my reaction to the idea of a Sabbath day? But there are plenty of ways to help kids learn a rhythm of rest that can form a basis for their spiritual development. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Build in daily family quiet times

We have so little silence in our lives. And the less we have, the more uncomfortable we become with it. There is actual noise everywhere—the radio in the car, the TV at home, chatter in group settings. Plus, there’s a draw toward mental chatter, the kind that comes from surfing the internet or even reading quietly. We are so afraid to be alone with our thoughts and we’re passing that fear onto our children.  A simple, counter-cultural practice is family quiet time. Set aside five minutes each evening before bed to simply breathe. If five minutes is too much, do three. Or one. You can always build up from there. The trick to making this work is to give kids something to focus on. I love the Calm app, which is just a visual of a circle expanding and deflated in a breathing rhythm. At a conference I attended a couple weeks ago, the presenter recommended giving kids a pinwheel to blow, which focuses breath and is fun.

  1. Play

Play meets many of the criteria of Sabbath. It’s purposeless. It’s countercultural. It deepens our relationship with each other. Build in times for family members to simply be silly together–no competitive games, no individual screens drawing your attention, just time for connection and laughter. Maybe it doesn’t feel “religious,” but as one part of a move toward reclaiming Sabbath time, it’s an important start.

  1. Designate a certain time each week as family time and stick with that schedule. It will be hard. It will also teach that it’s ok to say no. Tending to our families and our inner lives is every bit as important as attending BBQ’s, sports games, even homework or school events. Again, start small if you have to. Make it an hour on Sunday afternoons or a time when you’re already relatively free. (And if there’s no time when you’re already relatively free, then that’s an excellent reason to create one.)

While these are small steps, they are the beginning to building a culture of rest within your family. I’d love to hear how your family observes times of rest together!

We Have Some Time but Not a Lot: On Celebration

We Have Some Time but Not a Lot: On Celebration

“Come look!  There are, like, 20 balloons out today!”

I walk to the window and peer out through the tired faux-wood blinds.  The hot air balloons are hovering on the horizon, a chaotic bouquet against the morning sky.  There are perhaps ten balloons but the sight is impressive nonetheless so I have the good grace not to correct the kids’ counting or their grammar.

I love this about our new town.  Not just the daily flight of hot air balloons but the way it is always a cause for celebration.  We moved here twenty months ago, which should be enough to get settled in.  It is, after all, enough to get a child through a grade and a half of school, plus two summers.  It’s long enough to discover the best grocery store, a favorite coffee shop and great new friends.  It is not quite long enough to stop missing the best things from our old town but perhaps that’s the danger of living deeply–there is always something to be missed when change comes.

hot air balloons

The balloons never get old though.  Neighbors post pictures on Instagram and Facebook.  My daughter’s reading class once took a ten minute break to watch a balloon land in the field near their school.  There is something enthralling about them and for a few brief seconds I can really believe that they are sailing to Oz.

There are also the prairie dogs.  They, too, are a daily cause for celebration.  We watch them scamper and play and listen to their chirped warnings.  On a walk last winter we laughed at how their tails move when they chirp.  Up and down, up and down, in rhythm to their fast paced barks.  We joke that their tails are levers and this is really what makes the sound.

There was the time when, in the dead of a dreary, windy February, when we were in the midst of that general unease and anxiety that February brings on, I told my husband to “consider the prairie dogs.”  He is not a church person but he still understood the biblical reference and we laughed.  He has suggested that we make a poster that says, “Consider the prairie dogs,” to hang on the blank wall by our sliding glass door.  Like this, maybe?

Consider the prairie dogs

After reading I’m in Charge of Celebrations last spring, my daughter started keeping her own celebration diary.  It includes things like seeing a double rainbow, watching a bunny come into the yard and feeding the squirrels at a rest area in Utah.  (My list of celebrations would include the fact that the rest area gave out squirrel food, because people who turn a desert rest stop into a party are good people.)

School is starting next week and I am a bit depressed about this.  My work time will improve greatly–right now I’m barely hanging in there.  And it will be easier to carve out the space that I crave.  Plus the house might stay clean for longer than 5 minutes.  I am trying to remind myself of these things because really, I would happily extend summer by another 6 or 7 months.

Feeding ground squirrels in Utah

I suppose that’s always the challenge: change hovers right around the edges of all of life’s beautiful moments.  A couple weeks ago we got the diagnoses that our cat has stomach cancer.  This was not a surprise because she is old and anyone could see she is not healthy.  Still, it is one thing to know something inside and another to hear it said out loud.  After two tearful conversations on the phone with the vet, we decided not to pursue any treatment.

I explained it to my daughter this way, “Papoo is really sick.  We have some time but not a lot so we’re just going to love her the best we can.”  Of course, then we both cried and spent the afternoon cuddling with the cat.  This pretty much sums up life itself, doesn’t it?  It is always joy mingled with loss, celebration mingled with grief.

In The Upright Thinkers, Leonard Mlodinow talks briefly about the invention of time-keeping.  Until the invention of the clock in the 1330’s, a day was measured in twelve equal intervals of daylight.  This meant that an “hour” was longer or shorter depending on the season.  Rather than having more hours of daylight in the summer, as we do now, there was more daylight in an hour.


I felt envious of these people.  By all indications, they didn’t have much need for a standard measure of time.  This hints at a life unfettered by appointments and errands and conference calls with people across the globe.  I wondered if they found it easier to live in the present, a skill most of us lack in a world where clocks are king.

But of course time still moved on, kids still grew up, seasons still changed and animals still died.  This is what unfettered joy does for us, though.  It allows us to lengthen the amount of time in our hours.  It gives more weight to the celebrations of life than the griefs, until those milliseconds of laughter overtake the minutes of sadness.

This morning it was still dark when I woke up, a sure sign that fall is on its way.  Change is hovering, again.  But celebrations are hovering too.  They are floating there on the horizon, bursts of bright joy just waiting to be noticed.  Time itself, offering not a way to count the hours but a way to measure the minutes.  Depth, not length.  And us just pressing ahead, loving the best we can.

Making a goat noise

I’m writing again today with the other #wholemama folks who are thinking about celebration.  I jumped in late to this because that’s how summer goes here but it’s been such a joy to read and think with other readers, writers and thinkers.  Don’t forget to take a look!


Cultivating Heart-Space (With a Meditation) (A #WholeMama Post)

Cultivating Heart-Space (With a Meditation) (A #WholeMama Post)

I feel as tightly wound as the springs of the trampoline that we are standing on.  It’s late afternoon.  A storm is blowing in and it’s cooling and inviting after the heat of the day.  It should be wonderful to be outside enjoying it all.  Instead, I am smiling at my daughter with a fake, forced smile.  She has been explaining the game we are about to play.  It involves a very large wolf (me) and a teeny tiny leopard (her).  Somehow there is a ball, which belongs to the leopard.  I am not allowed to touch it because I am a wolf.

She has been setting the scene for this game for an eternity.

“Ok!”  I finally say in my best cheery wolf voice, cutting her off mid-sentence.  “Want to go pouncing with me, little leopard? arf, arf.” I start to prowl around the edge of the trampoline.

“We can’t talk to each other!” she says indignantly and slightly impatiently.  “You’re a wolf and I’m a leopard.  Also, we can’t play together.  You’re so big that you would step on me and crush me.”

Breathe.  Long breath.  It is not enough.

“What exactly do we do then!?”  My fake smile is completely gone as the exasperation takes over.  Lewis Carol had almost certainly endured the complicated plot of a young child’s game when he was inspired to write Through the Looking Glass.  I feel exactly like I am having a conversation with the Cheshire Cat.  Not only is everything nonsense but I’m being glared at as though I’m too stupid for words.  She starts over.  Explaining the game.  Again.

Image result for cheshire cat

It has been one of those out-of-sync days.  My head is entirely elsewhere.  I want to be curled up with my nose in a book or even tackling my to-do list.  I want to go for a run and ponder a bit of writing, rolling the words around on my tongue as my mind drifts.  I want to meditate without worrying about being interrupted, or do a bit of yoga without having a gangly little body crawl under my plank or downward dog.

I want space.

My daughter wants space, too.  She wants the space to build a fort that takes up the entire living room, right where I am trying to clear away some leftover weekend clutter.  She wants the space to let her little imagination run wild as she creates a world where giant wolves and minuscule leopards live side by side.  She wants space next to me, space where she can draw in her favorite notebook while listening to a Judy Moody book on CD, happily chattering about each twist in the plot.  It is as though there is an imaginary circle around me and we both want to occupy it.  I want it for me, she wants it for her.

I have never been good at sharing space.  It is not that I don’t like people.  I love people.  But my thoughts–they take up a physical space.  They need actual room around me, room to grow and shrink and come and go.

I know that this is not a challenge limited to parents.  It is a challenge faced within every relationship: the challenge of balancing each person’s needs for companionship with each person’s need for space, silence, solitude.


Sometimes the solution to this awkward, weird dance between “mine” and “ours” is to set clear personal boundaries.  It is to make sure that we get enough alone time.  It is getting up early in the morning and using that time for meditation or reading.  It is taking whatever time you need to do whatever nourishes you.

But sometimes the solution is actually the exact opposite.  Sometimes finding space means giving space.  This is because sometimes the space that we’re craving isn’t physical space at all.  What we’re really craving is heart-space, that place of open generosity where our world intersects another’s and we feel no resentment, no desire to claim our circle back, only happiness that we are together.


Which is all well and good in theory but doesn’t solve the problem because back on the trampoline I was seriously failing to be connected and engaged.  What does help, at least sometimes, is this lovely little heart-centering practice:

  •  Start with a few deep breaths to settle your body and mind.
  • Think of a time when you felt perfectly happy or content with another person.     Imagine where you were in as much detail as possible.  What do you see?  Smell? Hear?
  • Focus now on how you felt.  Lean into that feeling, holding on to it.  Smile.  Open your eyes and return to whatever you were doing with the intention of passing on that same feeling.

*This is a fast little meditation.  It’s not meant to take 20 minutes.  It takes me about 2.  

I’d like to say that I did my meditation, settled into the game of “Wolf and Leopard Don’t Play Together” and connected with my daughter in a new, amazing way.  It did not go that way.  Instead, I floundered through the game until–thank God!–it began to rain and we had to go inside.  But I tried.

If there’s anything holy to be found in playing an endless game of let’s-pretend, I think it’s this lesson in cultivating heart-space.  It is a realization that sometimes the hardest inner work doesn’t happen in our quiet sanctuaries but in our ordinary white-bread, American suburb moments.  Whether we pull it off or not isn’t really the point.  The real mark of grace is that we want to try at all.  It is an opening, a small bit of heart-space that might just grow into something bigger and better than we ever thought.

God is not impressed with you

God is not impressed with you

God is not impressed with you. Not with your resume or your to-do list or your calendar.

Now wait. Before you click to another page, hear me out.

God is not impressed with you and really, that’s liberating. We spend so much time trying to impress people. At work when our actual very livelihood depends on being impressive. At home, when the neighbor pops in and we scurry to clean out house. During the holidays when we strive to take the best dish (or at least a really good one) to the family gathering.

It’s easy to let that leech over into our spiritual life too. We want to feel love, peace and security and we think the way to do that is to impress God. If God would just notice us. So we’re always striving. Striving to pray more or pray better. Striving to do good. Striving to feel God.

What’s worse, is that it’s such a part of our lives, we don’t even realize we’re doing it. A vicious cycle begins. We try to be impressive  nothing happens  we try harder  nothing happens  we feel discouraged and empty and are sure that we’re lacking somehow. So we try again.

Instead of all that, let’s try this. Say it to yourself. God is not impressed with me. God loves me.

See, what we’re crowding out with all our trying and our impressiveness is the ability to just be loved for who we are. When we feel love, we feel peace and security. And when those things come, the other things will come too. We will pray. We will do good in the world. We will feel God’s presence. But we’ll do all that out of fullness and gratitude instead of emptiness and insecurity.

Loving God, work around whatever insecurity is keeping me from you. Assure me that I am lovable in my unimpressive state. May I feel your peace today.

Practice: Take your to-do list, calendar or resume and find a quiet place to sit. Imagine what it would be like to completely let go of everything. How would it feel if none of it mattered? Frightening? Freeing? Journal about those feelings.

Want more? Check out Paul’s letter to the Phillipians. When Paul says, “I count it all lost for Christ,” hear it as Paul’s assurance that God was never impressed with him. Paul could take huge risks and change his very life in spite of all he had, not because of it.