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When Less Becomes More: Making Space for Slow, Simple, and Good

When Less Becomes More: Making Space for Slow, Simple, and Good

by Emily Ley

Learn More | Meet Emily Ley

Dear Caroline

    Dear Caroline,

    One day, when you’re feeling stuck, I hope you pick up this book.

    I want to begin by telling you a little about who you are right now. You’re four years old. You have the sparkliest blue eyes, the rosiest cheeks, and a strong body made for jumping, flipping, splashing, and dancing. You are loud. I’m not even sure you know how to speak at a normal volume. You say everything with boundless energy, enthusiasm, and expression.

    You are delighted by tiny yellow flowers in the yard (weeds), being mommy’s clothes helper (doing the laundry), and picnics (eating anything while sitting on the floor). When you tell someone you love them, you almost always do it with both hands on either side of their face, gently squeezing while you speak about one inch from their nose—your entire face squished into the happiest, most surprised “I love you so” face you can muster. You tell people you love them as if your heart may burst if you don’t squeak the words out in this very special way.

    You are everything good and happy in the world. I use those words on purpose. Not great or magnificent, because those words sound grand and maybe a little exhausting. You are pure goodness and light balled up tight into the shape of a little girl.

    My prayer is that you stay this way forever.

    But I am thirty-six. My mom tells me I was that same little girl as a child—unabashedly joyful. Now I have three children and a husband and a job. I love each of them dearly, but they keep me busy. I have laundry and a mortgage and a task list. And I wonder, When did I begin to change? I sometimes miss the girl I used to be.

    You do not have to live life feeling stressed and burned out, Caroline. And if you’re feeling that way now, as a grown-up girl, get ready to dig in. An unbecoming is ahead: an undoing, a nourishing, a filling up. I will walk you through my own journey from stretched-too-thin to unhurried and joyful in hopes that when you encounter this challenge in your own life, you will know wholeheartedly that you are not alone and that you were made for more.



A Slower Pace

I pushed my double stroller down the sidewalk, following the same path as yesterday and the day before. Completely out of sync with the world around me (and with inconsolable angry cries coming from inside said stroller), I breathed deep and put one foot in front of the other. Have you ever felt like you need to yawn but you can’t quite get enough air to do it? The subtle panic of that feeling mixed with stresses of work, family, and motherhood swirled around me.

Why is this so hard? I thought. Immediately the sour pang of guilt slapped that thought away. Be grateful, Emily. You almost weren’t a mother. Shoving my feelings down, I pushed my chin up and kept walking. Hot tears stung my eyes, but I willed them not to fall for fear of what my neighbors might think.

My twins and their big brother filled my soul to its very brim, yet the day-to-day of working and mothering three children under four was difficult. The chaos, the busyness, and my own inability to “control” or organize this particular season of life into some kind of structure had sucked me absolutely dry. I was depleted and overwhelmed at the same time.

As I pushed these wonderful pieces of my heart down our street, I wondered if this is how it would always be. I was so in love with this precious life of mine, with so much to be grateful for, but so overwhelmed by what was required of me to do it all. I felt like a distant version of myself and wondered if I might be able to one day feel whole, creative, inspired, and joyful again. I trudged along like this, forcibly taking afternoon walks at the insistence of my best friend, who was convinced that moving our bodies was actually good for us. Apparently she was right.

What began with those afternoon walks was, in short, a slow journey from overwhelmed and empty to a new kind of full. I don’t know if it was the sunlight, the endorphins, or the sense of being totally fed up, but walking outside, with my little ones, sparked something new in me. My frustration turned to determination as I gained strength of heart and body. One afternoon, I vowed that this would be the last day I’d feel this way. I was ready for a new beginning for our family. I was ready to find a better way. What followed was an upending of our frenzied existence and, eventually, a dedication to a life of less—fewer commitments, fewer distractions, and fewer self-imposed pressures to do it all. This slower pace and new margin in our lives eventually made space for the good stuff: simple meals together, slow afternoon walks, and sweet, unhurried conversations.

I slowly learned that less actually is more and that margin is magical. There is freedom from the frantic life the world tells us is normal. And there is so much goodness to be found on the other side of overwhelm.

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