home schooling paths
E-journal February 2, 2010

Messy Beliefs and Energy Drainers

by Ellyn Davis

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Vampires? Or maybe ticks?

I know that some of you strongly objected to my use of the analogy of vampires when talking about people, activities, and things that drain us of our energy and contribute to the clutter and overwhelm in our lives. So to those who don't like the vampire analogy, I apologize. Maybe I should use a different analogy—like "energy ticks"—but "ticks" don't seem to carry the same punch. I guess the recent worldwide interest in vampires made me think they are the perfect analogy.

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last few years, you’re probably aware of how popular vampires have become. Vampire books, vampire TV shows, vampire movies. For about six months last year I couldn’t go through the checkout line at Kroger without being surrounded by magazines with Robert Pattinson’s face on the cover—the oh-so-sensitive and romantic vampire in Twilight and New Moon. I kept asking my friends, “What’s the deal with vampires? Why are people so fascinated with stories about vampires?”

Personally, the idea of vampires gives me the heebbidy jeebidies. I remember being eleven years old, staying up late at night reading Dracula by Bram Stoker and being so scared I could barely breathe. I was in my grandfather’s library and everyone else in the house was asleep. My grandparents’ house had a coal furnace in the basement that made strange howling and clanking noises and their wood floors creaked even when no one was walking on them. By the time I finished the book, I was so scared it took me almost an hour to get the courage to sprint down the hall to where my sisters were sleeping, jump into my bed, and pull the covers over my head. I swear I still have splinters in my feet from skidding around the corner in my mad dash to safety. For years afterward I had dreams about vampire bats gliding around the ceiling of my bedroom. For awhile I even kept garlic under my pillow because I read somewhere that garlic will repel vampires.

So to me, anything that seems like a vampire is serious business. And I guess I wanted to convey to you how serious and destructive it is to our lifestyles to continue to allow people, activities and things to clutter our lives and suck us dry of energy, motivation, and enthusiasm.

The last issue of the e-newsletter began discussing time and energy vampires and focused on people and activities that drain our energy. If you haven’t read the last issue, you can READ IT HERE.

This issue will be about how lifestyles and beliefs can drain us of the vitality we need to function well.

 Lifestyle as an Energy Drainer

A recent article in U.S. News and World Report focused on sleep-deprivation in America. Because of our fast-paced lifestyles, very few Americans ever know the clarity of thought and level of energy that comes with being fully rested. Not only do adults suffer from lack of sleep, but now children are at risk for sleep deprivation, because their lives have become as demanding as their parents'.

Although this seems elementary, the amount of rest you get and the kind of food you eat can have a dramatic effect on your ability to cope with life's demands. Some questions you might ask yourself are: What makes me happy? What energizes me? What makes me feel productive? What comforts and renews me when I feel worn out and used up? What am I passionate about?

You can make major lifestyle changes that refresh you, or you can make minor changes by building "happiness islands" into your day. If you’re unfamiliar with “happiness islands” and how to create them, READ ABOUT THEM in a previous newsletter.

For example, I am a person who needs solitude in order to recharge and reconnect with what is important to me. Yet for years I lived in a four room house with three active boys and five or six employees coming in and out of an upstairs office all day. It was a radical invasion of my privacy, and some days I thought I would lose my mind. I had to force myself to find reflective time, to create "happiness islands" for myself. Sometimes these "happiness islands" were as simple as taking a walk by myself, or shutting myself in my bedroom with a good book. Sometimes they had to be more extreme, like flying to Dallas to participate in a horse-judging seminar, or taking the boys to the beach for a few days. In the process, I found out which colors, smells, sights, and activities renew me.

Fears as Energy Drainers

Think about it. Here we are, absolute amateurs, sitting around our kitchen tables, using our own children as guinea pigs and clinging to a belief that we can somehow give them a better education than an American institution that has multi-million dollar facilities and a professional staff, and that spends an average of $6,500 a year on each child. The only tools we have at our disposal are our own willingness to give it a try and assorted teaching materials modeled after those used in the public schools.

So we are surrounded with constant questions that undermine our convictions—questions from our relatives, our friends, members of our church. Even worse, we have to battle questions from own minds like "Can I really pull this off? Do I know what I'm doing? Am I doing too much or too little? Am I using the right teaching material? Am I simply wasting time? Am I going to warp my children and make them total misfits?"

Obviously, these fears can become "energy vampires" that erode our sense of confidence about what we are trying to accomplish. We need to surround ourselves with confidence builders that reinforce our convictions, like books by John Gatto that let us know all is not as great as it may seem in the public schools. Or books by Raymond Moore that tell us that warm, loving, family life overcomes any deficiencies there may be in our teaching materials and methods. Or books by Edith Schaeffer that make us realize our homes have the power to mold lives in eternal ways.

There are five other major "energy vampire" fears I have noticed as I've talked with home schooling families across the nation. You can probably spot more self-defeating fears in your own life, but here are five I have noticed:

1. The fear of scarcity

This is the belief in "not enough"—not enough time, energy, money, opportunities, resources, and so on. This is one of the primary beliefs that contributes to people becoming clutterers and hoarders. “I better not get rid of this because what if I might need it later and can’t afford to get another one?”

When we entertain a belief in scarcity, we limit ourselves. We tend to not step outside of our own "boxes," because we feel we must hoard what little we have and we feel that no matter how much we try, our efforts won't be "enough." We are always afraid we are going to "run out" of time, energy, money, opportunities, etc., etc. When we choose to believe in scarcity, we not only limit ourselves, but we insult God—the God Who is Enough, and Who, in fact, promises to give to us exceeding abundantly, pressed down, and running over. We also lock ourselves into anxiety over finances and time pressure, and into regret and grief over wasted time, energy, and money. One of the reasons our family has tried to keep Hudson Taylor's biography in print is that he was a man with a firm conviction that God would always "be enough," and his response to every extremity was, "Now we have an opportunity to see what God can do!"

2. The fear of difficulty

The word "bummer" has become firmly entrenched in the American vocabulary. It is reflective of a widely held belief that life is a hassle, a battle, an uphill climb, a constant proof of Murphy's Law ("everything that can go wrong will"). Yes, it is true, we live in a fallen world, but that doesn't mean we have to approach everything with a "What's the use?" attitude.

One of the most important lessons I ever learned was about the power of repetition. I used to never make up my bed, because I would hit the floor running each morning and never slow down until I fell into bed again at night. The unmade bed always bothered me, but it seemed like an insurmountable task to tackle first thing in the morning.

A friend happened to mention that if you do something for six months, it becomes a habit and it no longer requires any extra emotional or physical energy. Silly as it may sound, I thought, "Maybe I can try making up my bed for six months." Well, that was twenty five years ago, and I don't even think about making up the bed anymore. I just do it when I get up.

Since that time, I have used the power of repetition to eliminate the draining effect of certain tasks that I dislike. I've found out that social scientists call this "unconscious competence." All tasks, particularly tasks that require overcoming a certain amount of inner resistance, have a "competency" curve where once you reach a level of mastery, no further mental, emotional or physical effort is required. We see this all the time when we teach a child to read. For months it seems like we are getting nowhere, but all of a sudden our child reads effortlessly.

Speaking of the word "bummer," did you know that you can change how you feel about life by simply changing the words you use? If you find your everyday conversation filled with words like "exhausted," "rushed," "overloaded," "stressed," "frustrated," "disappointed," and so on, you may want to make a conscious effort to change the words you use. Find positive (or even humorous) words to replace your "bummer" words. For example, you can say, "I am achieving warp speed" instead of saying "I'm rushed" or "I'm at critical mass" instead of "I'm overwhelmed." Not only will changing your words make you think about the labels you put on your life, but it will make those around you start listening to you again. Your family has probably tuned you out because they've heard you say the same negative things over and over.

3. The fear of failure, of not doing things “right”

Robert Kiyosaki says that the most damaging beliefs the public school system teaches are (1) that mistakes are bad and (2) that there is only one right way to do anything. These beliefs create a fear of failure, a fear of making mistakes that thwart true learning. Kiyosaki further explains that most true learning comes from making mistakes, from falling down and trying again like you do when you learn to walk or learn to ride a bicycle. So failure always has something to teach us, and often teaches us more than success does. Kiyosaki says there are no failures, only "outcomes" and he calls mistakes "outcomes with attached emotions."

What if we really believed God works everything for our good and even redeems our mistakes? That would dispel a lot of our fear and anxiety.

What I’m going to say next will probably touch a few nerves, but I think that Christian teachings on “destiny” and “finding the will of God” can sometimes be just as crippling as the beliefs the public school system teaches. I can’t tell you how many talented Christian young people I meet who never really try anything because they aren’t sure it’s “God’s will” or “God’s destiny” for them. It’s almost as if those destiny teachings create such a fear of “missing it” that people are afraid to step out in any direction because they can’t ever be sure that the direction they pick will be THE direction God really wants for them. And God forbid that they actually pursue a direction they might like—that would be selfish.

When I was first learning to ride a horse, I would sit on the horse and try to get it to turn around while it was standing still. The instructor would tell me over and over, “You can’t turn the horse until it’s actually moving.” So I would have to get the horse moving before I could turn it in the direction I wanted. In other words, you have to have forward motion in some direction in order to choose a direction. So, to those people who are immobilized by their fears of not getting it “right” I say, “Just start…move toward something you might want…and trust that God is big enough to turn your horse if you’re moving in the wrong direction.”

Besides, how could we ever possibly know whether the direction we are taking is right or wrong, good or bad? Anyone who’s been in a relationship with God for any length of time knows that what we think is bad often turns out to be one of the “all things” that God works together for our good. So it’s better to adopt the Nike slogan—“Just do it.” Get moving in the direction of the things you want and let God work out your destiny and His perfect will for your life.

4. The fear of being “selfish”

This fear is something I've only seen in Christians and it is closely related to fear #3. Somehow Christianity has twisted pursuing happiness into selfishness. The belief goes something like this: If you’re doing something you like to do, there has to be some sort of selfish desire for personal pleasure involved. This fear of being selfish is just as immobilizing as the fear of failure and not getting things right.

Guess what? You are a fallen creature, even in your being-sanctified state, and there will be very little you ever do in your life that isn’t motivated by some desire to be happy, secure, content, successful, etc. Having those desires and acting on them doesn’t make you selfish, it makes you human. Yes, those desires can become distorted and selfishly expressed as "me-first," but you don’t have to automatically assume that moving in the direction of what you want is selfish.

5. The fear that things will never change

One of my mother's favorite phrases was "This too, will pass." It was her way of acknowledging the inevitability of change. Sure, right now you are up to your elbows in baby doody, your house is a wreck, and there is no way you will have supper on the table in time. No wonder you feel stressed and harbor thoughts of sending the kids to military school! But believe me, there will be a day when you would give anything to have a peanut-butter and jelly smudged four-year-old son crawl onto your lap and ask you to read Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel for the four hundredth time.

These days with your children will pass you by in an instant. All of my children are now well beyond the diapers and peanut-butter stage and what I miss most are the snuggles, the little hands reaching up to me, the plaintive cries for "just one more story," the proud calls of "Mama, come quick and see what I did!" How could I ever have thought it was a hardship to read Mike Mulligan? I would gladly trade all of the clean houses in the world for more of those stressful years when my children were small and every day held a thousand new wonders for them to discover.

Beliefs have a powerful impact on how we perceive life. Next time you are frustrated, anxious, or depressed, ask yourself, "What would I have to believe to feel this way?" Recognizing the false beliefs you allow yourself to hold about people and situations, and then consciously trying to align those beliefs with God's truth, will dramatically change the way you approach life. For example, if you believe your children are "rug rats," you will relate to them totally differently than if you believe they are "blessings from God."

All of our problems are relational

We are relational beings, and, ultimately, all of our problems are relational. All of the practical areas discussed so far in this article have to do with changing how we relate to created things (like time and our living environment), changing who we relate to,  and changing what we allow to affect our relationship with ourselves (our fears, our beliefs, our thought patterns, our energy level, etc.).

In the next issue, we will focus on underlying relational problems such as tension between husband and wife, conflict between parents and children, or estrangement between fellow Christians that drain us of our energy and contribute to the clutter and overwhelm in our lives.

Until then, have a great week!


Helpful resources for the cluttered and overwhelmed:

What is a Family? What is a Family and Hidden Art by Edith Schaeffer. These two books are on my "must read" list and are probably the books you want to start with because they present such an inspiring vision of what family is and can be. Sometimes life seems overwhelming simply because we've lost touch with the importance of what we are doing. Homeschooling our kids is no small feat. It is a choice that can have eternal implications. In these two books, Edith Schaeffer paints a picture of what we are really creating when we take the time and care to create a home.

Margin by Dr. Richard Swenson. Picture living a life where you didn’t feel overextended. You had the time you needed to spend on things that were important to you; the emotional reserves to develop deep, meaningful relationships; the financial reserves to spend on what would enhance your life and your relationships; and the physical health to be able to do what you love to do. Defining margin as the space that exists between people and their personal limits, Swenson tells us how we’ve squeezed that space out of our lives so that most of us live chronically overextended lives wishing for more time, more energy, more money, and deeper relationships. This book is one of the best books we’ve ever read and it clearly explains how we let margin slip out of our lives, what it does to us as people to live without it, and how we can regain it.

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Our friend Susan is a home schooling Mom and she is very concerned about her children's health. Her son, Liam is allergic to almost every chemical known to man, so Susan has to be very, very careful what she allows him to play with. When he gets together with other children and they play with Play Doh, Liam can't play. The dyes and chemicals in the dough can not only make him very sick, they might kill him.

To read the story of how Susan solved Liam's problem and how you can benefit from what she did, GO HERE>>

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The Best of Chris and Ellyn Davis, this set contains seminars given by Chris and Ellyn Davis of The Elijah Company at home schooling conventions. The set contains all of the favorites that home schoolers ask for over and over. People have told us this set of CDs changed their lives. Find out more about them HERE>>

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Helpful resources for the cluttered and overwhelmed:

The Overload Syndrome by Dr. Richard Swenson. This book is written like a “prescription” for overloaded lives. Through humor and a great deal of common sense, Swenson shows how you can carve out margin in four key areas of your life: emotional, physical, time and financial. By becoming Goal-Focused and God-Focused, you can unplug and eliminate a large portion of the stress in your life. This book can truly change your life if you follow its “prescriptions” for moving from a life of overload to a life like God intended it to be.

The three books below take an organizational approach to clutter-overwhelm and are packed with tips and hints for tackling clutter and disorganization. Each takes a slightly different approach but each has provided me with indispensible help in curing my packratness and disorganization:

Product DetailsGetting Things Done by David Allen.

Getting Organized by Stephanie Winston

Simply Organized by Emilie Barnes

I don't care what your budget, buy these two books from Jeff Campbell: Clutter Control and Speed Cleaning. Why buy them? Because if you're like me, you probably already thought you know how to clean but couldn't stand to. Campbell explains that the main reason you can't stand to clean is because you're using all the wrong methods and the wrong products. Quite frankly, my mother never showed me how to clean a house and I can safely say -- since my mother won't be reading this -- that my mother knew zip about the right way to clean a house. First, get rid of your clutter using Clutter Control. But once it's gone, you'll want to clean. And Speed Cleaning gives you the quick, easy system to use to do it.

If you are a hard-core clutterer and have tried the more traditional approaches, the two books below are for you:

Sidetracked Home Executives: From Pigpen to Paradise by Pam Young and Peggy Jones. These two sisters share the system of organizing household chores that they created to make managing a home less time consuming and more efficient. This recently updated handbook explains how to reduce chaos and clutter and achieve organisation in the home.

The New Messies Manual: The Procrastinator's Guide to Good Housekeeping The New Messies' Manual: The Procrastinator's Guide to Good Housekeeping by Sandra Felton. This is for the person with a serious case of messiness and disorganization. Many people are not messy, but just disorganized, so books like Getting Things Done or Getting Organized are just what they need. But if you find yourself facing "chronic messiness" and battling depression and shame over it, this is the book for you.

And finally, two books about creating the life you really want:

The Path of Least Resistance and Your Life as Art by Robert Fritz. Robert's work is about recognizing what really matters to you, and then creating your life based on that. So in a way, he teaches you to nourish and equip your deepest desires and highest aspirations so that you live a life centered around those. You are a creator, whether you acknowledge it or not. You create your relationships, your attitudes, your surroundings, your career, and yes, music and paintings and inventions and sculptures and books. So why not create the life you really care about? These books are about looking at your own life as a work of art that you create based on what really matters to you.

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