The Question Every Mom Needs To Ask Herself

How you answer this question affects everything.

It’s a game-changer. It’ll make or break the way your day goes.

But perhaps even more importantly, it’ll affect the way you THINK AND FEEL about how your day goes.

The Question Every Mom Needs to Ask Herself // jessconnell.com

ESSENTIALISM, FOR MOMS

I’ve been listening to the book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg McKeown. And so far, I love it. It’s one of those books I’ve had to go back through certain sections of, because it’s so challenging and meaty.

His basic thesis is that we should approach life more purposefully, focusing on what is “essential.” But as opposed to minimalism, or just “saying no” more– it’s actually saying “no” SO THAT you can say “yes” to the most essential things.

So then I’ve been wondering. How does this concept apply to me, and to you, as moms?

Because we could have thousands of things on our to-do list, and as Christian women, the load may feel even more burdensome. I mean, wouldn’t Bible reading and prayer always win out over everything else? Not to mention that as moms, we really DO have to be able to multi-task and prioritize a LOT of different things each day. Right?

The question every mom needs to ask herself is this:

WHAT IS THE MOST ESSENTIAL THING FOR ME TO DO RIGHT NOW?

Let’s say you’re a homeschool mom, like me– you could answer it any number of ways in any given moment:

  • Explain a math concept to your 7th-grader
  • Scrub dishes so the kitchen counter stays clear
  • Take a bath or paint toenails so you feel ready and excited to connect intimately and confidently with your husband tonight
  • Reading aloud to your kids
  • Listen to your child who is learning to read while he reads aloud
  • Tidy the living room single-handedly, or with all the kids helping
  • Make dinner alone, or with the 8-year-old helping
  • Listen to a podcast, or reading an article

Truthfully, for each of us, there are INFINITE possibilities, right?

What it really boils down to is this:

  • AM I PLACING VALUE ON THE RIGHT THING? 

Here are some sample questions that can help you think about what you tend to deem valuable:

  • Do you think it’s more important that your house be cleaned each night before bed, or that you take time to connect with your husband?
  • Do you think it’s more important that your friend gets to stay at your house and chit-chat longer, or that dinner gets prepared and is ready at the right time?
  • Do you think it’s more important that you have time to browse Facebook or that your hall closet gets organized?
  • Do you think it’s more important for you to snuggle with your child on the couch or to get the vegetables planted today?

And here’s the thing: none of those questions has a clear “right” and “wrong” for every season or person.

Each person may answer those questions differently, but also… the same person in different seasons could answer each question differently. Different circumstances could dictate a different answer.

But the point remains: Are you placing emphasis on the right thing for YOU, and your HOME, for THIS season?

  • Plenty of wives have “loved” their kids or friends or work more than their husband and ended up divorced. Some are honest enough to look back and say, “you know, I didn’t really work at it the way I should have. He probably felt neglected.” Will you end up looking back with regret at how you prioritized (or didn’t prioritize) your husband? 
  • Plenty of moms have looked back with regret at how much they focused on a clean house, or their careers, and realized they missed time with their kids. Will that be you? 
  • Plenty of people have looked back on their spiritual lives with disappointment and feel inadequate to give wisdom from God’s Word because they haven’t hidden it in their hearts. Are you doing what it takes to grow wiser and healthier as a believer? 

Each year, day, and moment, we can ask:

WHAT is the most essential thing? And is that what I’m doing? Not just the most demanded thing… not just the most urgent thing… not just the most “responsible” thing… but the most essential.

Even if there are a thousand other things you could be doing, when you are fully convinced that you’re doing the most essential thing, there is peace.  

So, take the kitchen v. husband thing:

  • Your husband may want to veg out on the couch together. But you see the big picture of a busy week ahead. After ten or fifteen minutes of chatting, you joyfully get up and put in some elbow grease and get some meals made or the kitchen tidied.
  • Or, you might constantly feel the pull of the messy kitchen counter, but your husband is desperate for some time snuggling and connecting with you, so you ignore the kitchen, plop down next to him, and enjoy a few hours of sitting together without guilt.

Or, the Facebook v. closet organization:

  • Facebook may be constantly tugging at your mind. But your home is in disarray and need organizing. So you purposefully shut off Facebook so that you can do what needs doing.
  • Or perhaps, you’re a mom of many little kids; your house may always have some sort of mess in it that could be cleaned. But you are a neat freak and have spent enough time on that this week. Today, you could choose to use Facebook in a way that would minister to others and enable you to have deeper connections with your family, church family, and friends. So you purposefully stop organizing and re-organizing everything, so that you can prioritize people and relationships above neatness.

Do you see how the same 2 (or more) events competing for your interest could be looked at through different lenses? Do you see how it’s really NOT about the choice you decide on, but more about the question you use to GET to that choice?

As believing women, I believe we have key advantages:

  • We have the Spirit of God living inside us, to help us. He will convict us of sin. He will lead us to what needs doing.
  • We have confidence in God’s sovereignty. If something doesn’t get done, we don’t have to feel anxious or angry. He doesn’t NEED us to “do it all” for all the things He means to be done to GET done. He gave us the hours in our day and the resources we had available. He gives us a need for sleep, and a finite amount of energy and skill. We can rest in His sovereign care over all things.
  • We have Scripture to help us assess our priorities so that we don’t call “valuable” what God says is worthless and devalue the things God says are best.

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise,making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:15-16)

  • You could be doing plenty of “good” things that are the wrong things.
  • You could be doing things other people find valuable that are not actually the “wisest” and “best” use of your time.
  • You could be doing things that used to be “worth it” but are now not the best, most essential thing YOU can be doing in the here & now.
  • You could be making “progress” and doing plenty of stuff, but be missing the most essential pieces of the puzzle of WHY God has made you as He has, and WHY He put you in the family and home that He did.

Each day, each moment, you are given the opportunity to ask yourself this question:

AM I DOING THE MOST ESSENTIAL THING?

Over the next week, I’m going to be looking at this question in MY life, applying it each day, and hopefully whipping things back into shape, so I can do the most “essential” things in my home, family, and life.

I look forward to sharing with you and getting your feedback.

IN THE COMMENTS, PLEASE SHARE:

  • When you look at your life through this lens, are there things that immediately stand out to you as things that you’ve focused on, or taken on guilt about, that truly aren’t “essential?”

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Jess Connell

Jesus-follower, Happy wife, Mom of 8 neat people. Former world-traveler, now settled in Washington. Host of Mom On Purpose podcast (momonpurpose.com). I write and wrangle kids.

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12 Responses

  1. Jennifer says:

    Great post, Jess. My husband and I have been married for almost 28 years. We have 2 grown daughters and 15, 13 and 10 year olds that we still home school. I have always struggled with feeling unable to complete the “essentials.” I still do sometimes. My dear husband has different priorities. He wants a clean house *and* intimacy! And decent meals (go figure!) I want to spend lots of time with God, get all schoolwork done *and* have several friends and people I mentor. The Lord has worked in both of us over the years. As I have sought to please my husband before any other person and worked hard to meet his needs, he has loosened his expectations of me. We enjoy each other very much and trust that the other is doing his/her best while seeking the Lord. Thanks for your blog!

  2. Allison says:

    Jess and/or other experienced moms of lots of kids,

    I’m curious how this plays out in a day in your life? I’m trying to figure it out, but if I’m honest, I’m really, really struggling. I only have 3 (6,4, and 1), and I feel like my life is all about surviving in the middle of chaos. My older 2 are very high energy. They are constantly running, jumping, falling, fighting, and chattering all. day. long. In the process, without meaning to, they break things spill things, and leave behind big messes everywhere they go. My oldest talks non-stop. So much so that that habit tends to provoke anger in his next-oldest brother who can’t get a word in edge-wise (we are addressing this with them, but it’s slow-going). The 1 year old is of course, a toddler, and therefore, into everything, so I feel like I spend the majority of my time chasing him down and keeping him out of the trash, toilet, cabinet, and pet-food. There are toys all over my house, dishes piled in the sink as I type, the lawn badly needs mowing, but I’m not sure it’s going to get done for at least another 5 days, and the only school-work we’ve accomplished today is reading for the 6 year old. I at least need to fold another load of laundry, teach math, chop potatoes and carrots for dinner, make a grocery list, go shopping after supper tonight, and clean up after the kids are in bed. And that’s just what needs to be done to keep surviving. I want to do more with the kids, but practically speaking, sometimes I’m not sure how because I feel like so much of my life is spent on damage-control, discipline, and basic up-keep (laundry, dinner, etc.). Of course, not every day is as challenging as today, but I do feel like this is an ongoing struggle for me. I’d be curious to know how other moms do it? I’m sure to some extent, it’s a struggle for all of us, but I’d love to learn all I can from others who are traveling this road. :)

    • Anne says:

      I found the article very interessting, but similar to Allison I feel I don`t have the time to refelct on what is really essential mostly I am running after things. How do you refelct each moment this week. I am curious to hear from your experiences.

    • Jess Connell says:

      My first thought is this– and I may come back and add more later–

      Sometimes — perhaps OFTENTIMES– in the first 5-6 years of mothering, “mere” survival IS what is essential. Like you say “damage-control, discipline, and basic up-keep” takes all the energy you’ve got to give.

      I will share more, but I just wanted to say I don’t think you’re necessarily doing a thing wrong if for some years at a time, in early motherhood, you feel like you’re just treading water and keeping things at the basic level of survival/getting through.

  3. Candice says:

    Good stuff, Jess. I have eight kids, but having older kids to help is a game changer, for sure! I think this is such a balancing act and you are so right that we must constantly be asking the Lord to show us the ‘best thing’ to choose at the time. I’ve heard that their are task-driven people and relationship-driven people. So, whatever our own bent, we must strive to balance it. I am definitely task-driven, so I have to always be mindful of prioritizing people more.

  4. Jamie Butts says:

    Hi Jess,
    Thanks for this.
    I really recommend the book (half way through, so I guess it’s a partial recommendation so far but a hearty one) What’s Best Next, by Matt Perman. I am reading it through the lens of a homemaker and disciple and wife and all of that and it has been really helpful. Your post reminded me quite a bit of this excellent book. If you read it, let me know what you think. (Are you on Goodreads by the way?) I still read your blog and love you and your fam! Hope the newest addition is doing well and give him a squeeze and my friend Doug a high five from me. :)

  5. Valerie says:

    Gulp. I have a problem. I’ve never heard of this book or concept, but not only does my mind live there in the analysis of weighing tasks, but I always second guess my answer! It’s awful. I would love to hear your or the author’s thoughts on how to proceed when you’re paralyzed in this way.

  6. Miranda says:

    I just put this on my to-read list after listening to his podcast with Michael Hyatt. It was so obvious to me how much women – wives, moms, church gals – need this message. But for me I realized I believe the lie that I can fit it ALL in. Get it perfect. If I tweak, get a good system and work hard enough I will be able to spend time with my husband AND clean the kitchen. And continually maintain the house at a level I would like…oh AND read aloud for an hour a day while caring for 5 kids :) God has really been at work in me about this since my last little one (I’m a slow learner). Only HE accomplishes all His plans and He has made me with limitations. And weaknesses. Life, I am learning, is not clean, simple and fits neatly into my boxes. This is good for my worship and realizing that being dependent is by design. So Yes, PLEASE, share your thoughts and real life insights because this is definitely an area of struggle. How do we also keep our expectations right in place where they should be? Also, how do we wisely figure out when to push and when to rest? A large family is in continual need of engagement. That’s what hard for me to pin down… Thanks for your posts! Blessings Jess.

  7. Kondwani says:

    I think there is a lie that ‘women can have it all’ these days. That is not possible, and never has been God’s plan for us. Nobody can have it all. Something has to give, and as Jess points out, it is often the most important things that break.

    I do work outside the home (part-time, and my husband is part-time on opposite hours). Professionally things are going well, and sometimes I am asked to talk on things like life-work balance because to people who don’t know me and don’t really know my life, it can look as though I have things balanced at work and at home and things are going well in both areas. But we constantly have to make choices, have to say no to things which might be enjoyable, might even be profitable in a way, but which are just not the best use of time, and are not best for our family.

    In the boys education (young – 5, 5 and 3), sometimes it is a choice whether to do a specific task or just let them play the imaginative game they are engrossed in. I feel I ‘should’ be doing table work, but I know that actually they are learning more through their play and imaginations. So I feel lazy, but let them play. At other times, if they are restless or fighting, it is time to impose more structure. Its a constant tension with no two days the same. But praise God that as home educators we have the freedom and flexibility to deviate from plans! This is surely a blessing even if a challenging one at times.

  1. April 21, 2015

    […] Yesterday we asked: AM I DOING THE MOST ESSENTIAL THING?  […]

  2. April 27, 2015

    […] First I asked myself, What is the most essential thing for me to be doing right now? […]

  3. May 29, 2015

    […] I asked myself the main question of essentialism. Two days ago, I got clear on the principles of what’s essential for me […]

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