My name is Jo and I define middle-class America: married to Peter with two children in public school, a dual-income, and a church membership. Typical, right? There’s more. We owned two shiny cars, a big, beautiful house, and filled our calendar with work, school, sports, volunteer and social activities (mostly kids’ birthday parties). We also shared qualities the middle class demographic deeply possess, but never talk about, because it stinks. The majority of our monthly income went toward mortgage and car payments, and no matter what “system” we tried, our $7,000 credit card debt wouldn’t budge.
Relationally, my husband and I put on a good show, but we weren’t very far from stamping the common and ominous words, “irreconcilable differences,” on a bill of divorce and joining the other 50%.
One day, though, something changed. I recently read about a nomadic tribe trained since birth to listen to what they call a “tapping of the heart.” It’s this kind of inner-knowing rather than outer-influence that seemed to rise up in me that day. A little voice within asked me, “Whose rules are you playing by?” Well, hi. That got my attention.
A little disclaimer here: I’m an artist and craftsman by trade who often spends time in what you might call prayer or meditation, and I had never heard something so pushy.
A couple of days later, a business partner and trusted friend shared how she was feeling called to really dig into the idea to “make space” for what is intended to bring deep joy. We talked for hours about what these two words mean. Sadly, I couldn’t answer: “What brings you deep joy?” But, I knew the answer to the question, “Whose rules are you playing by?” Not mine.
So, when you decide that you’re not living how you are meant to, what do you do?
Make a list. I made really long list of what I considered my top 40 priorities and goals, except it came from a false sense of reality where I had limitless money, energy, time and heart-space. You see, I’d tuned into the noise of the culture around me declaring all sorts of things I should be doing (and failing miserably), and the ultimate, YOU SHOULD BE A ‘YES’ WOMAN!
Well, I’d gone and “should” all over myself trying, and the shame of falling short left me feeling disconnected, unauthentic and so very tired that I sort of lost it. My husband, Peter, would probably title this chapter of our story, “Thank you Counseling and Friends.” I happened to marry a man that decided I was worth it, and he agreed to get help with me. With guidance from the incredible Dr. David Smith, we confronted a decade of choices that didn’t reflect our values. Our wants and needs had become completely interchangeable, and we put everything else above connecting with one another. Through this process, I felt completely lost and vividly remember breaking down on the bathroom floor of a beach condo that my parents rented for the whole family. I texted my tribe that I felt like I was slipping into a dark place and everything was broken. Now, I don’t know a lot, but I know this—the prayers lifted up that day and the lasting truths shared by David
Smith changed our lives. Instead of giving up, we decided to change our trajectory.
The following year, we sold our house and cars, reduced our belongings by more than half, said no to a million good things, and yes to only a few great things. In a nutshell, we stopped playing by someone else’s rules and I stopped trying to buy happiness. These days, we spend our time making a terribly unattractive 1200-square-foot fixer upper into our future home, giving our best at work, spending time with family and a few friends, being present for our kids, and serving where our gifts are actually helpful. I drive a 15-year-old Subaru that I adore, and Peter rocks out in his massive ‘99 Ford with a custom wood tailgate (don’t ask). We live without debt or shame, and are seeing the fruit of this simple life more each day.
As much as it pains me to say, hearing the “tapping of my heart” doesn’t always come easy. Each day, I wake before dawn to sit in the quiet and listen. As it turns out, Peter does, too. So there we sit, abiding at sunrise with a healthy dose of coffee and honesty. Almost every single day, I remind myself that the plan and purpose set out for me and my family can (and often will) look completely different from the world around me. And that’s okay. It’s actually more than okay. It’s amazing.