Monday Meditations: The Soul-Expanding Power of Quitting

To serve is beautiful, but only if it is done with joy and a whole heart and a free mind.
— Pearl S. Buck
To serve is beautiful, but only if it is done with joy and a whole heart and a free mind.

One thing I’m slowly learning is that a lot of the expectations in my life come from me, not from anybody else.

Take lunch. There was a stage early in our homeschool life where lunch exhausted me. Everyone wanted something different to eat, at different times, and then everything had to be cleaned up — just in time to start thinking about dinner. Housework, housekeeping, has never been the thing I’m best at, and lunch made me feel like I never got a break from housekeeping.

And then I saw how my husband did it — or rather, how he didn’t do it. He didn’t special order cook anybody’s lunch. He didn’t cut people’s sandwiches into shapes with cookie cutters. When one of the kids came to him, saying, “What’s for lunch?,” he said, “There’s sandwich stuff if you want to make a sandwich, or you can heat up some leftover soup.” And they made sandwiches or heated up soup cheerfully. I was the one who had been making a big deal about lunch.

So I quit lunch several years ago, and it’s been wonderful. It revolutionized our homeschool days — not fretting about and fussing with lunch meant I had the space to prep science experiments and squeeze in more reading and give my energy to figuring out our morning routine. It made me happy — and, importantly, it didn’t make anybody else sad. No one but me thought I needed to be making A Thing out of lunchtime.

It’s not always that easy. Sometimes there are things we can’t quit, obligations we can’t just cross off our to-do list. But sometimes there are things we can just let go of — and we often don’t see them because we’re so caught up in the idea that we Have To: We Have To do those co-op classes even though they’ve become inconvenient and no one really enjoys them that much; we Have To do math every single morning, even though there’s no reason we couldn't experiment to see if doing it three or four times a week would work just as well; we Have To do super special hands-on craft projects for every single class even though we hate super special hands-on craft projects. 

When there’s something getting between me and homeschool happiness, I want to do a better job of looking closely at that roadblock to see if it’s not actually something I could just walk around. I want to let go of my expectations and ask myself, “What would happen if I just let that go?” And I want to let myself really play out that answer, past the immediate panicked response and into the implications of letting go (my kids aren’t going to starve to death if I don’t get their lunch one day — they’ll probably eat goldfish crackers and cookies, but they won’t starve) and the assumptions behind my expectations (good moms make lunch, so if I don’t make lunch, I’m not a good mom). I want to make letting go an option rather than a last resort. I want to embrace the soul-expanding power of quitting.

Food for thought

  • What do you do in your homeschool life because you “have to?” Do you really have to?

  • What expectations about yourself or your homeschool do you struggle to live up to? Do those expectations really make sense? How could you change them?

  • What if you quit one thing? What space would that free up? How would you fill that new space?