by Elizabeth Vahey Smith
I know exactly how I want to start each and every morning. It looks like waking up before my alarm, dawn light setting aglow the edges of little sleeping faces. I kiss foreheads and little lips scrunch up until my children resettle into their sleep. It looks like the steam from my coffee dancing in the cool fresh air of the morning. It looks like an undisturbed hour on my patio with my coffee, journal and Bible, and an excessive number of highlighters. It looks like a bit of exercise before a shower, and working on breakfast with a second cup of coffee as my kids stumble into morning hugs and snuggles.
I know exactly how I want to start each and every morning.
And then dawn breaks.
This morning is different from the one I wanted.
We’re leaving next week and are in the midst of farewells. My kids went to bed late, so naturally they woke early and cranky. I need to pack the house, and I’ve got 15 million errands to run and a lunch date with a friend at noon. Coffee is getting cold as I unpack kitchen tools to make grumpy children breakfast, and I’m persistently plagued by this one tennis shoe I’m sure I packed three times already. I’m in the car, throwing granola bars at the snarling children in the depths of the vehicle, and I’m missing, desperately missing, my morning routine.
Grieving that my favorite morning rhythm was ruined by reality.
Guilty that I shirked things that are important to me.
Ashamed that I can’t seem to do it all some days.
Oftentimes we develop rhythms during seasons of peace and orderliness. We develop our routines based on things that are important to us, and we make them routines because we want to make sure they happen in our lives. But for the globally mobile, it seems that seasons of busy and even seasons of total chaos are common.
The natural response is to skip the routines until we shift back into easier days. But the globally mobile life is full of prolonged and frequent seasons of busyness and chaos, of transition and resettling. Rhythms get so long forgotten we don’t shift back into them at all. The moments of self-care for our own well-being, the moments of connection with our families, are lost in the hustle.
Instead of throwing out the whole concept of routine when there’s no way to accomplish the ideal routine in a season of chaos, we can shift our rhythms to match the season.
In addition to a Thriving Rhythm during seasons of peace when we have time for growth ––
Have a Striving Rhythm for a season of busy hustling or even when the emotional toll of the season is making life seem harder.
Have a Surviving Rhythm for those seasons of total chaos or deep grief and despair when just one more thing seems too much to bear.
Have a plan in place to modify your routines so that transition, changes, and urgent needs don’t throw everything off.
How to Set a Rhythm for Each Season
I find that three sets of rhythms – thriving, striving, and surviving – are adaptable to most seasons of life, but if you have some very specific seasons (i.e. during school/school break or village living/town living), you can create custom rhythms for those seasons, too.
1) Make a list of daily priorities.
If you already have a routine, then this would be the “why” for the items on your to-do list. For example, do you run everyday because exercise is important to you or because you value getting outside or because it helps you manage your emotions?
2) Outline a Thriving Rhythm.
A Thriving rhythm is a realistic routine based on your real-life seasons of peace that makes space for the things that are priorities for you. It doesn’t have to be a morning routine or an hour long. This is an attainable rhythm for you during a season of peace. It will look different for everyone. If you don’t already have a Thriving Rhythm, you can create one from the priorities you just made. If you already have one, it will be helpful to see it written out.
3) Outline a Striving Rhythm.
Looking at your priorities and your Thriving Rhythm, ask yourself what it would look like if you only had five minutes for each task, or half the time you scheduled for your Thriving Rhythm. If you can’t spend an hour doing a morning devotional, what could you do in five minutes? If you normally take five minutes to cuddle your kids in the morning, what could you do in two and a half minutes?
4) Outline a Surviving Rhythm.
Looking at your priorities, Thriving Rhythm, and Striving Rhythm, ask yourself what your absolute bare bones are. You have 10-15 minutes, maybe not even consecutively. How do you fit in your priorities even during the seasons of chaos? Knowing that “nothing” is often what happens when chaos throws off our Thriving Rhythm, what is better than nothing?
For everything there is a season. (Ecclesiastes 3:1a)
The varied seasons of life are normal, and it’s normal to have different capacities and different levels of routine in those different seasons. What needs to be normalized is giving ourselves grace and flexibility while not neglecting the bare bones – the most important things that keep us grounded even when life is hectic. We can be consistent and steadfast in the things that are important to us, even if the rhythm sounds different to match the current climate.
Through these rhythms we can invest in self-care and connectedness, so that even in the unsettled, hectic, difficult, or just simply busy seasons, our families feel heard, prioritized, safe, and emotionally supported.
We set the rhythms for our families. Let’s shift with the seasons but not be thrown off by them.
I went to bed with my hair wet so I didn’t have to worry about drying it. I kiss my children awake, and then we roll into the kitchen together. “Snackle box is in the fridge. It’s breakfast-on-the-go today,” I say as I tap my YouVersion notification for the verse of the day while I get coffee brewing into a to-go mug. My kids each pull out their own tackle box full of small snacks and load into the car. Running errands counts as exercise, right?
Elizabeth Vahey Smith is a TCK mom who spent 5 years in Papua New Guinea as a missionary. Now her family explores the globe full-time as worldschoolers. Elizabeth works remotely as the COO for TCK Training, traveling often for work and always for pleasure. She is the author of The Practice of Processing: Exploring Your Emotions to Chart an Intentional Course. Follow her travels on Instagram @elizabeth.vaheysmith