- Jessica Zhuo
Slow, Savor, Serve - a FTWM Story
TRL catches up with member Jessica to find out how she manages to slow, savour and serve as a Full-Time Working Mom with 2 boys, volunteer work, no helper!
Her intentionality and practical tips will help all of us to really live.
Q: How do you manage to slow with so much on your plate? It would seem multi-tasking and going fast must be the only way to operate.
You are right! I don’t have large swaths of time to slow down, so I do this thing called Habit Stacking. This means you build a new micro habit around your existing one. For me, it’s taking time to make my cup of tea and sitting for 5 minutes quietly, as my emails load.
After the kids go to bed, instead of reaching for the remote immediately, I sometimes sit in silence and listen for 5 min. I may hear the hustle of activities still in the neighbour’s home, or the memories of earlier conversations, laughter or squabbles. I allow myself to savour what the day has brought and then turn to God in gratitude or to ask His refreshment and forgiveness for areas that I fall short.
For me, these micro-moments of slowing down is like daily maintenance for my soul. It keeps me anchored and not dragged away by the demands of the day.
But I think we need more than these. So I have made a commitment to be at Quiet Hour where we have a scheduled hour-long slow down time to reflect more deeply.
Even with all the craziness, another thing that is really helpful is to practise being present or mindful.
Mindfulness has such a bad rep because some have coupled it with practices that seem bizarre. For me, it simply means focusing on what you are doing at the moment.
A national geographic photographer interviewed a Scottish weaver after observing her weaving for some time. He asked her, “What do you think about when you weave?”
She replied with a laugh, “What do I think of? Whether I’ll run out of thread?” Then she quietly said, “When I weave, I weave!”
I always remember this story, and when I feel frustrated and overwhelmed, I stop to ask myself ‘why’. I discovered that it’s mostly because I’m trying to do “This” quickly in hopes that after I get it done, I can get to “That”.
A lot of the frustration goes away when I decide to be mindful and choose right here, right now to focus on “This”. And decide to handle “That” later when it’s time to do “That”.
Most of the time, this single decision helps my heart to calm and both my soul and my tasks go better.
Q: What motivates you to slow down? Don’t you get FOMO?
It costs more to NOT slow.
This is especially true in the mothering department. Children can’t be hurried when they are little. And they can’t be hurried when they are teenagers either...HAHA. And I don’t think you can hurry them much when they become adults too!
I am by nature a plan-ahead-er and a do-er.
But I believe we are made to live a sustainable and full life - not just in the “green” environmental sense, but more so in the energy, soul-state, emotional, mental health sense. Both from science and from experience, we know we’re not made to live at 100 RPM!
So perhaps we need to ask ourselves why we feel that we cannot slow down?
There was this incident when my 2nd son was around 5 years old. I was asking him to hurry up while he was showering, and after he came out of the shower and I was drying him up (hurriedly), he asked me “Mummy, why are you in a hurry?” And I wasn’t able to give him a good answer. I didn’t have to hurry off to another place, I didn't have food cooking on the stove, and there was nothing that urgently needed to be done after that.
Then I realised I just have a very hurried soul. And waiting or pause or slowing down is very uncomfortable for the hurried heart.
Many of us accept the lie the world tells us that “life should be busy and time should not be enough.” But should it? The expected/acceptable response to give when people ask you “How are you?” seems to be “Busy, as usual”. Very rarely do we answer “Slow and steady.”
The Bible gives us an account of how God gave Israelites manna which lasted 24 hours. But some of them got worried and tried to hoard, only to have it turn rotten. I think we are like that sometimes. We try to hoard the 24 hours we have today by squeezing in as many things as possible. Then we try to condense the whole week into 5 days and hope to get a mini “break(down)” on weekends to recharge (repair?). Then we squeeze every entertainment and “de-stress” activity into the 2 days. Over time, we start to rot in our souls because the “manna” we were hoarding is so filled with maggots of tiredness, frustration, strife, worry, endless cycle of work-stress-destress-tired from weekend, … and made worse when we start to drop some balls we try to juggle.
If you are always tired, always frustrated, always worried, or find yourself always saying “no time” to a lot of people (especially the ones you cherish), then I think it’s needful to ask yourself what is happening in your life, in your schedule, in your heart… and try to kind of break things down and do a bit of investigation.
To slow down means we need to make space and eliminate some clutter.
What is cluttering our physical space is easy to see. But what is cluttering our schedule and heart’s concerns need a bit of investigation. I recommend that you download your thoughts, mental load, priorities, and activities onto paper so you can see things in entirety, and then ask the questions to help you see what is needful and what is clutter.
This punchy line sums it up well: “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” (The Life You’ve Always Wanted, John Ortberg).
Another major motivation is my faith.
I see my life as an entrustment, to be stewarded well, so that I grow as a person and fulfil what God intends for my life.
We all need to make choices to evaluate what is truly important, at different levels - from the purpose of my life, to the goal of the activity.
In my parenting role, I find that my priorities are to: enjoy my children (actually I didn’t want kids at first), to train them in practical life skills and to nurture their uniqueness. These clear goals help me to evaluate and re-align myself when I feel overwhelmed or sense that I am veering off course.
Cooking, for example, is not a priority for me as it is also not an area I am good at. Instead, I rope my children in with other chores and we work and converse together.
When you get some level of clarity on these questions, you start to look at your 24 hours / weeks / months and either eliminate the stuff that doesn't fit into your “priorities” or make adjustments to your schedule to put in the things you truly value.
So from a practical level, this gives you some “space” to slow down and maintain a sustainable lifestyle. Because if you don’t slow down, you’ll break down (along with your relationships, your witness, etc..). Then it’s worse right?
I think for mums especially, we carry a lot of mental load. For those who are not familiar, mental load is like a separate operating system running in the background. Before an action is done, there is usually a whole series of mini-programs running in our brains, mapping out when the action needs to be done, how it needs to be done, why it needs to be done, and what other programs we need to open in order for this task to be done.. :)
And a lot of “activity” is not seen. For many of us the inability to slow down is because our mental load is tangled and the brain is in chaos. So I find it helpful to download the mental load onto paper and map out what is causing me stress or worry. Worry is an enemy to slowing down as you tend to get all edgy about whether you are making progress in the area you worry about. And when you put it all on paper, whether in the form of scribbles or mind-maps, etc, you can see it better, and understand the actual triggers or concerns, and be more effective to either get help, find ways to work it out, or maybe discover it’s something you can drop altogether because it’s really not too important in the larger scheme of things.
I am grateful for TRL where we are learning to do these things!
These micro-choices we make are often the biggest time(life)-thieves every day.
Q: What are your thoughts on Multi-tasking?
Multi-tasking is a lie that the world and productivity gurus tell us. Really! I am a productivity trainer at my work place and I tell people we cannot multi-task. To combine doing a task that is habitual (e.g. hanging up the laundry) and planning out a report can seem like a smart thing to do, but can inadvertently undermine our quality or efficiency. Multi-tasking is when we use our brain for something else while trying to accomplish a task. Worrying, not fully concentrating on the task at hand is multi-tasking, and it hurts us!
We all know the feeling where we sit in a place or watch a movie or listen to a sermon, but then our mind drifts and we start to think about the juice you need to add to your shopping list, or that tomorrow you need to remember to talk to a colleague about something… then you miss the conversation that is happening in the room, or the plot in the movie or whatever it is the pastor is saying.
Then you waste more time either trying to ask the person to repeat the question or use more brain cells to catch up on the movie plot or re-watch the recorded sermon to find out what was taught. :)
Q: What has been the fruit of living by the TRL ethos of slow, savour and serve?
For one, I’m a calmer mother, and my children would probably say I get angry a lot less (because I’m not trying to accomplish a hundred things in one moment)…haha. I still get into that “hot” zone, but usually I would be aware and stop and identify the triggers - whether it’s the distractingly loud noise from the TV while I’m trying to do some focus work (at which point, I will ask my kids to turn down the volume or let them know I’m trying to do some brain work… or I move to a different room.)
I get a lot more clarity on what priorities look like during the day and working hours and that helps me get prepared for it mentally, physically and emotionally (even if it is a hectic and busy day). Sometimes, knowing and mentally readying ourselves for the day eliminates a lot of the chaos in our hearts, which already sets us up for a more fruitful and calm day. I become a lot more focused at whatever it is I’m doing and accomplish them quicker, WHICH in turn rewards me with time to Slow down, savour the moment’s breath, and transition to the next event/task (not to squeeze more things in!).
My brain is less foggy and my joy is more full. And as a result, even if unexpected issues or situations come up, my soul has more capacity to deal with the stretch, so I don’t end up feeling like the straw breaking the camel’s back. And definitely my heart has more room to be more aware of God’s presence throughout my day.
Jesus is known as Emmanuel, which means God with Us. He is always with us.
The story of Jesus’ birth is instructive. When he came to Bethlehem, the town had no room for him. His presence was still in the town, albeit in the stable, but they were not aware. I think if we were to find room in our hearts and our schedules to slow down, even just for a bit, we may find that the presence, empowerment and grace of Jesus is always with us, and we may perhaps live each day with a little less anxiety, and a lot of assurance and peace.
I am a Full-Time Working Mum, 2 boys (8yo and 13 yo - so yes, 1 Teenager!)
I’m also a volunteer with Families for Life Singapore & Mums For Life, supporting families through our Parent Support Group and doing a little content creation work.
In church, my husband leads a cell group and I attend a different cell community so we each have our ministry responsibilities in that area.
We don’t have a helper. For those who know me, my parents passed on some years ago, and my in-laws have their own physical health challenges so we don't get any support from them in terms of watching the children, etc.
So we are pretty much managing with what we have.