4 Lessons I Learned From Doing Less

Aug 8, 2017

Sometimes less is the only means to more. In his beautiful book, The Rest of God, Mark Buchanan penned words that landed in my heart like a long-awaited invitation:

The end of striving makes room for dwelling. {pg. 154}

Today marks my first day back online after a two+ month sabbatical. This was my second year unplugging from my public and professional life for the summer months in order to spend focused time, thought and energy on my personal and private life.

It will not be the last.

Like a woman rousing herself from a deep slumber, I’m slowly lifting the window shades and opening the doors, exiting this private space to reenter a public one. The words to be birthed in blog and social media will no doubt rise from the quiet of these months. But, for now, I’ve shared a few insights gained from this season of dwelling:

LESSON #1: The only way to dig deep is to do less. For years I asked God to take me deeper, closer, nearer to His heart. I asked Him to remove any barriers to nearness, so I could know Him better than I know anyone else.

However, I didn’t understand that the biggest obstacle to the intimacy I craved was, in fact, ME.

Recently my husband and a neighbor spent a Saturday fixing a leaning fence between our yards. To fix it, the men focused on the posts. For an hour or two, they each took a post, grabbed a shovel, and started digging at the same square foot of earth until the holes were deep enough to hold the posts firm. This was the most important aspect of their work. The rest of the fence wouldn’t hold if the posts weren’t secured.

Constant external activity—a mind always racing, a body always running, a spirit constantly striving—interferes with internal growth. You and I spend an extraordinary amount of time doing. But the only way to make sure all that work will last is to go deep first, to make sure our being is secured. And that requires standing in one place long enough for good old-fashioned digging to be done.

LESSON #2: We undervalue the productivity of inactivity. After I announced my two+ month sabbatical, I heard variations of the following from well-wishers: “Have a great break!” and “Enjoy your time off!”

Time off?! Not quite.

My so-called “break” was actually a season filled with grueling internal work. While I was inactive on the internet and social media, I wrestled with false beliefs and thought patterns that needed to be challenged. I was facing—and fighting—personal flaws and struggles that required my attention. And I was diving deep into spiritual questions that needed exploring.

So although I wasn’t drafting blog posts or uploading pictures to Instagram, I was working my tail off. It was exhausting (I took more than a few naps and went to bed at 8:30 pm nearly every night). And it was productive. I may not have a metrics or graphs to show for it, but it doesn’t make it any less significant.

LESSON #3: Missing out on lesser things is the only way to take hold of greater things. I’ve missed a lot while I’ve been offline. Baby announcements. Health updates from friends. New book releases. Organizational changes. Important articles and news. Occasionally I’d hear updates from local friends over coffee. But, for the most part, I missed out. People moved on. Yesterday’s news is old news. Although I still feel the sting of FOMO (“fear of missing out”) from time to time, I don’t care much anymore.

Why? Because I made a choice.

A choice to abandon the lesser things so I can reach for the greater things. I may be less current and “in the know” after two months away from the online world. But my decision created space for me to become more whole, healthy, grounded and strong. That’s far more important to my long-term goals than my online activity.

LESSON #4: I still have identity work to do. One of the misconceptions about writers is that we write from our expertise. To the contrary, many of us write from struggle, angst and questions. What we wrestle with becomes fodder for our words.

This summer’s slow-down revealed to me, once again, how much my value is tangled up in (1) What I do, and (2) The feedback I receive. Withdrawing from my public and professional life forced me to relinquish, yet again, my flimsy sources of identity. Instead of turning to relationships and activity for my security, I ran to the pages of my Bible, again and again, for reminders about who I am. This was good work. And hard work. And it isn’t yet over. Yes, I wrote a 270-page book on the subject. But I have a lot yet to learn. We all do.

[callout]How about you? Does your heart need some care? Do you long to feel more whole, grounded, secure and strong in who you are? Regardless of how “less than” you feel in this moment, you are more than enough, created by the Creator, loved infinitely and perfectly. Whether this news is revelation or reminder, join me starting OCTOBER 2 for a personal, honest, in-depth look at how God sees you through the all-new I Am Online Experience. More details coming soon! Subscribe to blog updates to be notified! [/callout]

[reminder]When was the last time you created space for deeper life? Is it time to do it again? [/reminder]

{NOTE: This post may contain affiliate links. See my full disclosure here.}


  1. Pat

    This year I will take a nine day vacation all by myself, to the place I love most, the beach. I intend to walk the beach, read, write for myself, and examine why I can’t grieve. What has been interesting is the reaction from many people who look at me like I’m the worst wife in the world. I have twice as much vacation as he does, so I am not taking time away from him, I am taking time for me. If this works well, I will need to plan for more solitude.

    • Damon J. Gray

      Pat, I totally get that. I once took two weeks, hopped in my car, and headed east. I had no idea where I was going. Just east (since west would have put me in the Pacific Ocean.) I think I hit nine states on that loop. It was awesome!!

  2. Dacia Coffey

    I have thought I made space in my life through waking up earlier, doing yoga, or turning off my notifications when I am working. But after reading your post I realize it’s just another version of fitting more in. I am shocked at the fear that rises up in me just imagining how lovely it would be to follow your lead. As I grow my business, I sense the need for surrender, but get trapped in wondering how to do that. It’s like trying to white knuckle spirituality. Thank you for this post.

  3. Patricia

    This was so timely and accurate. Pulling back to deal with who/ what I am pulling from as a source of energy and power– yup definitely an ongoing process. And of course, the reminder that I am enough because of whose I am. Thank you!

  4. Damon J. Gray

    We (I include myself in this) have bought into the lie that we have to be atop everything that is happening around us. We cannot wait for tomorrow’s newspaper. We must know right away after it happens, or better yet, watch it unfold AS it happens. We are an information-spoiled society. We cannot read about the WTC being hit by jetliners and collapsing. We have to see it go down. We have to watch the British Columbia forest fires at noon, six, and ten every day for a week running. We dare not miss it.

    Consider the lower blood pressure that comes with living off-the-grid. No LCD screens, no internet, not television, maybe … maybe a radio. It’s like the Waltons who found the highlight of their day gathering around the floor-standing RCA Victor to listen to Little Orphan Annie, or something along that line. I was born two decades too late. 😉

  5. Bob Stromberg

    Beautiful, powerful and true words. Thanks Michelle

  6. Jerolyn

    Amen and Amen! It feels like God is having to turn the Titanic around when it comes to changing the way I think.
    You are so right about less being more. It has been a challenge for me to be OK with the spaces God puts in my life. Slowing down certainly allows me more clarity in hearing God’s voice but also a hard lesson in patience and contentment.

  7. Jen

    I need this! I went away for the week and I spent it pouring into people when I think God wanted me to be still with him. So much to unlearn! Thank you Michelle for your vulnerability and your example.

  8. Kimberli Wicks Freilinger

    I went on a three day beach retreat, just me and God a couple of months ago. It was heaven. I run from the quiet but love it once I surrender. Going deep means doing less. How much more counter culture can we get than that? Thank you for reminding me of that longing.

  9. Beth A. Boehr

    Thank you for your bold steps of faith! Thank you for your challenges to do less to become more…..more of who God designed us to be. Thank you for seeking the one and only source for refreshment, renewal and rest!! Thank you for encouraging us to do the same. God bless you richly! Looking forward to seeing you at Leverage this November.

  10. Michelle Carson

    Food for my soul dear friend!
    God has spoken directly to me….through you…once again.
    Sending much love your way!!

  11. Linda Lochridge Hoenigsberg

    So well said Several years ago, when I first discovered social media and the online marketing space, I became a fanatic. I worked most of the week outside the home and on the other days I learned everything I could from the “experts.” I took online courses, read all the books an blogs on the subject. I had a website built to withstand thousands of shoppers. The words of Jesus would pop into my head…”Mary chose the better part.” I knew Jesus was speaking to me about my striving. I wrote it on my whiteboard! Finally, after a second brain surgery, I received the message. I wiped my whiteboard clean (but not before I took a photo of the contents with my phone! You never know when you will want to write it all back). Eventually, I was forced to rest, and my mind got the message. One of the things that has come with forced rest is that my love for others has grown. I finally get that the “greatest of these is love.” (I Cor. 13). What’s more important? The number of “followers” I have or that I can truly love those who actually cross my path? I’m glad you’re wise enough to take these sabbaticals, my friend. And I am so glad you “crossed my path.”

  12. Lisa Appelo

    After seeing your fb post, I marked this to come back and read tonight. I’ve followed your journey since first seeing posts from Crystal Paine, especially when your book released in the midst of your serious cancer treatment. I’ve been a bit in awe of your fight — your feisty vigor but also your honesty. Truly, I was just about to reach out to you as I planned a summer author series but then saw you were taking a sabbatical. There goes my chance, I thought. But I so respected the margin you intentionally set for yourself, even as I had a long summer to-do list (the plight of a homeschool mom *off duty* for the summer!). Your #2 hits home though. Sundays are my day off and they are life-giving to the rest of my week. Thank you for sharing! So glad you had the time and space for serious heart work.


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