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Why They Really Complained About the Manna

In the book of Exodus, the Israelites are brought by God out of the land of Egypt where they were enslaved, and taken into the desert. God has worked miracle after miracle for them by this point, ten plagues, walking through the Red Sea, but once they find themselves in the desert, the Israelites complain that they have no food. Somewhat understandable. After all, they have no food. But then God literally makes it rain food. Food appears every morning except on the Sabbath, and all they have to do is go pick it up. 

But then they complain about that! When I was a kid and read this story, I thought, “Those dumb Isrealites! God has given them absolutely everything, and now they’re going to whine that they don’t like the way it tastes! What a bunch of ungrateful brats!” 

And there’s something to that. We complain about our blessings too. We forget just how amazing the things we have are and whine that they are not exactly to our liking. And there was likely some of that in the Isrealites complaint. 

What really bothered them about the manna

But I think there was more to it than that.

The manna came down every night (except the sabbath) with the dew, and melted away with the dew. They could only gather enough for each day; there was no saving up, no planning for the future. 

That, I think, is the real reason they complained. They had to trust God for their food, every single day. They couldn’t rely on their own efforts. They couldn’t plan ahead, store up, or anything. They just had to radically trust that God would keep sending the mysterious food. 

We humans like to feel in control. We like to think our lives are in our own hands—and we do certainly have agency. But ultimately we are thoughts in the mind of God, utterly dependent for our very existence on His continuing to think us. We are as dependent on God as ideas you’ve never expressed are to you. If you cease thinking that thought, its existence ends. 

We hate to be reminded of our radical dependence. We hate to be reminded that we aren’t in control, that we aren’t permanent, that we can’t know all the answers. And that’s exactly what the manna was doing. It was God saying to His people, every single morning, “Remember, I am God, and you are not. You cannot live unless I provide your food.”

I think that’s why they complained. Because none of us want to be reminded of our ultimate dependency. 

The things I complain about

I certainly don’t like being reminded that I’m dependent and temporary. I realized lately that the things that upset me the most are precisely the things that remind me of my dependency and the impermanence of material things. 

I am furious when my kids break things or waste things. And I’m somewhat justified in that; they shouldn’t be doing that. But my anger is out of proportion to the cause, and I think it boils down to the same thing: I want the order that I have set in my world to remain. I want to feel that I am in control of at least my little corner of the world. 

Besides waste and damage, the other thing that I find most frustrating in my life as a parent is the constant changing of plans. I organize a fabulous plan for my day…but then the toddler throws up. I envision a workflow for making dinner, but then the toddler wants to “help.” (Yes. I visualize a workflow for making dinner. You don’t?)

I imagine a schedule…and then my child can’t find her shoes…again. 

Little things, all of them. But frustrating. The degree to which I find these little things frustrating, is, I think, a sign that there is more to it than the thing itself. 

Perhaps my anger and frustration with my children comes from the same source as the Israelites’ complaints about the manna. I just don’t enjoy being constantly reminded that I am not God. 

Both the manna and our children are direct gifts from God, and they serve the same, not always welcome purpose: to remind us that we are dependent on God for our “daily bread.” 

 

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A Few of My Favorite Parenting Books

When I run into a challenge my instinct is often to go to the library and check out all the books on the subject and skim through them looking for useful advice on the subject. Parenting, as anyone who has ever done it will (I assume) tell you, is most definitely a challenge. And so I have read a LOT of parenting books. Several were merely boring. A few I actively detested (Sorry, all you people who love BabyWise.) But there were a few that I genuinely loved. I thought I’d share a few of my favorites with you today.

Why I like these books (and not some of the others)

Before I get into the books, though, I’d like to explain why I liked these books and didn’t like the others. 

First, I’ve personally had zero success with any corporal punishment based systems of child discipline. (Doctor Dobson’s books aren’t on this list) I know lots of parents seem to get great results that way, but it doesn’t work with my kids. I also have problems with the idea of teaching my children by example that when people upset us we hit them. It’s very hard for me to see how a system of physical discipline can avoid this philosophical pitfall. 

Secondly, my goal in raising children is to help them become confident, adaptable, and free adults. Any system that treats children as Pavlovian dogs, or tries to apply the methods of horse or dog training to the education and development of children seems deeply flawed to me. I don’t want to raise compliant robots, or well-trained dogs, but interesting and adaptable people who will ask questions, take initiative, and try new things—but who will also hold fast to a few vital principles, and feel secure enough to take calculated risks and form their own strong relationships as adults. Therefore I want my discipline system to leave a lot of room for choice and initiative at every stage of development

Lastly, children have free will and intellects and should be treated as if they do. I understand that humans are animals too, and that there is some overlap in methodology, but I want methods that emphasize and respect the humanity of the child to be raised. Therefore, I want every discipline strategy to both produce the desired behavioral result, and model a virtuous reaction. 

These books are all easy to read, treat both children and parents with respect, and seem to have a pretty balanced idea of what children are, and are not, capable of. 

Bringing up Bebe

I think I’ve mentioned this one here before. Pamela Druckerman is an American woman who moved to France and had a kid. She tells a lot of hilarious stories (some adult humor) about raising an American child in France. This book is especially useful for its ideas on how to deal with clingy children and picky eaters. It helped me have a lot more fun with parenting, mainly just by encouraging me to micromanage my children less. 

As a result of reading this book, I now let my children play on playground equipment without hovering. And you know what? I love being able to relax at the park, and they love being allowed to do their thing. And if I leave them alone and do my own thing, it turns out they are surprisingly good at calculating risk, even as young as 18 months.

Hunt, Gather, Parent

A journalist had a baby…. And then didn’t know what to do with the screaming toddler it grew into. So, she put her journalist hat back on and decided to interview some behavioral scientists and investigate what certain other cultures do with their difficult young offspring. 

What I loved about this book is that it’s got three different threads, that the author braids together into a compelling and enjoyable narrative. Firstly, she visits three indigenous cultures that have traditional child-rearing methods that result in respectful, helpful, confident teens and adults. Second, she talks to behavioral scientists and presents the current understanding of behavioral forces like motivation, skill acquisition, and incentives, and shows how different parenting strategies presented in the book measure up to the science. 

And thirdly, and perhaps most entertainingly, she presents how all of these new ideas and methods worked on her own rambunctious three-year-old. 

I really enjoyed this book—couldn’t put it down. It was funny, made me feel like I wasn’t doing all that badly with my own children, and encouraged me to do things like let my just-barely-four-year-old crack eggs and then scramble them for the family…. She was actually pretty good at it! 

Another thing I appreciated about this book was her call for stronger social networks and communities to support parents in their parenting. She explains very compellingly why “it takes a village to raise a child,” and gives practical tips on building your own village to help you, even in the middle of a big city. 

How to Speak so Little Kids will Listen

 

This book is a well-written and highly practical guide to teaching your child communication and social skills while disciplining effectively. It goes through a large number of typical problems pre-rational children present, and suggests multiple strategies for dealing with them. Every child and every parent is different, and this book encourages you to find a tailored approach that works for your child. 

My favorite thing about this book was the idea of “problem solving.” If you have a toddler who is consistently resisting some seemingly basic rule or task, there’s usually a reason behind it. The problem-solving method helps you walk through a strategy for figuring out why the child doesn’t want to do the thing, resolving the issue, and figuring out a way to make both the child and the parent happy. An excellent example from the book is the toddler who doesn’t want his hand held while crossing the busy parking lot. The book encourages parents in this situation to figure out why the toddler doesn’t want his hand held, and then work with the kid to come up with a solution that does work. (I had this problem, and the solution we worked out for us was for my daughter to hold onto the shopping cart instead. Our shopping trips have been much more pleasant.) What I liked about this strategy was that I feel like it models relationship skills. This sort of problem-solving behavior where each side presents their difficulties and they work together to find a solution where both parties feel respected and get what they need is absolutely vital to a successful marriage or friendship. If you want your kids to grow up with the skills to manage conflict constructively in their lives, I highly recommend giving some of the ideas in this book a try. 

Some of the ideas in the book come across as very silly, but, as the book points out, sometimes silly works. 

The New Six Point Plan for Raising Happy Healthy Children

This book, unlike the previous three, is mostly about raising older children. John Rosemond handles topics like argumentative teenagers, allowances, and in general, managing kids incentives so that they develop the virtues and qualities you want them to as they grow up. 

One of my favorite things in this book was the idea of teaching your teenager how to argue with you. Tolerate absolutely no disrespect from your child, but absolutely allow him to present his case, and if he has a good case, by all means compromise with him where appropriate. Once again, I appreciated this approach because it not only increases child cooperation, it also teaches an incredibly valuable social skill—disagreeing with someone else respectfully. (Imagine how much better American political life would be today if every parent taught their children how to disagree respectfully!)

 

Affiliate links if you want to buy these books, (and support my blog at no extra cost to you.) Or, of course, you can just do what I do, and get them from your local library.

Buy Bringing up Bebe

Buy Hunt Gather Parent

Buy How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen

Buy The Six Point Plan for Raising Healthy Kids 

(Disclaimer: I have three children, but the oldest is only 4… so it’s unclear how they’ll turn out. That being said, I do have several years experience teaching middle and highschoolers.)

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Three surprising ways small children make you better 

Sometimes when you’re in the midst of parenting tiny humans, it’s easy to get caught up in the negative. They scream a lot. They make messes. They keep you from having a sane sleep schedule. Having babies makes you gain weight. They make most adult activities harder. 

All of this is true. Kids can be a pain. But they have their pluses. And I’m not even talking about the obvious things, like their cuteness, their innocence, or their humanness. Though that’s all true too. 

I’m not here to tell you to “enjoy those special moments; they’re only small for awhile.” It’s great when you can take the time to try to notice how cute your kids are…but maybe what you actually need right now is some sleep, or some adult conversation, not a few more toddler cuddles. Take care of yourself. Parenting is a marathon, not a sprint, so you have to pace yourself (wow…could I be more cliche?)

Maybe a better way to put it is that parenting is a lifestyle, and you need to make sure it’s a sustainable lifestyle, not a constant survival mode. If you’re a counselor at a summer camp, it’s okay to push yourself to the limits of your endurance, because the camp will be over in a week or two, and you’ll be able to rest up. Parenting is never really over, so you need to make sure you’re taking care of yourself properly the whole way through. 

Parenting is hard. Your kids take a lot out of you sometimes, and it can be hard to find the time to do necessary self care.

But kids add things besides cuteness now and possible future grandkids down the road. Here’s a few things I’ve noticed my kids do for me–when I let them. (I find that I’m more ready to receive these blessings from my children when I’m not sleep deprived or starving for adult company. So this is absolutely NOT saying that parenting isn’t hard or that you don’t need a break sometimes.) 

Healthy Disruption

 

Routines and habits are vital. Good routines and habits make life possible. But our habits, like our technology or any other thing we use, need to be our servants, not our masters. It’s all too easy to become a slave to our routines and habits when nothing disrupts our patterns now and then. Nothing is so disruptive as having a child around. Every season or so, you have to rethink your household routines, because your child is in a new stage of development. Storing the remotes and pretty glass knicknacks on the coffee table seemed like such a good idea…until the baby started crawling and pulling himself up on things. 

Kids make you rearrange the furniture, rearrange your schedule, and rethink your life choices. This might not sound like a positive, but it is. If you are never forced to examine your choices, routines, and habits, it’s too easy to slide into unintentional living. Children are a constant reminder that you have to keep deciding what’s important to you, and keep choosing it, not just drift. If you’re parenting young kids right now, it might be helpful to try to think of the constant changes and curveballs as an opportunity to consistently reexamine your habits, and not just a toppling of your neatly laid plans. 

Smelling the roses

 

With kids around you’re likely to smell a lot of other things too. But what I’m talking about here is enjoying the unexpected, and observing things you might not otherwise see. 

The other day I was hurrying into the grocery store with two small children in tow. Hurrying not because I was in a hurry, but because I like getting things done quickly so that I can get on to other things that I find more interesting. One of my children asked the standard toddler question, “What’s that?” and I looked. There was a dumpster in the parking lot for a renovation project the grocery store had been doing, and a truck was about to take it away. We stood there next to the grocery store and watched the whole process. And you know what? It was fascinating. I never knew before what a marvelous piece of engineering those dumpster-hauling trucks are! Or the skill their drivers need to have. 

And I would still be unaware of it if my kids hadn’t been with me that day. If I’d been alone I wouldn’t have stood there and watched. Partly because I’d have been embarrassed to. (Why, I’m not sure. It should be socially acceptable for adults to stand around and watch interesting things happening.) And partly because I wouldn’t have noticed it. 

Kids are so good at noticing things and wondering at them. As Chesterton says, “The fascination of children lies in this: that with each of them all things are remade…” And while they remake our worlds in unpleasant ways sometimes, they can also refresh it for us; remind us that the world really is a rather marvelous and wonderful place full of interesting things to see. 

Renewal of hope

 

If children have the power to renew our interest in the outside world simply by being interested in it themselves, they also have the power to renew our hope. A baby is so full of glorious potential. A toddler is constantly learning new skills, new ideas, new abilities. They seem potentially limitless. (Sometimes we wish their energy was not quite so limitless) 

It is strange to think that everyone started out in the same place–as helpless innocent babies. 

Remembering that everyone started out as a tiny baby can be encouraging. If Stalin was once a baby, so was St Therese. There is hope for everyone. Your children are the future, and you have a hand in shaping it. 

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Tech and Your Family

This is the second part of a three part series on making technology work for you. If you haven’t read the first section yet, please find it here. (This post contains some affiliate links. These links allow me to earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.)

Now that you have come up with a real plan for how to manage technology in your life, you are ready to look into managing your kids’ technology. But even with a coherent plan, you can’t just make rules, even highly intentional and rational rules, and expect smooth sailing, especially if you’re talking about teenagers. 

Start with yourself

I have done a lot of reading on this subject. Some of the authors were parents, some were counselors who deal with parents and children, and some were just very productive people. 

Based on my research, my own experience, and what my gut tells me, the first step for any successful control of your teen’s tech use is to set an example of intentional and virtuous technology use. 

As a responsible adult you likely have a lot of reasonable and necessary uses for technology. And you might also waste lots of time. To your kids, the two look identical. (You might have trouble telling the difference sometimes too–I know I do.) So a good way to be more intentional with your own tech use, and to set a good example is simply to tell your kids what you are doing when you are using your phone or computer. “Hey, honey, I’m going to check my email.” “I am going to look up a recipe for roasting a chicken.” “I am looking for a craft idea to do with you this afternoon.” “I am reading an article about___.” “I am texting your grandmother pictures of you.” “I am texting my friend.” 

Just saying what you are doing on your phone can help you stay focused on what you are going to do, as well as let your child know that you are actually doing something reasonable with the time you are looking at your phone instead of him.

It’s also important that you be able to set your phone down. Give your kids phone-free quality time. Put the phones in another room during dinner. (More about family dinners later.) It turns out this is more important than you might think. On page 56 of his book, The Distraction Addiction, Alex Pang describes a study in which pairs of people were randomly assigned to have conversations with each other, either with a visible smartphone present, or without a phone present. The study he cites noted, “It was found that conversations in the absence of mobile communication technologies were rated as significantly superior compared with those in the presence of a mobile device, above and beyond the effects of age, gender, ethnicity, and mood.”

So make sure you can set your own phone aside if you want to make effective rules for your kids. 

Make sure that screen time is not the only option

A lot of families struggle with screen time rules because screen time is by far the most alluring option open for their kids. They can do something screen-related or they can do… nothing? Chores? This might be the single most important step to take in making sure your kids have a healthy relationship with tech–making sure they have other things in their lives as well. 

Do they have friends that they can have over or go and visit? Do they have real-life hobbies? Growing plants, raising pets, building models, biking or hiking with friends, etc. are all good things that teach real-life skills and are just plain good for you both physically and mentally. These and other activities are what Cal Newport calls “high quality leisure activities” because they require input, and are deeply satisfying. High quality leisure activities are also great opportunities for parents to spend quality time with their older children, and for siblings to spend quality time with each other and really enjoy one another. 

It’s important to set rules, and enforce them, but I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect screen time limitations to be followed if the alternative is staring at the wall. 

Set clear and reasonable boundaries. 

Smartphones are very powerful. They have access to literally the entire internet, with all of the information, and all of the filth that entails. They can have addictive games installed on them, and have a million other ways of encouraging you to spend all your time looking at them. 

They also have great potential to help you live your life better. I use mine for my productivity system, writing blog posts and books, and talking to my friends. 

Since the internet and internet connected devices are so powerful, it is important to give kids guidance and boundaries for their use. Below are the rules I would suggest. 

My tech rules

(For the record, my kids are 3 and under. I imagine by the time my kids are teenagers this conversation will be somewhat different. I taught middle school and highschool for a few years though–and loved it–so teens are not an unknown topic for me. These are the rules I would recommend to any of my friends who do have teens.) 

I don’t think kids under 18 should have full-function smartphones. They are designed by very very smart people to be addictive, and your teen’s brain has not developed fully. Any addiction they form as a teen will be much harder to break. That being said, if your kid is driving, or otherwise leaving the house alone, it seems sane to allow them to have a way of calling their parents/bosses or other important people in their lives. There are a number of devices that allow only calling, texting, and some offline apps. I recommend getting one of these for a minor child who will be leaving the house alone. The device can be returned to you when the child returns home, which should allow for proper supervision. 

If you do give your child a smartphone, don’t let him have it in his bedroom. People (adults or children) are most likely to do stupid things on their phones alone at night, and it’s also really bad for your sleep. 

Boundaries for teens

If your child is in middle or highschool, he will likely need internet access for his school work, and a computer for typing papers. I think it’s important for kids to learn how to type properly before leaving school. I recommend a program like Mavis Beacon, or whatever they use nowadays. I recommend giving students access to a computer in a public area (and only in a public area) and having an effective internet filter like Covenant Eyes

Your child may need to have his own email account. If you have a decent relationship with your kid, this shouldn’t be a problem, though depending on the age of the child, it might work well to have them share their passwords with you. I would not allow my teenage children to have social media accounts. (The only exception I can see myself making to this rule at this point would be if my teenager had a business and was using a social media page exclusively for business purposes. In this case I would imagine that adult advice in managing the account would be both helpful and welcome.)

As for computer games, that is a personal decision that each parent has to make on their own. Different people are more or less likely to form addictions. If you know you have a tendency in that direction, you should be more careful with your kids, because addictive behavior is influenced by genetics. I think my rule would be absolutely never more than an hour a day of entertainment screen time, and gaming only as a social activity. (The only exceptions I would make to the social rule would be games that teach you to type, or other practical skills.)  I don’t think I’d let kids under 10 or 12 play either. 

These are just my rules. Everyone has their own needs and difficulties. But no matter who you are, no matter what your rules are, you need to have a good relationship with your kids to make it work. 

No rules will work unless you do this

Having the perfect rules, and having perfect technology habits yourself is not enough. If you take nothing else away from this blog post, I want you to take this away: The most important thing you can do to keep your kids safe on the internet (or elsewhere) is to develop an open and loving relationship with them. 

Let them know that they can talk to you about anything. You don’t want your kids being too embarrassed to ask you about the disturbing pictures they saw on someone else’s computer. You don’t want them to be too scared to tell you if someone tried to take advantage of them. 

Here is some advice therapists, counselors, priests and others often give on this subject: 

Eat dinner as a family, and make it a pleasant daily ritual. It’s good for your health and for your relationships. And talk during dinner. Talk about anything and everything. Most of all, let your kids talk. Let them ask questions, tell stories, and argue (courteously of course).

Make sure your children know you love them no matter what. Children have love languages too. If you’re not sure your kids know you love them, make sure of it. Discipline should show love, not make your kids doubt it. There are many ways to discipline, and you need to find one that works for each of your kids. Whatever you pick, it is vital that it leaves your children very clear about what expectations and consequences are, and also leaves them feeling loved and respected. Make sure your relationship with your kids is based on love, not fear. 

Teach your kids about their bodies.

Making sure children know how their bodies work and what appropriate and inappropriate touch are like, and what to do if they see or experience anything inappropriate. This knowledge must be age appropriate, but the general consensus is that it’s better to go too early than too late. 

When you do teach them about their bodies, be sure not to leave them with a sense of shame or embarrassment at the topic. If your child senses that you are embarrassed by the topic, it can lead to an unwillingness to discuss problems that arise, and even marital difficulties later on. 

If you are for any reason incapable of giving a reverent, honest and open explanation of bodily processes to your child, then it might be a good idea to ask a trusted friend to explain it. 

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The Sanity List

There’s a baby screaming and grabbing your ankle, a toddler emptying out your spice jars, and you have a headache…. There’s just no way you’ll make it until nap-time, or whenever the babysitter arrives, or your spouse gets home.

Or maybe you’re at work, and you didn’t sleep well the night before, your coworkers are driving you insane, your computer is refusing to work, and you just don’t know if you’ll make it through the day without screaming at someone.

Whatever situation is making you feel desperate, if you’re feeling that way, you’re not going to be thinking clearly. You feel trapped, frantic, and like there’s just no way you can survive. And this is not a good frame of mind for creative thought or good decisions.

Which is exactly why–sometime when you’re not frantic–you need to be proactively creative and make pre-crisis decisions.

This is where the sanity list comes in.

Everyone has activities that make them feel better when they’re stressed, though not everyone has figured out what they are. The idea behind the sanity list is to write some super simple relaxing activities down and post the list somewhere it’s easy to see. You know that next time you’re feeling that way, you aren’t going to be in any state to come up with great ideas, so you do that beforehand.

I’d like to share the sanity list I just wrote, just to give you some ideas. (My stressors usually involve a couple of adorable children who don’t have off-switches, so my ideas will reflect that.)

Say an Our Father

When you feel swamped by stress and screaming and frustration, sometimes it helps to realize that you really can take a few seconds away from whatever your troubles are, and lift your thoughts to God. And the last phrase of the Our Father–“forgive us… as we forgive those…” is always a helpful reminder when you’re angry.

Play music

Music has the ability to change the mood of a situation very quickly. Find some music to calm yourself and the situation down. The act of choosing a song to listen to can also help just by breaking you out of your cycle of negative thoughts. For at least a couple seconds you are thinking of doing something that might help, instead of just trying yourself how impossible it all is.

Go to a store

This won’t work for everyone, but when I’m having a really bad day, I sometimes find it helpful to pack myself and the kids into the car and go to a store. My kids like the new things to look at, and so I usually get a break from the crying…and if not, at least there are other people around to keep me from murdering anyone–just kidding (mostly).

Call a friend on the phone

I do this a lot. I really enjoy talking to friends, and often they have an outside perspective on my problem that allows me to find a solution. Or at least they sympathize. Which is also helpful. In any case, the phone call helps pass the time and take my mind off how angry, frustrated, or tired I might be.

Go for a walk

Just getting outside for a few moments can sometimes clear your head. Try checking the mail. Your screaming kids won’t kill themselves in the thirty seconds it takes to walk to the mailbox.

If that’s not enough of a break, going for a walk sometimes helps. If I’m home alone with the kids that means getting two small kids into clothes, loading them up in a stroller, and going around a few blocks. My kids love going outside, so it can be a good redirect for them, and even though the walk itself might only take five or ten minutes, the whole process of getting everyone dressed and out the door takes longer, and gives positive direction to the chaos.

And yes… going for walks doesn’t get the dishes washed or the laundry folded, but it’s good exercise and it might just keep you sane. And that’s more important.

Eat a snack

If you’re feeling desperate and angry, is always worth checking to see if it’s been too long since you ate. And if there’s kids involved and they’re being awful, they’re likely hungry too. Eating a healthy snack with protein in it can often make this difference between a good afternoon and a terrible one.

Exercise

Strenuous physical activity is a good mental break, and it can also make you release endorphins which will make you feel better. One of my favorite exercises for when I’m going crazy is running up and down the stairs a few times. I’ve never liked jumping jacks, pacing back and forth indoors doesn’t get you tired enough, and pushups are too hard. Running up and down the stairs is just the right amount of challenge. It tires out your leg muscles, but it also makes you breathe hard, which is good for your health, and I find it’s an excellent outlet for anger and frustration. It only takes a couple minutes.

Writing a sanity list and posting it somewhere easy to see is a very simple way to make your life more intentional and less reactive. It gives your calm, level-headed self a way to reach your frantic upset self when you need it the most.

If you’re interested in ideas for living more intentionally, check out some of these other articles.

Finding the underlying problem

Getting out of survival mode

Choosing your personal style