what it really means to ‘do less and be more’

When John came home from a walk with our friend Steve and told me that he (Steve) asked him, Are you willing to do less and be more? the question lingered with us for a long time. I even wrote about it in my first book.

“The words stopped me in my dinner-making, clothes-washing, nose-wiping tracks. On the scale of life, these days my doing far outweighs my being. Be more. Do less. It sounds as blissful as it does unrealistic. I hear the mocking voice of reason, the one telling me how the sentiment is nice, but the reality is that things just have to get done.” Grace for the Good Girlp. 149

It’s been three weeks now since John left his job and we’ve had some uninterrupted family time. We have been doing less. As it turns out this question – Are you willing to do less and be more? – is not a question for your schedule.

It’s a question for your soul.


We spent a night on the side of a mountain and a week on the edge of the sea. But even when my schedule is set on doing less, I still have my soul to consider.

When Steve asked the question those years ago, he was speaking soul language. A slower schedule does not instantly present a still soul. You have to work for that.

I’ve had to ask myself the question again – Are you willing to do less and be more? Not just on the outside, but within?

Are you willing to calm your mind? To wrap your many thoughts around one central thread of truth?

Are you willing to worry less and breathe more? To burrow deep below the folds of anxiety and discover your union with Christ at your center?

Are you willing to set aside the frantic managing of outcomes and instead embrace your position as the loved of God? To choose with your will to be the loved in moments of potential insecurity?

When I honestly answer these questions for myself, I have to admit in some cases the answer is no. I’m not willing.

But I want to be willing. And that is a good place to start.


  1. says

    To release control and allow God to direct every single step… To worry less… Yes, I’m getting better at releasing everything into His hands, knowing it’s the best place for my life to be.
    However, I’m working on the worrying less. It is what can plague me, and I’m working hard at saying things like, “Life is too short to worry about this or that.”
    And, you are so right, just wanting it is a fantastic place to start!
    Have a great day!

  2. says

    This is so lovely. I catch myself worshiping at the altar of production a lot. And when I quietly wind down, I feel so much fuller. It is an amazing thing that happens when I empty myself. It allows so much more face space for Him to fill. XO

    • Janet says

      Hi Chrissy,

      Your words just struck me as I too “catch myself at the altar of production a lot” I need to wind down and I struggle to be able to do that. I act before I ask God if it is where He needs me. Now I am caught leaving things in my church because I acted to quickly in wanting to fulfill a need or opening and my heart wants to run.

  3. Mountain Mama says

    You are a very wise woman :) I stumbled upon this quote recently… ” You know what happens if you’re completely still? Your mind– that little tape that’s running ‘bup, bup, bup,’ all the noise– it eventually runs off the reel. And you have nothing left to think. All of a sudden, the answers are just there.” — Melissa Etheridge

      • Mountain Mama says

        Hi! The quote is one I stumbled upon recently and I don’t remember where I saw it…
        It was credited to singer and songwriter Melissa Etheridge.

  4. says

    Good question Emily! Always the struggle for the balance of doing vs. being…Getting these two in the right order. That is my goal for the day.

  5. says

    “But I want to be willing. And that is a good place to start.”

    Yes, this. In the middle of a move that has taken everything out of me when it really shouldn’t have, my mind just will not stop. Even with a more-or-less empty schedule. There is much grace in these words that wanting to be willing IS a good place to start. Thank you.

  6. Sarah Schulz says

    The timing of this post could not be more perfect. Thank you for the reminder; my soul is resting just reading your words.

  7. says

    Thank you, Emily. I came back from my own vacation a little over a week ago. The opportunity to stare out the car window, to spend hours playing and seeing and being have done me a world of good. It is so easy for me to function from a place of high intensity — which really just masks a lot of fear and anxiety.

    So glad you and your family are finding rest.

  8. says

    I can’t even begin to tell you how much I needed to hear this, right here, right now: “Are you willing to set aside the frantic managing of outcomes and instead embrace your position as the loved of God? To choose with your will to be the loved in moments of potential insecurity?”

    Thanks, Emily.

  9. says

    What a wonderful post! I have my finger in several pies . . . mm, pie. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but you’re so right. The question Steve posed really is a soul issue. Because I’m eclectically-interested and eclectically-involved, my mind is forever racing. It’s hard to settle on just one thing at a time, to truly be still and know that He is God. Thank you for the reminder. Bless you!

  10. says

    I recently had about an hour and a half of alone time with God, actually by myself, at a park. That doesn’t happen much with two boys two and under. I wasn’t sure HOW to sit and be silent, but I craved it so much! It had been a crazy few weeks… if not much longer… And my mind… I sat down and talked to God about how my mind is like a snowglobe. I believe He put that image there. All my anxieties and shaming and to-dos and should-dos and all of just the normal stuff of life is all that white snow… and I tend to pick up that snowglobe (being my mind/heart) and just shake it… trying to fix it? I don’t know. But I don’t often let all the “snow” just settle. I don’t allow myself to be quiet enough on the inside to see what’s in the center of that snowglobe… which is Him, inviting me to sit (in my mind He’d be on a bench with pillows beneath a willow tree next to a lamp post… am I getting too weird for you yet?! Ha).

    It is so hard to remember to stop shaking everything up and to go sit down on the inside. Having the mental picture of that snowglobe helped me a bit the last week or so, though…

    Sorry for the rambling comment…

  11. says

    I love this, Emily. It’s a very good place to start, I think. There’s been a slow unwinding happening here in the man I love, as he’s revisited letters from India he wrote more than a decade ago and reread an old favorite (…have you read Nouwen’s Can You Drink the Cup? So good). The soul stillness in him has invited me back to it, too. Grateful for your words here, Emily, and they way they’re gently whispering the same invitation.

  12. says

    Why is this so hard to maintain? It’s the keeping of this thought and presence that is so hard. All these things ring true, and they will BE true…for a time. Then, somehow…how does that happen again? Then it’s a re-orbiting. Again.

    I loved these words today. “It sounds as blissful as it is unrealistic.” I had to laugh. My husband always says, “you have time enough in the day for everything you *need* to do (see that nuance over the internet?) today” and I always reply with “that’s what a man would say!”
    Your quote was like the woman’s response to that. Something I’d want, but I’d never allow myself to do. I think I will always be working on this.
    Sarah M

  13. says

    Thanks for sharing this challenging question, Emily. This is something I’ve been wrestling with lately too, and it’s hard to grapple sometimes. But important, and, eventually, good.

  14. Brianna M. says

    This is such a timely post. I am entering a season of being, where God is calling me to rest and allow Him to take care of me instead of me doing a whole lot of “work.” As a woman who bases her identity and faith on how she performs in life and relationships, this post challenges the way I have been thinking about this upcoming season. I won’t be “doing” as much, but is my soul resting in His truth and not basing my worth on what I do?

    Thank you for reminding me that this is a soul practice and not just a schedule change.

  15. Rebecca says

    great post. i answered those questions honestly even though it was hard. i imagine they weren’t the “right” answers. and yes, i am willing. that is what i tell God all the time when i read scripture. i want to be willing. i am so thankful that God can use that and make me into something.

  16. says

    There is a wonderful children’s book called “Nothing to Do” by Douglas Wood, and in his author’s note he ends with, “There is a reason after all, that we’re called human beings, not humans doings.” It quickly resonated with me; I even put it on my Christmas list a few years ago to own a copy of my own. (The story is amazing and the illustrations are inspired)

    But with 4 kids ages 10-16 who I have tried very hard not to “over-schedule”, I still struggle everyday with so much to “do”, even just amid the dishes and laundry and dog hair. I truly fear I have forgotten how to just “be”.

  17. says

    Lovely words. I believe it is a practice… Always a struggle in this busy world, yet possible, if we allow the Holy Spirit in. When we slow down and invite God in…. Really in to our lives, wow. Get ready girl. You’re in for a ride!
    But still. It’s a practice. One that I must think on, work on each day. Not in my will, but in my obedience. God does the work, I simply must slow, be still, invite Him in.
    Only then do I really see Him and see where He wants me to go.
    I see the difference in my day, my writing, my prayer time, my empathy for others, my willingness to see… And say yes.
    The OUTCOMES become answers we never had questions for, joys we never dreamed of, gifts we never quite imagined.
    Thank you for a sweet reminder.

  18. says

    When you take the step of “being more” who have to know who you are being. In our current social media soaked lives we reduce who we are to our twitter bios, or say look at my pintrest which is a turtles shell of things we like, what we do, what we create or aspire to create, but that’s not who we ARE.

    Christ looked at the demonized man and asked “who are you?” He replied “we are legion for we are many…”

    If He looked me in my eyes and asked “Who are you?” what would my response be? Who am I to BE more of?

    It comes down to understanding our identity as the beloved child of God. For me to return to that little boy laying on his back staring out in the summer sky, reveling in his Creator as his creator was at the same time reveling in him.

  19. says

    Emily – My wife (Heather) and I have gone through not one, but two seasons of unemployment in the past 11 months. One was a reduction in workforce, the second was a somewhat mutual decision although I would still be there if I had my choice. The second one was also our church and leaving my first time in ministry (not for moral failure reasons, just “creative differences.” Regardless, both forced us to do exactly what you are talking about in this post. We didn’t choose the path, it was chosen for us. There have been many days of soul searching and prayer, seeking Gods face and plan. We often get so wrapped up in our identity, especially males, and how our job is some part of that. When you’re provider and protector for your family, they line can become even more blurred. Yet having it all stripped away allows for the lens of seeing how much more effective we can really be when we’re not driving so hard after what doesn’t matter so much.

    I love what Bob Goff said in “Love Does” – “I used to be afraid of failing at things that really mattered to me but now I’m more afraid of succeeding at things that really don’t matter.”

    Great reminder tonight. Thanks for your post.

  20. says

    Have been chewing on a quote my husband found: “We have seen and known some people who seem to have found this deep Center of living, where the fretful calls of life are integrated, where No as well as Yes can be said with confidence.” (Thomas Kelly) I love that — a confident No — because we are doing less and being more, because we are so close to Christ that we are free to holler Nope! No thank you! Not today! Clearing the calendar to hang out with God. And you are SO right, it is not a schedule question, it’s a soul question, living with a sabbathy heart. Thanks, Emily!

  21. says

    Oh, this is such a good word.

    I’ve simplified my life immensley, but still struggle with the noise and clutter in my soul. It’s a continual process. But even thru the noise I cling to these words: “It is well, with my soul.”

  22. says

    Love this message. There are times when I say no to things outside of our home so that I can do more with my family. I love the idea of “do less and be more”. Thank you for sharing.

  23. says

    “I’ve had to ask myself the question again – Are you willing to do less and be more? Not just on the outside, but within?”

    mmm.. asking myself the same {again and again}. so desiring it but yes, knowing it must come from within before it effects what’s without. reminds me of romans 12.. “transformed by the renewing of our minds!”

    beautiful challenge here, emily.

  24. Hlumisa says

    Wow! I have a friend in you, Emily. I like the way you see and tell things. I discovered even myself in you; as I read about you, I never thought someone like you (someone like me) existed. When I read your blogs, I pause and meditate, and what I meditate is what will be your next line. hahaha, and I just laugh. Thanks for being you, you enable some body else to be themselves too. Through you, being yourself, you enable one to breathe. In deed this is a place to breathe. God bless you, John, and your kids. I love you guys.

  25. says

    I think I subscribed to this blog but I am not sure. This is one of the most encouraging blogs I have read in many years. Thank you for sharing with me/us. Blessings – Sherry

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