In any work of art, like a painting or a photograph or even a book, there are two major components: filled space and negative space (sometimes called white space). The filled space is what our eye is immediately drawn to: it’s the color, the life, the essence of the piece. The face of the portrait, the snowy mountains, the fruit in the bowl, the flowers in the garden.
Just as important in a piece of art is the negative space, which simply put is the space that is not filled. White space is technically one type of negative space, but for these next two posts, I’m going to be talking about just white space and using this term sort of interchangeably with negative space.
Kelly O’Dell Stanley, the author of a book I’m loving right now (Praying Upside Down) says it this way: “Negative space is the area or shape formed by the surrounding objects [filled space]. White space is the part of the page that is unmarked. . . . In graphic design, white space refers to the margins, the space between paragraphs and photographs.”
I think these concepts can also apply to the way I spend my time and energy. If I think of my life as a work of art, then the actions and activities that align with my values are the things that should be comprising the “filled space” part of my life; the things that are front and center, that are vibrant and colorful, that I spend the most time doing.
But in my most difficult seasons, I flip-flop filled space and white space. I spend the most time and energy on the things that don’t fill me up, things I feel like I have to do. I ignore what’s most important and make it white space, which, by nature, is shaped by the filled space. In other exhausting seasons, I try to make everything in my life filled space. I spend time and energy doing the things I love, that fill me, that deserve center stage, but I also spend every other available minute doing the things that just don’t matter.
According to Kelly, “Amateur artists will often fill in every part of the canvas, carefully and painstakingly rendering every little thing. Taken by itself, each object may be exquisite. But when you look at the whole, your eye doesn’t know where to rest. Because there’s so much to see, nothing stands out.”
I have fallen into this trap too many times, so I’ve defined the actions that align to my deepest values. Since everyone has a unique set of values, passions, and priorities, everyone’s list of things they do will look different.
My deepest values are faith, love, simplicity, health, and connection. These are the things I do to keep myself in line with these values, the things that make up my filled space.
- I spend quality time with God. I try to do this first thing in the morning as part of my regular routine. It helps me to better live out and grow in my faith, and it equips me to start the day with the right filter for everything else that may happen.
- I spend quality time with my husband. My relationship with Dan is the most important one I have on earth, so I do my best to care for it well. He always gets first priority over anyone else.
- I cook fresh, healthy meals. Healthy eating is the most important facet of physical health. You absolutely cannot exercise or supplement yourself out of a bad diet. When I eat poorly, I feel it all over my body and mind in sluggishness, irritability, and body-image issues. It takes more time and money to eat healthy than it does to eat processed foods, but I think it’s well worth it.
- I work out a few times each week. Along with healthy eating, working out is important to living a healthy life. I want to keep my body strong and flexible and energized. I don’t spend hours at the gym. I do (hard) 30-40 minute workouts at home, including lots of HIIT intervals, so I make the most of my time.
- I write and read. These are the two activities that refuel my introverted spirit. I need time every week to be quiet, read beautiful words, and process my thoughts through writing. Part of my writing life is freelance/paid, part of it is for this blog, and part of it is purely personal. I love every bit of it.
- I attend church and small group every week. There is nothing that can replace worshiping regularly with my home church congregation, engaging in weekly teaching, and growing with other believers. It helps me live out every value I hold dear.
- I spend time with family and friends.* I have carefully defined my core group of family and friends, and these are the people who get the best of my time. That’s not at all to say that I exclude other people or never spend time with people who fall outside this circle, but I prioritize the people who are on my “home team.” (More about this in part two of this post, coming next week.)
- I say no. I say no to opportunities that fall outside these values, to people who are not part of my core circle, and to events that drain me and where I won’t necessarily add value. This one has been difficult for me to learn and exercise, but it keeps my time free enough to do all the things above. Again, there will be more about this in part two of this post.
The things I do are the things that draw me closer to God and my loved ones, that make me come alive instead of depleting my energy, that allow me to use my gifts and passions to encourage myself and others. They are the filled space in my life—the richest and most vibrant parts of who I am—and they deserve the most and the best of my time and energy.