When Reality Collides With the Ideal

I try to live an intentional life. I think seriously about everything from how to manage my time, the relationships (both now and long-term) I want to build with my children, my marriage, and my stuff (a.k.a clutter).

But sometimes, the downside of all that intentional thinking is that I create an ideal in my mind that, of course, I can’t always meet.

Sometimes it isn’t even that I don’t meet it, but rather, it feels like my reality down-right collides up against my ideal.

My ideal is to get good sleep every night.

My reality is that my husband was up until past 1 am this morning studying, my 2 year-old was up four times last night (She sleep walks. Anybody have a remedy?), and my neighbors do things like sing the Star Spangled Banner at 12am (I wish I were kidding).


My ideal is to have my kids outside playing in dirt every day, finding worms, and building forts in the woods.

My reality is that I live in a populated apartment community in the middle of the city. I am surrounded by buildings, not nature.


My ideal is to live slowly. I want to actually live my life, not just race through it. You know, have time to smell the roses.

My reality is that my husband is currently doing an M.Div (that is a 96 credit hour program for those of you unfamiliar with Seminary degrees) at break-neck speed. It is anything but slow-pace.

With a reality so opposed to the ideal it is easy to throw my hands up in the air and forget about it. But the truth is, life will never meet an elusive ideal. There will always be situations, circumstances, and realities that are outside of my control.

I must learn to create a meaningful life that accomplishes my overall mission and goals regardless of the realities I face.

The goal is to be intentional about taking care of my body in part by getting good sleep.

What I can do: I can’t change my paper thin apartment walls or predict how many times kids will wake up in the night, but I can be intentional about setting good patterns. Turning the computer off and relaxing my mind so that when I do go to bed I can fall asleep easily.

The goal is for my kids have a healthy exposure to nature, fresh air, and exercise.

What I can do: Nature is not at our back door, but we can take walks and play outside in our apartment yard. And once a week at minimum I pack everyone up to take them to a park with woods.

The goal is to live an intentional life that is free form busyness. That is, that we spend more time for people and relationships than we do checking things off a to-do list or filling up our schedules.

What I can do: Ah, this is a tricky one. I think that no matter what you are doing in life, living a life intentionally free from busyness is going to be difficult. Let’s face it. Our culture values “busy.” Unfortunately, we have confused “busy” with “productive.” And in church we often confuse “busy” with “spiritual.”

The past couple of weeks have been extremely intense for my husband on the academic front. And it isn’t going to change for the rest of the semester. He has a lot on his plate. But this was our choice–to go through this degree quickly. So we have had to make provision for that in other ways.

While our lives are indeed full right now, we have found ways to intentionally keep the busy monster at bay. It’s not always easy, and we have to constantly reevaluate, but it is possible.

Evaluate what is truly essential. This is absolutely key. I think it has to be done regularly, because what I could do a year ago, I can’t do now, and I’m sure in another year it will change again.

Looking at our schedule and determining what is absolutely necessary is crucial during this intense time of life.

We do much less socializing now than we used to do. And what we do is intentionally relational. Meaning we are more likely to have another family for dinner than we are go to attend a function. The reality is that when Brian is free, we need to focus on family time. In another season those things might be possible again. For now it just isn’t.

Realizing that our lives have to look different than it used to is essential. We can’t physically do what we have done in the past while in full-time school.

Our schedules become out of control when we keep adding to it without eliminating anything. When you add something to your life, other things have to take a back seat for a time.

For instance, before beginning seminary I thought that we would do just as much at church as we used to. But it just isn’t possible. We are committed, but we aren’t involved in nearly as much as we have been in the past.

Our lives have to adjust to different seasons, or we will be completely taken up in doing and forget to live.

Our reality may seem like it clashes with the ideal. But really, it is just knowing what is important to us and then finding ways to make it happen within our individual reality.

Does your reality sometimes feel like it is colliding with your ideal?


  1. Oh my, yes! This post is speaking my language, Johanna. I know exactly what you mean. My ideals and my reality do not match up like I want, and I tend to get frustrated and fizzle out. I have to remember accept the realities of life facing me in the moment and keep ideals in their place (I think we should all have ideals with goals to reach those ideals – but we have to keep those ideals in perspective.)

    I wish you lived closer. I would totally let your kiddos come dig in our dirt any time! My oldest brought a frog into the kitchen yesterday. When I told him to take the frog back outside, he said, “But Mom, he isn’t peeing on me!”

    • I love the frog story! I know we would love to play in your dirt. :)

      I agree, we need goals and ideals or we would never get anywhere, but we have to keep them in perspective — well said.

  2. Reality vs ideal? Um, yes. One word: seminary.

    Okay, and disability. Meaning J is much busier while I am much less busy. It is certainly a challenge to maintain a balance during this crazy season. Our ideal includes weekly date nights & regular hiking. Our ideal includes having church friends over for dinner, so we can build relationships with them.

    But reality is that some days I hardly see J except when we go to bed. Reality is that we rarely do anything with anyone, because his work/school schedule is so jam-packed full, and there’s nothing we can do to simplify that. We have to eat, right?

    I’m just thankful this is only a season. School can’t last forever, right? :)

    • I think every season has its particular difficulties, but seminary is definitely unique. Intense academic deadlines combined with working to try to feed a family makes for a crazy life.

      I’m with you. I’m glad it is only a season. It’s been really good, but…we’re tired. :)

  3. RaShell S says:

    So very true! And the frustration does set in when the reality doesn’t meet my goal! I can so relate! :)

    As for the sleep walking- we use Sleepy Time spray in our home to help with sleep issues. It’s a blend of essential oils and it works well! We get it from Heritage Essential Oils. They are not a MLM company. We love the oils to help naturally treat all kinds of things! http://heritageessentialoils.com/sleepy-time-spray.php

    Thanks for the encouraging post!

    • Thanks so much, RaShell. I’ve thought about looking into essential oils so I’m glad to know it works. I’ll look it up.

  4. Yup, Seminary does this to you :) Only we *are* pretty involved at church because we view that as part of the training we are here for. We won’t always have the opportunity to work under and learn from such seasoned men of God, and we feel this is what the Lord has for us as we prepare for overseas ministry. So yes, between seminary (PhD) and church functions, we are constantly re-evaluating our goals and ideals as they collide with reality.
    “Our lives have to adjust to different seasons, or we will be completely taken up in doing and forget to live.” Been thinking about this SO much lately! Trying to enjoy “living” in the midst of “doing.” And the Lord has been gracious. Remembering that this is just a season is helpful too!

  5. Johanna, so very well expressed! It is true. I think that especially in the States, you feel you have to DO rather than BE. I did a study once about Jesus. It’s interesting He never seemed to be in a hurry. His whole ministry was only 3-4 years, and He got it ALL done. Of course, Jesus is God, but maybe we could take some lessons from how He lived. :o) Dig in the dirt. Smell the roses. Get some sleep. Sounds like a good start! While you’re doing that, I’ll start singing the “Star Spangled Banner” at midnight!!!!

    • Ah, yes! I think America is probably the busiest country in the world (and that isn’t a good thing!). I love the mental picture I got of you sing at midnight! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  6. All. The. Time. I’m always thinking its going to get better/easier next year. And then, not so much! Many different perspectives on “intentional” and I think you nailed the validity/issue of it with so many of your points. Whew! That had to be draining (emotionally) to write, but so freeing and enriching in many ways, too!! Good for you! That’s a toughie!

    • “Iโ€™m always thinking its going to get better/easier next year.” — exactly…I’ve finally realized that all of life will have its own particular reality struggles!

  7. Andrea Cavanaugh says:

    Thank you for this post! I have been feeling somewhat restless lately, and I think reality vs. ideal is a major part of it. This was a great reminder and encouragement.

  8. Elizabeth Kane says:

    Yes. I hate when I realize my reality and ideals are clashing. It’s funny – what I think my ideal life should look like makes it harder to achieve the kind of happiness I want in my day to day reality. I really like the post you wrote, “When the Urgent Crowds Out the Important.” How the urgent and the important aren’t always the same thing, and you can’t let the urgencies side track you from forgetting what’s important. We have to deal with urgent as it comes, because life doesn’t always go according to plan, but also breathe a little and keep our big picture in perspective.

    • “the urgent and the important arenโ€™t always the same thing” ~ I feel like I have to constantly remind myself of this!

  9. Yep, seminary. Kind of crazy. I am so thankful for our back yard!

  10. “I must learn to create a meaningful life that accomplishes my overall mission and goals regardless of the realities I face.”

    Yes!! I relate so much to this post (and almost every other one you write). ๐Ÿ˜‰ I commented to my husband recently that all the good time management books I’m reading emphasize the importance of getting quality sleep and minimizing interruptions during work. Which is discouraging since my reality is multiple wakings with children each night and so many daytime “interruptions” (opportunities to serve my 3 young children) that it can take all day to get the dishwasher unloaded and reloaded. :)
    Thank you for not only clearly articulating the ideal/reality clash we all wrestle with but also for distilling a “solution” or *resolution* with which we can respond to this ongoing struggle. I’m going to be thinking on how to create the “meaningful life” you described.

    • I know exactly what you mean about the time management books. There should be one written that has all the good info the business ones do, but geared to the reality of a mom!
      (Also, thanks for your comments recently. I feel like I can get to know you. :) )

  11. Ah! This post brings me back to our seminary days! A word of hope for you: There IS life beyond seminary! :)
    Just found your blog and I love how you’re striving to live intentionally, slowly and simply. I find myself, too, getting bogged down sometimes when my reality doesn’t meet up with my ideal. Thankfully my husband is great at reminding me to embrace life…all of it.

    • Thanks so much for stopping by and for the reminder that there is light at the end of the tunnel! :)

      “embrace life” — yes, I try to remind myself, today is where I’m living, I don’t need to constantly plan my “ideal” future (that will likely never happen anyway. :) )


  1. […] I can see the failed ideals. […]

  2. […] children a slow childhood. And it would be physically healthy for us. In many ways I was living my ideal life. I truly meant and felt […]

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