What Busyness Takes

There will not be that ideal moment to write; when all ripe tomatoes are cleared from the weighted, fragrant vines, when the laundry is all tucked into drawers and relaxing onto hangers, when the children are deep into quiet, peaceful play, and the to do list is a crossed-off list of merry accomplishment.  Such a moment would last, at best, a span of minutes, and so I write anyways.  I just left to help a frustrated toddler remove his wooden cars from his little barn toy where he had hopelessly wedged them.

Financial burdens led me this past year into multiple jobs and homeschooling my five year old, with a baby and toddler at home as well.  I did babysitting at a local church, I became a direct care worker for a disabled person, and I continued my soap business, albeit without a partner, who moved out of state.  Though there was love in my offering, I felt, and still feel, hollowed out by the weight of the work of that year.  The children I cared for gave me their smiles and their joy, and I love them.  The person I care for with a disability has given me concrete perspective on suffering and perseverance.  My small soap company has given me just enough to stave off needing loans to pay for our childrens’ education, and gave me the opportunity to grow in my craft.  All these good things, and yet, there was too much, leaving not enough of me to breathe.  Not enough of me to connect at day’s end with my kids and husband and friends.  I missed the kids’ sports, social events, and quiet evening time playing games around the table, because I was working or falling asleep standing up.

Activities give, but busyness takes, and I’ve found that I cannot live well with what it takes.  We are taking steps to reduce my work.  We enrolled the homeschooled kiddo, and I declined to babysit this year.  I put in a request to drop to one morning a week for direct care.  I wrote to one of my wholesale customers that I’d be unlikely to make the quantity of soaps they’d requested (this was a sorrow as I love the shop’s owner and have sold at their location for years).  I am fully owning that I’m one person and that I can’t breathe; that I require open stretches of time that aren’t stalked and menaced by a workload that endlessly intones, “back to work, back to work”.  I need my energy that has been consumed by busyness; I need it to be a “horsey” for my baby to ride on, I need it to cook wholesome food for my growing kids, I need it for cheering on my kids while they play sports.  They have first dibs on what I have to give.

I don’t want to miss these years.  I don’t want to produce a thousand bars of soap if it means I’m too tired to read a bedtime story to these little ones who grow an inch every time I look away.  I’m putting a stop to the madness that can be stopped, so that I can reasonably  deal with the madness that can’t.55458331_10157517776583352_5915649093199200256_o55819024_10157527981533352_787634639161262080_o56396022_10157545627993352_5875322391126605824_o57568478_10157581165648352_7460836377630867456_odrawing

 

For Which Generation? On Telos and Techne

 “Hurry is not of the devil; hurry is the devil.”  -Carl Jung

Six kids?!?  You must be SO BUSY!

It’s said with wonder, with a smile, and nodding knowingness.  Everyone’s busy, so I must be doubly, or triply, so with such a sizable family.  Despite every inclination to just leave it at that, I cannot seem to help my contradictory self.  “I’m really not.  We live an intentionally slower-paced life with few outside commitments.”  This does not compute generally with whomever I’m making small talk.  But, it’s okay, they have to run anyways; busy day ahead!

I learned a new word the other day as I read You Are What You Love by James Smith:  telos.  A Greek noun, it means an end, purpose, or goal; an ultimate aim.  He writes convincingly that our telos affects everything, even if it’s not what we think it is.  What do we really aim at? What do we really love?  We may think that we’d love to have a beautiful and healthy body, but our true telos may have more to do with the tasty pleasure of eating donuts and the comfort of sedentary habits.

I wondered; what do I love?  What am I aiming my life towards?  And what is my techne (another Greek word, meaning our rational method in accomplishing our aim) for getting there?  And why is the techne that is assumed to be universal a breathless and harried busyness?  What telos requires such haste and incessant activity?

A baby is born and the parents begin to dutifully schedule portrait sessions, play dates, and provide heaps of stimulating “educational” toys.  There’s childcare to arrange, and baby is bundled up and ready for the day before the sun rises.  Life is a series of being dropped off and picked up, shuttled about from car seat to stroller to car seat to bed.  As toddlerhood approaches the parents feel this unsettling pressure; will their child be ready for preschool?  Which preschool is best?  Maybe a parent will pick up another job to pay tuition at a promising one.  This is only the beginning, but the telos is in full swing, the techne chugging along doggedly.  The comforting thing is that everyone else looks just as frantic, just as hurried, just as worried.  Until one attempts to commiserate with an odd duck like me, that is.

As the child enters elementary school he will be shuttled from school to after school care, to music lessons, to sports practices, to youth events at church, to karate, to dance, etc.  I know many families who only eat dinner together about once a week due to various activities that keep them orbiting the home, landing at different intervals for a hurried snack and a change of uniform.  Saturdays and Sundays are not exempt from this quick, packed lifestyle.  The two most common words associated with this time of life when I speak with my peers are “busy” and “stress”.  What is the end, the telos, of all this hustle?

A well-rounded adolescent, with success in one or many specializations, be they academic, musical, or sports-related, and a promising list of accomplishments to be listed on college applications?  Perhaps.  I think the telos reaches further as soon as they get accepted to a college; that they’ll pick an impressive major (or double major preferably); that they’ll graduate with honors, that they’ll land a lucrative and fulfilling job, that they’ll meet an equally impressive mate, and that they then can start a family.  Having that baby, then the parents can bring their telos to bear on that child; schedule the portraits, buy the Baby Einstein books, get the ball rolling towards laudable success.

This telos demands an incredible amount of busyness.  Such investment in the success of our offspring has never before been seen in history.  Family life has become bewilderingly child-centric, parents giving up their own interests and pursuits as they struggle just to meet the demands of their childrens’ schedules.  Is the cost worth it?  If you’re not willing to pay the price, can your children still have a chance at a successful life?  And what of your own life?  Can it be enjoyed or is it too laid upon the altar of busyness?  Are we always to be simply enduring the present in order to achieve the future?

This brings me back to my techne:  slow, unhurried, thoroughly enjoyed life, each day, each hour, for its own sake, aiming towards holiness in the long run by faithfulness and growth in the everyday.  Though I cannot guarantee the future success of my children (however one may define that), I can give us the space and time to enjoy life right now; splashing in today’s rain puddles, examining this year’s butterflies and roses, going on long walks and feeling this day’s fresh air filling our lungs.  Savoring bites of food, starting the day slowly with cuddles, spending a good half hour staring at my newborn’s tiny pink face, and taking my older children out for one-on-one dates where we linger over ethnic foods and connect deeply; these are my techne for not missing the moments that can’t be put off until later, for not missing the now.

This is not to say that there isn’t a place for spurts of busyness; right before an opening night of a play, or a championship game, or helping with charitable events.  Feeling a bit breathless and harried is appropriate for such; it’s a special time given special energy; it can be exhilarating, but to live every single day that way?  I’d argue that such effort shoots right past its own aim, its own telos; it hurries right past the life it meant to live so well.

So I ask, for whom is this offering of hustling, bustling, hurry?  For which generation?  It seems we are rushed about all our lives so that we can raise children whom we rush about so that they can raise children whom they can rush about.  Is this life?  When are we allowed to actually enjoy it?  On a yearly vacation, packed with activity itself?  When we retire and our bodies which we’ve neglected through inattention to them are ailing and out of shape?

I do not claim to be a better parent than anyone; God knows and I know the limitations and deficiencies I bring to the table, and trust me when I say that I esteem the great love and care that undergird the frantic scheduling folks submit themselves to.  I seek only to sound a bit of an alarm, that we might miss life if we sprint through it.  We can’t go back and have these days again.

I’ll end with a poem that is of help to me in forming my telos, and thus also, my techne:

Song for a Fifth Child

Mother, O’ Mother, come shake out your cloth,
Empty the dustpan, poison the moth.
Hang out the washing, make up the bed,
Sew on a button and butter the bread.
 
Where is the mother whose house is so shocking?
She’s up in the nursery, blissfully rocking.
 
Oh, I’ve grown as shiftless as Little Boy Blue,
Lullaby, rockaby, lullaby loo.
Dishes are waiting and bills are past due,
Pat-a-cake, darling, and peek – peekaboo.
 
The shopping’s not done and there’s nothing for stew,
And out in the yard there’s a hullabaloo.
But I’m playing Kanga and this is my Roo.
Look! Aren’t his eyes the most wonderful hue?
Lullaby, rockaby, lullaby loo.
 
The cleaning and scrubbing can wait till tomorrow,
But children grow up, as I’ve learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down cobwebs; Dust go to sleep!
I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.
~ Ruth Hulbert Hamilton
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Beyond Hurry

Time moves plenty fast without our assistance.

I turn around and my son is two inches taller, the weeds I just picked have resurrected and are going to seed, and the pie I pulled out of the oven is polished off, only crumbs remaining.

I walked into a pharmacy on Halloween and found myself eyeball-to-eyeball with a  life-size Santa.  I’m sorry, has Thanksgiving passed?  Have we decided that Fall ends in October?  Before the leaves have completed their magnificent show?  Before the silly roses even quit blooming?

I can’t blame the shops, though.  They wouldn’t do it if this wasn’t what consumers responded to.  So my question is, why are we in such a hurry for the next thing?  In my previous post, The Looser Weave, I spoke of my own reticence to wrap up my childbearing in a tidy yesterday box, and apply my expectation towards the next thing.  I shared, “What am I saying…only this; I’m not eager to hurry away, to go on to the next thing.  I am in a garden and I haven’t exhausted my wonder at all the flowers.”

I am glad to both enjoy my daughter’s entry into her teens and my baby learning his first words, simultaneously.  I don’t mind our vehicles hosting both strollers and soccer balls.  There is something quite magical in seeing the delight and wonder in my oldest child’s eyes when she holds her littlest brothers, and I can point out the things they do that she also did as a babe.  It opens to her the wonder of her own yesterday.  She reads to them and I hear my own voice in hers, the way I read to her.

What is to be gained from hurry?  It seems the logic is that I’ll power through tons of work/things/activities so that I’ll have time…for….more…what, more work/things/activities?  Why not enjoy fully the time we have now?  Can we not resist the pull of cramming our days breathlessly full and aiming them at a mythically less-busy future?

“…if the devil can’t get you to sin, he’ll keep you busy.”

-Anne Lamott

“Busyness is not of the devil; busyness is the devil.”

John Wesley

“Busyness acts to repress our inner fears and perpetual anxieties, as we scramble to achieve an enviable image to display to others. We become ‘outward’ people, obsessed with how we appear, rather than ‘inward’ people, reflecting on the meaning of our lives.

Busyness also seems to be a determination not to ‘miss out on life.’ Behind much of the rat-race of modern life is the unexamined assumption that what I do determines who I am. In this way, we define ourselves by what we do, rather than by any quality of what we are inside. It is typical in a party for one stranger to approach another with the question, ‘What do you do?’ Perhaps we wouldn’t have a clue how to reply to the deeper question, ‘Who are you?’

– James Houston

If my life is too busy to…

  1. cook with my children
  2. take Sunday as a true Sabbath, a day of delightful rest
  3. create for the sheer pleasure of creating
  4. snuggle on the couch with my baby
  5. cook nourishing food for my family
  6. pray
  7. examine the eyelashes on my sleeping toddler, memorizing the way they lay on his cheek
  8. linger
  9. play
  10. respond to sudden needs of family and friends
  11. breathe
  12. read
  13. enjoy, while still hot, my morning cup of coffee
  14. have talks and dates with my children, one on one
  15. learn something new, like a language or a craft
  16. give of my time to others
  17. find a stream and sit beside it in thought
  18. care for the animals and plants under my stewardship
  19. talk with my husband in long meandering conversations
  20. respond to a gorgeous sunset with a walk to enjoy it

….then I am too busy, and something has to be reevaluated.  Emergencies excepted, of course, but I find many are living in emergency mode…all the time.  That is exhausting.  What is the cost of this?  What is the cost of a rest-less life?

I heard recently the story of a man who had filled his life with hurry and noise, constant distraction.  He was also deeply unhappy.  As an experiment, while driving, he shut off the phone and the radio and drove in silence.  It was uncomfortable, this silence.  Tears began to well in his eyes as raw emotion, that had been tamped-down by distraction, reverberated through him.  He pulled over his car and wept.  Hard.  When the weeping subsided he felt lighter and better, more human.  I can’t help but hope for the same sort of breakthrough for our harried culture.

Then, maybe, just maybe, we can celebrate the seasons in the actual seasons, and Santa can come flooding into our stores in December, when we are ready for him, when we have let time flow at its own pace; when we live less in tomorrow than in today.

 

Why It’s Hard to Rest

Henrik does laps around his playpen, swinging his dimpled arms like pendulums, as taking a nap is unthinkable with all this excess energy that compels his little legs to run, his little body to move, move, move.  It’s hard to rest.  There’s so much running to do.  As he winds down a bit, he rolls across the mattress with his blankie, in a wrestling match of sorts with the idea of sleep:  I embrace it (sucks thumb and strokes blankie’s silky edge), no I do not (tucks and rolls and kicks the sides of the playpen).  I think I do the same with the Sabbath.

For six days of the week I start my day by getting the laundry going.  There’s something soothing to me about hearing my trusty appliance sidekicks humming in the background, doing some major work at the touch of a button or two.  It’s probably as close as I’ll come to having some domestic help, and it makes the day seem like it’s acquired some momentum.  Some getting-it-done-ness.

So when the Sabbath comes around, a day to cease from my day-to-day workload and enjoy rest and my Lord, I miss the assuring hum of progress in the laundry room.  I even have “temptations” and rationalizations about why I could/should in fact do laundry anyways.  The quickly piling basket in the laundry room woos me.  I’m serious.  The loudest voice of temptation is Miss Responsible.  She reasons matter-of-factly that it’s as necessary as brushing my teeth and cooking on Sundays; the children do need clothing ready for school the next day.  What would become of Monday if Sunday didn’t do any work?

But, it’s just not true.  Because I do laundry nearly every day, there is no true shortage of clothing for anybody.  And Monday is meant for working, so let it have it’s work.

It’s hard to rest, hard to cease from wreaking productivity all over our weekend-blasted home.  Hard to swallow the crumbed floors, the scattered shoes, and the Sunday paper laid strewn in several reading spots.  Part of me wants it all ordered and shining and fresh and ready for Monday.  But when, then, am I ready for Sunday?

Ready for rest?

This takes some foresight.  I’m slowly learning that.  If I have laundry going Saturday night, I make sure not to put a load in the washer before bed, because it will shout at me to be switched over to the dryer and folded on Sunday morning.  I try to vacuum the floors and tidy things up Saturday night so that my restless I-want-order spirit can find less irritation in my surroundings.  And if all else fails and I awake to a disordered home on Sunday morning, I do as we did last night.  We gathered the children and headed out for a nice walk to the park.  We abandoned ship and sought fresh air, different landscapes, and no visible work to attend to other than pushing a giggling baby on the swings.

Sometimes you have to physically flee from temptations, even seemingly silly ones.

But the Sabbath commandment isn’t silly.  I guess it’s pretty important to God, so it must be awfully important for us as well; for our spiritual wellbeing and connection to Him and others.  We have to hit the pause button on our work, we need to step away from it, we need to remember God and dwell on Him with unscattered minds.  _MG_4776

Why do I put dear Henrik down for a nap?  Not because he wants one.  Oh, no.  He doesn’t even feel sleepy, quite the opposite really.  I put him down because I know what he needs better than he does.  I know he’d run himself ragged and get cranky and destructive and all out of sorts without his rest.  He’d make himself, and all of us, miserable.  It is an act of kindness and love, though to him it can feel so confining and restrictive.  When he finally succumbs to the nap, his cheeks flushed pink and his blankie clasped in his pudgy fingers, his breathing sweet and soft, I am captivated by the sight.  Love sweeps on over me as I see my son relaxing into the gift of rest.IMG_2100

It is humbling that we need the same, eh?  We are all grown up and yet we are still assigned a rest time.  We try to squirrel our way out of it, don’t we?  Because we like to be unrestricted; we like to chart our days as we please.  But God, in His wisdom, knows what we need better than we do.

Let us not, then, resist Him.  Let us accept the gift He kindly offers to us as dearly loved children.

 

Shooting From The Hip

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It was a rambling two week-long drive zig-zagging across the Chilean and Argentinian borders, down, down and over the Strait of Magellan, into Tierra del Fuego (“Land of Fire”), down to Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world.  I swear that from there you can smell Antarctica.  We saw penguins, flamingoes, guanacos (like alpacas), flocks of rheas, icebergs, black and white-striped dolphins, and took a boat ride out to see southern right whale mamas with their calves.  We camped in Torres del Paine, one of the most gorgeous national parks in the world.  We took a boat out to a glacier and were awed by all that deep blue.  We did a lot on that trip, and guess what?  We didn’t plan it.

Now, we had sat down with a map and someone who had navigated the southern end of S. America.  He highlighted nice places to visit.  That was it.  No hotel reservations, no itinerary, just, go!

shootingfromthehip1It was the best trip of our lives.  We could stop and linger where we were intrigued, we could push right through the endless Argentine pampa which was a whole lot of brown with a bit of wildlife.  We lived pure spontaneity.  What an adventure.

Some of you read my short story I published last week, “Magda’s Gift”.  Someone asked me how I know what to write next; how does one go about crafting a story?  I smiled.  “Well, I watch what the characters say and do, and then I write what I saw.”  Incredulity.  It’s true.  I have no idea what the end of the story will be when I begin to write.  I have no idea what the point will be (or if there will be one), how the characters will develop, or how it will all fit together.  I write like I live, shooting from the hip.

Contrast this with my beloved parents-in-law.  They have a gift for planning and derive great pleasure from having time nicely chunked-out and labeled.  They love the predictability and they relax into their schedule like it’s an old pair of slippers.  Meanwhile, I feel like I’ve been stuffed into a whale-bone corset.  Can’t.  Breathe.

For the sake of family unity and peace, Dustin and I let them direct the family vacations, which they do a great job at.  A few years back we all went to Colonial Williamsburg.  The days were marked out and we happily donned our corsets (figuratively, you know) and toured Williamsburg and went to a fun theme park and such and such.  Even the meal schedule was marked-out and all went swimmingly according to plan.  There was one day left temporarily flexible according to which site we wished to revisit.  Dustin and I decided that enjoying the pool at the condo sounded perfect, just relax in the sun and let the kids unwind.  The family did not understand; why would we “waste” a day not “doing something”?  We didn’t want to come home from our vacation needing a vacation.  Within the structure of those days, we needed a bit of meandering rest and unhurried relaxing.

To be clear, I’m not holding up “shooting from the hip” as a virtue; our culture needs the type-A planners, indeed, very much!  But I do submit that we also need to recognize that not everyone fits into that category.  Both are gifts; you may not be able to count on me to plan a classroom party, but you can sure bet that I’ll be the one able to bring you some freshly-made chicken soup if you fall ill, and will be free to keep your children should your sitter not show.  My schedule isn’t full on paper, but my life is full of responsive work (living the day, responding to seen/felt needs, letting the Spirit guide my to-do list).  shootingfromthehipSome authors write out a detailed story line.  They know where their characters are headed ahead of time.  Some people plan out their lives. Some just don’t, happily.  Whatever group you fall in, or anywhere in between, may each of us encourage one another to either plan or respond in a way that honors Christ as Lord of our lives, as the most important focus of how our days on this spinning Earth are spent.

Not Busy

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“Thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to do this…”

“Um, actually, we’re not busy.”

(blank look, followed by incredulity)

“Oh, riiiight, four kids and you’re not busy…HA-HA”, she said in a you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-wink-wink way.

“No, really, we’re not.  Kind of intentionally so.”

You can see the wheels a-turning, the thoughts going through her mind:  Ah, right, she’s a missionary, not quite normalized yet to the way things are here.  It all makes sense.

A compassionate smile, “Well, if you aren’t busy now, you will be once the kids are all in sports and music.”

I don’t remember if I just lowered my eyes or mumbled that we didn’t have plans to put them in sports (at least, not in the leagues that swallow up five evenings a week and spit out a few minutes for “family time” if possible).  I’m not calling that way of doing life wrong, but life isn’t One Size Fits All, and the breathless hurry isn’t for our family.

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We paint outside, impressionist-style.  We go on forever-long meanders through the local stream, in all seasons.  We play board games.  The kids play in the yard with sticks and rocks and they trash their bikes and fill the wagon and dig up my lawn.  They pretend out in the fresh air, dressed up as knights or cowboys or gypsies.  They get bored and I don’t entertain them.  I let that boredom loom like a tsunami wave and watch their imaginations kick in, see them run for higher ground.  See them create.

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My mom was so frustrated with me.  It was about a mile walk home from my elementary school; she knew what time to call to catch me coming through the door.  My older brother and sister’s walks home were predictably prompt.  But me?  I took over an hour sometimes to walk that mile.  Because I was outside, see, and there was that one boulder in that big front yard that was shaped like a bench and I liked to lay down on it and feel the sun’s trapped heat seeping into my back.  There were flowers (dandelions) to pick and then pick apart.  I was living stories as I kicked a rock down the sidewalk.  I needed life to go kid’s pace.

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My siblings are go-getters; they happily adjusted to life full of sports and musical instruments and two jobs at a time and lawn-mowing on the side.  They’re pretty amazing people.  If there were a way to harness my sister’s energy, I’m sure it could power a small country.  My energy is there, but it doesn’t quite conform to normal ways of living in this U.S. of A.  Mine erupts in gardening and canning, beekeeping and sewing, pottery and hanging the laundry out to flap happily in the breeze.  It comes out in creative explosions in the house; we all make earrings for a week, or learn to make felt hair barrettes or make matzo bread and throw a full-fledged Passover meal.  All of it, spur-of-the-moment, flying-by-the-seat-of-our-collective pants, because I tell you quite seriously, it’s the only way my soul can breathe.

The parallel lines on the calendar always remind me of jail bars.  They dice up the days and slice up the time, and the more days that get filled with events, the higher my blood pressure rises.  What is this; schedule-a-phobia?  It’s why I fit in in Latin America, I can tell you that with a grin.  There it’s normal to let the day decide what the day will be; is it a day to spend comforting a bereaved neighbor, a irresistibly balmy day that begs for a bike ride?  Oh, that is my kind of living.

So the kids, they got this mama, and God did it for a reason.

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We might not cultivate the next Mozart nor the next Michael Jordan, but I think there’s probably parents out there who are doing that, and so the world will not be in want.  God sets children in families, particular families for particular purposes.  It’s no use trying to be a “good parent” running around like a chicken with its head cut off, if that’s not what God has called you to.  One Size Fits Some.

I don’t have it all figured out; I’m a less than ideal mama and I know it.  But I can give my children the gifts and blessings in my hands:  the curiosity about everything, the love of science, the slow pace of life that allows for hours of exploring outside, the memories of kitchen adventures (and disasters), and most of all, me…my attention, my present presence.  I can give what I can give, and I won’t make it all stretch to snapping; I won’t wear our souls thin with haste.  I’ll walk a mile an hour if need be, because there’s flowers to look into and all God’s glory spread broadcast.

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