Untimely: Reflections on Hurry and Health

Untimely:  Reflections on Hurry and Health

Untimely:  coming, said, done, etc. before the usual or proper time; premature, unseasonable  (Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language)

It is a perfect storm of reading:

There’s No Such Thing As Bad Weather:  A Scandinavian Mom’s Secrets for Raising Healthy, Resilient, and Confident Kids by Linda McGurk

The Hurried Child by psychologist David Elkind

Cured: The Life-Changing Science of Spontaneous Healing by Dr. Jeffrey Rediger
At first glance, perhaps the first two would seem related, but the third not so much.  Yet all three have a common concern:  stress.  Hurry.  Busyness.  They delve into how chronic haste and stress can manifest in development,  mental health, and our physical bodies.
McGurk observed the changes brought over her American children when they spent several months in her native Sweden, spending most of their waking hours exploring the woods with friends.  They went from iPads to mud pies with alacrity, and she writes convincingly of the importance for all of us in being outside, not commuting from activity to activity, hurried.
Elkind was ahead of his time in addressing the pressure parents are putting on kids to excel, overloading them with extracurriculars, eroding free time.  He was dismissed when the book first published in 1981.  With the rise of teen suicides and depression, his book is now finding a receptive audience.
Dr. Rediger explores the factors surrounding spontaneous healing of various incurable, fatal diseases.  Many of those who made miraculous recoveries drastically reduced the busyness and stress from their lives, along with eating whole foods and exercising.
I’ve written before on the subject of busyness here and here, but I often feel like I’m speaking to a wall.  Our culture is suffused with this idea that movement=progress=success, so everyone is chugging along at breakneck speed so that they, and their children, don’t “fall behind”.  I feel like a mother walking her children through a meadow; we examine the flowers, the bugs, we feel the wind on our faces, and watch the slow drift of the clouds.  Past us flies a high speed train full of families, baseball bats and ballet slippers, sheets of homework, and bags of fast food are barely visible as they fly past to the town we’re slowly walking to.  They do get to the town first, but it seems like they don’t even walk the town, they run through it, hit the shops, and hop back on the train to the next place.  I am stubbornly insisting that racing through life doesn’t win you anything.  It may in fact cost you everything.
56396022_10157545627993352_5875322391126605824_o55819024_10157527981533352_787634639161262080_o51540122_10157396442668352_632964388566859776_oimg_4921img_0767 So my equation is slowness=presence=living fully.  I do not think this will secure for me any guarantee of perfect health, nor worldly success, nor that my children be superior to anyone else’s, only that I will be present within my life, within this time; that I will live in wonder and enjoyment, that peace will not be illusive, that my children will see this way of living which relies not on breathless hurry, but stillness, joy, and open time.

 

Beyond Hurry

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.

 

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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