Thursday, November 20, 2014

The cult of busy (and the tyranny of options)

I have been thinking of the last thing I wrote about, that rare unspoiled hour of childlessness that all too often evaporates during a panic-stricken foray through the aisles of Target, fruitlessly searching for - and failing to come up with - real satisfaction.

At least that's a big part of what I was thinking when I wrote that.

I want real peace in my life. And I want real peace for my family.

What we have now, truthfully, is often very close to military efficiency. Cleanliness, sometimes. Very often my laundry is caught up and our closets are well-stocked with clean options. But we don't have a lot of restorative, fulfilling down time.

I thrive on efficiency. And that is a gift. But I'm really good at abusing the gift. And at confusing the gift for the purpose, if that makes any sense?

So efficiency is a gift. But I have the sense that it was given to me to accomplish great things for my family, and for other people...not in spite of them.

All too often I rush past the people in my life to get to the goal, whether it's the finished laundry, the crossed off to-do list, or the final frenetic burst of productivity that accompanies those blessed 5 minutes when the kids are buckled safely into their car seats in the garage and I'm running back inside, flinging forgotten items into my purse, scooping up returns and library books and pieces of trash and turning off lights and stashing mittens and and and...

I hardly ever really rest. I hardly ever only do one thing. And then when I have the time to do more, I often spend it one of two ways:

Option 1. Utterly paralyzed by the specter of what could be. Thinking of all the myriad options of amazing I could accomplish in the 45/90/120 minutes I've been given, I drive aimlessly from retail outlet to parking lot to school building, accomplishing nothing of real substance and feeling increasingly more frantic with each 15 minute increment that passes.

Option 2. Full on relaxation mode. Suck the marrow from the moments. Drink all the lattes. Paint all the toe nails. Make sure that every.blessed.minute. is tallied and spent according to the gospel of WHAT WILL RELAX ME THE MOST, DAMMIT, BECAUSE I AM SO STRESSED AND I MUST SQUEEZE THE JOY FROM THESE PRECIOUS MOMENTS.

That option never ends well, either. Because I never feel full enough. I never feel relaxed enough.

And I'm realizing more and more, it was never meant to be about how I was feeling, anyway.

What if, instead of falling prey to the lie that downtime can restore me on a soul deep level, I just accepted whatever came to me as a gift from the hand of a good God who knows what I need - and when I need it?

What if I didn't have to suck the friggin marrow out of my red Starbucks Christmas cup like that latte was the closest damn thing I was going to get to a "break" or "me time" in a week?

What if I could just relax and lean in, wherever I happened to be, whether it be a time of leisure or of toil, and accept that if this was what God had on my agenda for the day, it must be just what I needed?

That would be so relaxing.

If I could fold a basket of laundry without simultaneously racing through a mental checklist of what was happening next, while barking out a rosary under my breath for the kids to hear and calling it catechesis?

If I could slip away for a precious 45 minutes on the treadmill and just, I don't know, walk. (Or run. Maybe sort of a moderate run.) What if I didn't also have my earbuds in listening to the news while scrolling through my inbox on my phone. And what if I was fine with that?

What if there was no mental or physical list of feats accomplished and tasks checked at the day's end...but just a sense of fullness, just the satisfaction and gratitude of another day of life drawing to a close. And maybe the house was not so clean, but maybe the kids were happy. Maybe I didn't feel like falling face first into a giant wine glass and escaping ala the internet at the stroke of 7pm.

I'd like to live that way.

I'm really, really trying to open my mind and my heart to the possibility that busyness is not next to godliness, and that trying to accomplish as much as possible, be it leisure or work related, is no way to spend an hour. Let alone 24 hours.

Carpe diem. But gently, and selectively. More like carpe minute. And then the minute after that. And the minute after that.

I can't make any more decisions in a day than I'm already making. But I can choose to make fewer. And I can rest in the knowledge that in letting certain things go, I'm opening up to the possibility of greater peace, greater rest, and greater contentment.

Last weekend's surprise complimentary facial at Macy's. I was 100% freaking the freak out the entire 40 minutes about whatever else I might be accomplishing with every second that elapsed.


  1. Jenny, it's like you're up in my head so often. THANK YOU. There are many blogs I enjoy but yours is the one that most often makes me say "YES!" and draws me into thinking more deeply about this insane vocation and season of life. So keep doing what you do. Pretty sure I'm not the only one you're helping! (And you make me laugh!)

  2. Great and honest post. I am not nearly as organized or efficient but I do juggle a lot of different balls all the time, and it's hard to do anything productive ENOUGH with those random free chunks of time that might pop up here and there. My "free" chunks are also usually 45 min to 1.5 hrs long, and if driving time is added in then they get shorter still. Sometimes being "free" also means having only one child in tow. Far too often I do end up feeling guilty about wasting opportunities for productivity.

  3. First of all, you look beautiful.

    Second of all, I find it so interesting how differently we can react to that whole time 'management' thing, and yet still be unsatisfied with what we're doing. Personally, I'm also always moving, but not quickly, not efficiently. It stresses me out to fold clothes quickly (and anyway, I'm a perfectionist), so I do it slowly. I do it slowly and I actually kind of enjoy it. But I have at least four loads of unfolded laundry sitting at the foot of my bed at any given time. Sometimes that's fine, but sometimes I move through my house with an increasing sense of despair, looking from one pile of work to another. There's got to be a middle way, hasn't there?

  4. Gosh this is me! I want to "relax" but first I'll spend 45 minutes cleaning. Then complain that I have no time to "relax". Bookmarking this one because it's gonna take a lot to sink in.

  5. "So efficiency is a gift. But I have the sense that it was given to me to accomplish great things for my family, and for other people...not in spite of them." This (and the rest of the post). I didn't really realize I was good at efficiency until I was the only nurse taking care of 16 dialysis patients. I had everything down to a schedule, like "okay it's 8:05 and I need to be doing such and such". I'd knock the tasks out boom, boom, boom, but I could never relax on my lunch breaks and would often cut them short b/c there was so much to do! And heaven forbid unexpected, time-consuming things come up to throw off my schedule! And now enter life with 3 kids 3 and under. I love to efficiently take care of all the household chores It's so hard for me to be patient and calm with the millions of interruptions that come along- I mean how come the kids don't understand I have these chores I would like to complete in a short time frame? Ugh. I truly need to find the middle ground on relaxation, and work on doing things FOR my girls not in spite of them! Really needed this. :)

  6. Awesome post, Jenny. This is going to resonate with SO many people (including me!) Two things to share: First, last night I was listening to the episode of the This Inspired Life podcast where Kristin talks to Sister Faustina about being a Sister of Life, and Sister Faustina was talking about how becoming a vowed religious does involve giving up a lot of things: possessions, your own plans for your life, marriage, etc. But she said there was FREEDOM in that--because now you don't have to worry about so many of the things the world thinks are so! important!--like money, independence, sex, and material goods. It made me think about how my own stress is often really just bad priorities and self-importance.

    And the other thing is that, fortuitously enough, today's quote form the Integrated Catholic Life website is “Jesus, help me to simplify my life by learning what You want me to be – and becoming that person.” (St. Thérèse of Lisieux). Timely, right?!

  7. First off, you look adorable! Thanks for another awesome post!

  8. This is so perfect! I feel the exact same way so much of the time. Rushing to get things done, rushing to get in a lot of "relax" time when my son's in bed. Thank you!

  9. This really is me to a "t". I keep thinking that there have got to be ways to minimize the balls I use in the air so that I can get through all the really necessary tasks. I am big on purging our material possessions frequently, but I keep thinking I need to purge our responsibilities, too. I always think of Mak there on the prairie. She had just a few responsibilities, but they were truly life and death level things...get provisions and stealth them to feed a growing family...or face starvation. Bring in fire wood and keep the house warming...or face freezing to death. Mend the torn clothes. And so on. She accomplished in a day what was humanly possible, and seemed to work very hard (no doubt, right?! Hail to the pioneers!), but there wasn't an air of frenzy in her tasks. her tasks were of utmost importance, but she wasn't being pulled in SO. MANY. FREAKING. DIRECTIONS. She didn't run all over creation for errands on a daily basis, didn't do school drop-off and pick-up, didnt take the car in for an oil change, didn't constantly run kids to doctor and dentist appointments, didn't *have* to coordinate a family phot shoot, order the Christmas cards, and address, stamp, and send them. She wasn't responsible for mowing the lawn and paying the bills and going on play dates. Don't get me wrong, ,any of these things are part of what makes modern life so...well, great. Many of these conveniences most of us would be hard-pressed to give up. But we must remember that what we moms are responsible for on a daily basis is a) vastly more "balls in the air" than women of ages gone by and b) impossible to ever get to the bottom of the to do list. And we are also one of the first generations of mothers to be attempting to do all of this without the constant help of a community of extended family and neighbors in a tight-knit community. I realize this isn't really what you were blogging about. It is something that is always on my (guilty, restless) mind, and I think it helps explain why it is hard to relax and hard to ever accomplish All The Things.

  10. Ugh. Sorry for all the typos. while I am sure good old "Mak" was a hard working pioneer, I really meant Ma.

  11. I spend so much time and effort getting the things done for the people that I forget about being with the people. I want it done so my mind is clear and I can mentally relax. Or read the Internet. But that's not the be all end all of my life and I've got to figure out how to adjust my priorities.

  12. This is a wonderful, wonderful post and something I'm constantly struggling with. I'm always doing something because it will "help me be more relaxed/present/better" later. But I'm starting to realize that that "later" is not going to come if the mindset doesn't change. Thanks for such an honest post about all this!

  13. Love this post. Honestly though, I have the opposite problem. I try to get all the things done because my little phlegmatic heart loves slowness, downtime, quiet, and being still. To-do lists stress me out unreasonably (so they don't happen) but because I love to have some introverted time my struggle is not letting it run on longer than it should! My non-busy self is what runs the risk of keeping me from the kiddos and fully embracing my vocation and all it entails. This post is encouraging though. :) Thank you!

  14. The curse of the choleric! I'm one, too. But as I've gotten older, I've really tried to let myself enjoy those small moments of "down" time. I still feel so guilty during the week, though, if I'm not "doing" something, especially when my husband is at work. Even if I'm talking on the phone I find myself wandering around the house picking stuff up, dusting, pulling weeds in the yard, etc. I am trying to make myself just sit and talk and be present in the conversation.

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  16. Thank you. Why does it always kind of surprise me that I am not alone?? I have been really trying to focus on living how I want my children to live, realizing that no, of course I can't be so impatient and stressed out and living for that free time if I want them to be relaxed and peaceful people. I need to be more content with the little things and not try to cram so much into every day. I really struggle with feelings of failure or falling behind or despair when I don't have a productive day or if I am too impatient with my kids.
    Thank you for putting into words so clearly what I can't seem to articulate.


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