From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Everyday Grace: Busyness violence?

by Mary Cronk Farrell, for the Inland Register

(From the Feb. 8, 2001 edition of the Inland Register)

Thomas Merton called it “a pervasive form of contemporary violence.” But for many families it is an unquestioned way of life, so much a part of our culture we think it’s normal and good.

What am I talking about? Being busy.

Listening to conversation at a coffee shop, you’d think it’s a badge of achievement to describe one’s jam-packed days and busy evenings. Parents have work, volunteer commitments, church doings and exercise routines. Children have homework, sports, music lessons and sleepovers. No time to stop and reflect, to realize the rush and pressure is bleeding the life from us.

A voice of wisdom is rising, however, whispering in the cacophony of our culture. Like the voice crying out in the wilderness, it urges us to slow down, be quiet, listen.

“I cleared my calendar. I used to cram as much into a day as possible. [But now] I have backed out of anything that takes me away from my home during the evening or the weekend,” says Laurie, a wife and mother of three. “I stopped going to Parent Club Meetings, Safety Committee Meetings, Tupperware Parties and Pampered Chef Parties.”

Laurie and her husband took their children away for an overnight family retreat. They rested, relaxed, and took an in-depth look at their time and how they spend it. They came back with a framework that helps them make choices and prioritize.

Bottom line? “You have to know how to say ‘no’,” says Laurie. “It’s hard, but you can do it feeling good because you know you’re doing the right thing.”

They realized they had a full life just taking care of necessities, like homework, chores, grocery shopping and dental appointments. Looking at the free time left, they decided as a family how to spend it before making outside commitments. The children cut back on sports. They all reduced social commitments. Sunday is set aside for church, family dinner, rest and play.

“At first it was really hard because we were in the routine of: go, go, go,” says Laurie. “But now we’re more rested. The house is better kept up. There’s less fighting. There’s more laughter. It’s brought into focus what is really important and meaningful in life.”

This family’s impetus for change was a book: Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest, by Wayne Muller. Muller states the busyness of modern life makes war on our bodies and spirits, our children and communities. Our fast pace with no let-up disconnects us from the wisdom that grows from rest and reflection. Without regular doses of this wisdom we forget how to love, forget our natural wonder, and sensual delight.

Our faith, he says, shows a better way. “Jesus, for whom anything was possible, did not offer ‘seven secret coping strategies’ to get work done faster, or ‘nine spiritual stress management techniques’ to enhance our effectiveness. Instead he offered the simple practice of rest as a natural, nourishing, and essential companion to our work. ‘Learn from me,’ he invited, ‘and you will find rest for your souls.’”

We may not be able to go away to the hills or in a fishing boat to take a break as Jesus did, or even to a hotel for a retreat like the family mentioned above. But we can look for times of stillness in our daily life.

David and Patty and their three children try to make space for quiet with a weekly “no-technology day.” They don’t ban essentials like electricity or the car, but there’s no TV or computer.

A father of four stopped working overtime on Saturdays. Another family moved, in order to eliminate a long commute. Returning to work when my youngest child started school, I chose free-lance jobs at home rather than resume my time-eating and stressful career in television news.

If you’re living on-the-run, it is difficult to make changes and slow down. It helps to find a group of like-minded friends. Support each other and share ideas. My friends are often the gauge that helps me see busyness creeping in and the pace speeding up.

It’s no new discovery that doing too much can destroy what’s most precious in our families. Two ancient characters from the Chinese language combine to convey the meaning of “busy”: killing and heart.

(Mary Cronk Farrell is a Spokane free-lance writer and children’s author.)


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