Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Contemplative Life

I've known for a long time that I am operating at a pace that is undeniably unsustainable. I run hither and yon, usually well-dressed and put together in a car that I keep tidy and gassed up, with a neat list of To-Do items penciled in a planner that is both cute and practical. Affix smile to my face and voila! I am Superwoman, or at least, a small-town, Midwestern version of a modern day Everywoman.

When I'm not writing (which is only twice a week), I'm cleaning, doing laundry, getting groceries, cooking, baking, shuttling kids to and from activities, leading one Bible study, attending another, heading up the children's church ministry, blogging, walking the dog, potty training the three-year-old, working on One Body One Hope media (including capital campaign packets, blog, website, and mailings), assisting in the 501(c)3 process for tax-exempt status from the IRS, playing hockey with my boys, and trying to find time to cuddle with my equally busy husband. It's ridiculous.

And it's unnecessary.

Aaron's chapel message yesterday was called "Suffocation." It was exactly what I needed to hear... Almost all of us in today’s world feel the pressure of deadlines, the shrinking of free time in our schedules, and an all round busyness that exceeds sustainability. So why is it that amidst the most advanced time-saving devices ever created, we have less time than ever before? In fact, we often feel scheduled to the point of suffocation. Some call it burnout. Where does this need for busyness come from and what aspects of it are really within our own control?

I learned that there are two reasons for my overly scheduled, outrageously busy life. #1 - I am lazy. #2 - I am vain. Ouch. That's not exactly what I wanted to hear. But it was exactly what I needed to hear.

In Eugene Peterson's book The Contemplative Pastor, he outlines two reasons that we find ourselves stuck in the grind of a hyper-busy schedule. The first is that we're lazy--we don't have the discipline to put first things first in our lives. Instead of getting our priorities straight, we pick away at the little stuff because the big things (relationships, true worship, giving ourselves to our calling, etc.) are big and scary and sometimes seem insurmountable. So, instead of writing, I check email. Instead of spending time with my boys, I wipe the kitchen counters for the bazillionth time. I've decided I'm 40% lazy. But there's another part to the equation: Vanity. Vanity sneaks in when we want people to think that we're important, that our lives are worth something. That we are irreplacable. Thus the long list of duties that I vainly included at the beginning of this blog post. Though I don't like to admit it, that's my pride shining through. See what I do? See how busy, how important I am? I think I'm 60% vain.

Sad, isn't it? I've been so proud of my busyness... Of my ability to balance everything and still have time to wash my hair. But it's not the way that I want to live. And I don't think I'm the only one who feels dissatisfied with a pace of life that only seems to get faster and faster.

So, what to do? Unbusy myself, of course. But how??? Any suggestions? Ideas? Is your life simple? Or do you fit somewhere on that Lazy-Vain spectrum? Care to share?

I feel like this dialogue is far from over--both in my personal life and beyond. I'm not sure what that means, but I do promise to pass on any great ideas that crop up, offer encouragement, and let you know about any changes that are working in my life. If you'd like to join the conversation, I'd love to hear from you. You can listen to Aaron's chapel here if you feel so inclined. Or you can point me in the direction of somewhere that you've gained wisdom and perspective. Goodness knows I need it. ;)


  1. Thanks for being so transparent. I love that about you, vanity and all.

    Here's an awesome quote I heard once...Vanity is the illusion that somebody's paying attention.

    I find that I have a "Look at me! Look at me!" attitude at times. One I abhor, but is there nonetheless. I love affirmation. I love to be noticed.

    In Forest Through the Trees, the author says most people write for two reasons: They feel compelled. Or/And They want to be loved.

    I wish I could say I write only because I'm compelled to write. But I think part of me wants to be loved (despite the fact that Jesus loves me more than I could comprehend). Part of me wants to produce words that make other people love me...or at least love what I write.

  2. Wow, lazy or vain. Okay, then. Now I know what I'm dealing with. I've recently begun to take a harder look at my schedule and can see where both of the above come in. I wouldn't have picked lazy or vain. Instead, I'd say I've been running too much, too much to do, but there is so much truth in lazy and vain. I struggle with needing validation. God keeps working on me.

    Katie's comment hit upon something I've been weeding through lately. Often I know the "Christian ways" to answer questions like these, but I don't want to answer a filler answer, I want to answer according to what's really going on w/ me and based on Truth.

    Can you tell this post got me thinking...?Thank you for it.
    ~ Wendy

  3. Thank you so much for the comment about laziness - that we do little things (like checking Facebook for the bazillionth time that day) because we are too lazy to do the big things - like talk to a friend who needs encouragement or even just finish the paper I have due for class tomorrow. It's been a very busy week for me, and also a week of recontemplating the ways in which I can serve God, trusting that he will fill my cup of rejuvenation. I tend to ensure that I have "me" time (including checking Facebook too many times a day), and I am not necessarily saying that is all bad; however, I was rather convicted this week that my attachment to "me" time is holding me back from the mission God has planned for me.

    Also, I have a massive pride issue, so it was encouraging to hear a) that others do, as well; and b) that this whole pride issue really is getting in the way of a LOT! These words of contemplation really hit me...this will be some more good food for thought... :)

  4. From a holistic health perspective I can tell you as a nurse and as someone who has lived it, either you choose to slow down and find balance or your body or mind will do so for you. It's much more fun to be proactive and make choices. Personally, my choices are regular massages, a date with my husband (preferably overnight somewhere), wine and exercise...not necessarily in that order. Oh, and laughter by any means possible.

  5. Your post resonated with me also Nicole and I have to say that pride is a big one for me. It seems that in our world of instant communication, blogging, Facebook and media blitz that there is a need by most to be noticed, We want "our moment on Oprah." Isn't the name "American Idol" so appropro? In my quest for validation, I want to get to that place where if no one knows who I am or remembers me, the fact that God knows me and loves me beyond comprehension as Katie said above-- will be enough. And that I was created to love as He loves. Which is He gave His life as a ransom for many.
    Lately I've been surrendering my day to God and saying "Lord this day is yours. Show me what to do today. Let me obedient in the smallest thing. If you don't show me anything specific, then I'll just go about my day trusting that You heard me and are guidng my steps."
    It's a lifelong process that never stops as long as we are in this flesh and have a spiritual enemy vying for our souls. But we can have victory in walking in the Spirit.