Intentionality, Simplifying

Under Time’s Thumb

We are perched on the peak of summertime. It is the start of the weeks of heaviest heat, with air that wets your skin when you exit the air conditioning. It is now, at the height, that the signals of summer’s temporary condition begin appearing. The longest hours of daylight undetectably recede. The hayfields are cut and rolled into buffalo-sized bales. Cornstalks reach shoulder height and store’s stock harvests of school supplies.

This time of year always, always brings restlessness. My spirit is swirled up in a mixture of urgency to savor now, and serene anticipation of the transition that is ahead. I hesitate to admit that autumn will be welcome on my doorstep, not wanting summer to think I wish it gone.

Is that the way of all things? All the things under time’s thumb?

Maybe I play the comparison game too readily. When it’s something so entirely out of my control as the movement of the seasons, does it matter which is better? Or which I prefer? All that matters is what is.

Because the Saints Said So, Catholicism, Faith, Gratitude, Holiness, Intentionality, Saints, Simplifying

Because the Saints Said So: We Shall Be Content (St. Timothy)

I have a love affair with rocking chairs. They are the bubble baths and comfort food of the furniture world. It is a dream of mine to own a home with enough space for rocking chairs in nearly every room, plus the front porch and back patio, of course. I was in an airport once that had a row of about twenty white rocking chairs facing the windows, backs to the bustling crowds. The time spent there waiting for my flight was one of my trip’s highlights. There are days when I have a hard time slowing down to pause with my family instead of continuously attacking my to-do list. If I can direct myself to a rocking chair and sit, I am much more likely to lengthen the pause. Balanced by the rhythm of the chair, I can breathe a little deeper and allow my heart to feel content.

As human beings made by God for life with God, we crave contentment. We long for the peaceful satisfaction that can only come in full when we reach our eternal home. Oh, but how great a share of contentment can be ours now!

We must pursue contentment. The usual take on the matter tends more toward the idea that we have to stop doing, stop moving, stop trying at so many things if we are to experience contentment. Essentially, we must simply do less. We must suspend our pursuits. I am suggesting that we need not suspend, but rather change. Change what we are doing; change what we are moving toward; change what we are trying at if we are to exist in a contented state.

There is great gain in godliness with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world; but if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content. – 1 Timothy 6:6-8

“Godliness with contentment,” i.e. becoming our true, full, made-in-God’s-image selves with peaceful and grateful hearts and minds: this is a goal worthy of us all. It requires a purified perspective on life’s genuine needs and true purposes.

Pursuing contentment means rooting out the things that detract and distract from contentment. What those things are will vary from person to person, and even change from year to year during the course of life. Right now, for me, the biggest detraction is things, literally. Stuff. Unnecessary belongings taking up the precious space of our family’s small home. So, I am pursuing contentment. I am detaching myself from objects. I am realizing what we don’t need, or even want. I am letting go and clearing out, and it is a relief. This process is leading me to greater satisfaction with our home and gratefulness for our needs being met. It feeds contentment.

Your pursuit of contentment may look quite different than mine. It could be detaching yourself from damaging relationships. It might involve setting your feet toward a calling that requires the sacrifice of a comfortable (or dissatisfying but secure) job. Maybe it is changing the way you spend your time, or doing whatever is needed to eliminate immoral habits. Maybe it is taking an honest look at how you treat yourself and your body, then altering both your perspective and your actions.

Contentment is blocked by a variety of things but it coexists consistently with three things: detachment, gratitude, and perspective. Cultivate these and contentment will sprout in abundance.

Meanwhile, if you want to feel the contentment as it takes root, I recommend a good rocking chair.

Because the Saints Said So, Catholicism, Faith, Holiness, Intentionality, Jesus, Saints, Simplifying

Because the Saints Said So: Short On Time (St. Therese)

Time. We can’t hold it. We can’t create it. We are directed by it at every turn. Morning/Evening. Day/Night. Early/Late. Hours, minutes, seconds are the context of our lives. I operate in a constant state of ‘not enough time.’ At any given moment, I could list a handful of things for which I don’t have enough time. I suspect a few of you can relate, and for you, I have an announcement: It’s a lie.

It’s a lie.

You have enough time.

How do I know this? Because God knows better than I do the time I need. How much time I have is not a changeable reality. God is the wise and perfect designer of time and of my personal share of time. So, if we can’t change how much time we have and God designed our time perfectly anyway, where are we going wrong? Why at the close of the day are we saturated with the perception of inadequate time?

Because we waste it.

We have only short moments of this life to work for God’s glory.
The devil knows this and that is why he tries to make us waste time in useless things.
O, let us not waste our time!
(St. Therese of Lisieux)
 

Typically (typical of most of us), my mind goes to entertainment when I think of time wasters. Streaming video services, smart TVs, smart phones, online games, social media, and apps galore have all brought time spent on entertainment to a new level. It is easier and more enjoyable than ever to waste time on entertainment. However, condemning entertainment across the board as the cause of our supposed lack of time is a dangerously narrow view.

There is a place for entertainment in our lives. It is not, in itself, evil. God made us in His image: capable of both creating and appreciating sources of joy, laughter, deeply provoked thought, and beauty. Like so many aspects of our world, there are options of entertainment that can do good and nurture the mind and spirit, and there are others that will do harm and undermine our call to be the best versions of ourselves. These matters become time wasters when they, even the truly good ones, are given more of our time than they deserve. Measure each entertainment activity honestly: is it at the service of my best self? If not, give it none of your valuable time. If so, give it only a share of time that doesn’t infringe on the time deserved by greater things.

Entertainment is so far from being our only time waster. For some people, it is hardly even an issue. The other matter I’d like to highlight is expectations. Oh, the time I waste on expectations! Now, before you think I’m advocating lowering all our standards for how well we do what we do, let me explain.

It is the plague of constant comparison and competition. We see the ideal Pinterest how-to guides; the Facebook posts of family vacations and activities; the hosted parties in spic and span homes; the celebrity glow of perfection reported and printed and photo shopped. We don’t witness the trial and error before that blogger posted their picture perfect meal display. We don’t hear the fights or know the stresses in the marriages and families on those vacations or participating in planned activities. We don’t see the piles of mail and toys and laundry stuffed behind closed doors so the hostess can present a perfect home. We forget the bank accounts, the personal trainers and assistants, and the marketing strategy all contributing to the projected image of professional athletes and gorgeous celebrities.

We are immersed in expectations. Often without even realizing it, we strap on the yoke of earthly perfection and waste our precious time. In our aspirations to be good, successful, and happy, we mistake worldly expectations for worthwhile standards. They are not and never will be synonymous.

Stop sapping your time for other people’s approval, or even for your own short lived self-satisfaction. You do not have enough time for that. You do have enough time to be the best version of yourself for you and everyone within your range of influence. You have enough time to live in a manner that glorifies God. You have enough time.

Can you repeat that to yourself? I have enough time. I have enough time because God created my time. I will not give it away to that which isn’t worthy of the gift, be it undeserving activities or self-defeating expectations. Lord, I am not short on time. Help me to not be short on wisdom in my time.

Simplifying

Letting Go Of What Isn’t Worth Holding Onto

Every so often I get the strong urge to get rid of things. To purge, to strip away, to simplify, to decrease. Occasionally, very occasionally, I follow through on it. The last month has set me in motion for some excellent decreasing. Our old roommate, who moved back to our home area a few years ago, has returned to the house. She decided to un-relocate and so we are once again a trio. When she left, she’d acquired very little in the way of possessions. The transport to her new rental was easy and quick. In the meantime though, she has furnished a small house. Moving her back in with us required some long overdue organization and purging on our part. I grumbled and procrastinated enough but in truth it effectively propelled me into readying for the move that is to come after the wedding. For that, I’m quite thankful. Boxes of household goods have been transported to his apartment and we are gradually finding places for it all in his rooms and cupboards. The work of it is making me very grateful to not have as much left to be done when the final move happens in October. The weeks before a wedding are full enough, I’m sure.

Anyway, my original point was the urge to strip away and simplify. It has lingered in the weeks following that round robin transferrance of belongings. I look in my tiny, stuffed to the gills closet, then think of my fiance’s large, more than enough room for one person closet, and realize that with some reductions on both our parts, we can share that closet just fine. I scan my bookshelves and picture the walls of Matt’s apartment, knowing full well that there are not enough empty spaces for the arrival of all my shelves. Many books will have to be stored. This brings a frown, a deep one, but I remind myself that there is likely a heap of books that I could reasonably choose to give up. It’ll be hard enough deciding which ones to pack into storage and which to keep at my fingertips. Having fewer to choose between is essential if I’m to do it without much sadness.

Maybe it’s a Lenten thing, maybe it’s just a starting-a-new-stage-of-life thing, or maybe Spring is to blame; whatever its root, I am becoming surer every day that I can be content with far less than what I have at present. I can reduce my wardrobe to what I actually wear and will never miss what I would like to but never do wear. I can give up the books that I enjoyed but not so much that I would ever read them again or even recommend and lend them to friends. I can surrender the dozens of CD’s and DVD’s that are rarely or never played and those too will not be missed. Yes, I’m becoming quite sure of it. I feel less locked into my material frivolities already, and that’s never a regrettable feeling.

Intentionality, Simplifying

Taking the Ordinary Time

The walk I took yesterday morning deserves its own blog post. It was that lovely. However, it’s loveliness put me in the right frame of mind for other thoughts and I won’t restrict myself to the walk itself. Over the weekend I visited my brother and his family in western Michigan. Their home is situated on a country road in a hollow surrounded by hundreds of acres of cornfields and century old pines, maples and oaks. The setting is impossibly and inherently nostalgic. Having attended Mass the evening before, I took advantage of the quietness of Sunday morning by sneaking out for a walk before anyone else in the house stirred. It was early enough for the dew to still soak the leaves of every plant in existence but late enough for the sun to be halfway to its full height and heat. The picture above is not one I took on this walk but might well have been. The sunlight poured through trees tall and old enough to pass as Ents and it draped the surface of vast cornfields in yellow splendor. I set my iPod to shuffle through five Matt Maher albums and trekked over the broken concrete of the old roads for an hour.

Upon my return I tried to capture for myself why this walk was so gloriously refreshing. I hadn’t taken a solitary, early morning walk in a few months… maybe I was rediscovering something I’d forgotten I love. The exercise was edifying… but it isn’t as if I’d been motionless in the previous days – hours had been passed in the backyard pool with my nephews and niece. As I wondered over it, my mind drifted to thoughts of the coming week. I searched my brain for what I had scheduled in the days and nights. What would fill my evenings? Anything significant happening at work? Events to attend or people to see? I came up with nothing. Nothing. A possible dinner with friends passing through on Monday evening, but that was only tentative. Relief settled over my skin like a cool sheet on a humid night and I smiled over my discovery.

What was particularly extraordinary about my walk that morning was that it was ordinary. It was an ordinary thing to do – taking a walk – but because I had the time and the energy and the uncluttered mind for it, it had the potential to be extraordinary. Suddenly I could look forward to this week with great delight. Having time to do ordinary things could be counted as extraordinary because of how seldom it is the case. All the things I’ve been thinking I ought to take time to do, in the next weeks I might actually have the time to take for some of them. Time for the taking – now that’s worth a smile and a sigh.

Scripture, Simplifying

Keep It Simple

Did you know that your big toe has only two bones in it while the rest of your toes each have three? Well, you do now. That was the fun fact on my Snapple cap today and it got my friend and I thinking. We both thought that seemed a bit backwards. Could be a sad lack of remembrance of our high school biology lessons, or it could be something more. After all, the big toe is, well, big. It’s important; it seems to do more than the little toes when it comes to balance. Surely it’s more complex on the inside!

I realize this is a stretching of the simile but please let me say it: the big toe isn’t so different from life’s big things. I tend to assume that every occupant of the “things that matter most” category is complicated. They must require a great deal of deliberation, maneuvering and so on and so forth. Could it be that the inner workings of the big things are actually simple? It seems too good to be true for a girl who tends to over-think most everything. In the way that my background tends to influence me, my thoughts on the big toe analogy brought me around to Scripture and the beautiful yet challenging simplicity of life in Christ. Here more than anywhere else, “simple” does not equal small or inconsequential. The calls placed on our lives, the commandments we receive, they’re a big deal. They’re an eternally huge deal. Yet Christ keeps it simple.

  • “Follow me…” (Matthew 5:19)
  • “Let your light so shine before men…” (Matthew 5:16)
  • “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven…” (Matthew 6:20)
  • “Do not be anxious about your life…” (Matthew 6:25)
  • “Come to me…” (Matthew 11:28)
  • “Listen to him [Christ]…” (Matthew 17:5)
  • “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind…” (Matthew 22:37)
  • “Love your neighbor as yourself…” (Matthew 22:39)
  • “Make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19)
  • “You must be born anew… of water and the Spirit…” (John 3:7, 5)
  • “Go, and do not sin again…” (John 8:11)
  • “You also should do as I have done to you…” (John 13:15)
  • “Abide in my love…” (John 15:9)
  • “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world…” (John 16:33)
  • “Make love your aim…” (1 Corinthians 14:1)
  • “Be imitators of god as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us…” (Ephesians 5:1-2)
  • “Do nothing from selfishness or conceit but in humility count others better than yourselves…” (Philippians 2:3)
  • “Rejoice…” (Philippians 4:4)
  • “Seek the things that are above, where Christ is…” (Colossians 3:1)
  • “With confidence draw near to the throne of grace…” (Hebrews 4:16)
  • “Do right and let nothing terrify you…” (1 Peter 3:6)
  • “LET YOUR MANNER OF LIFE BE WORTHY OF THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST…” (Philippians 1:27)
Am I now oversimplifying? Over compensating for my overthinking? Well, perhaps it’s not that the situations, the decisions, the relationships, the risks and so on are all that simple and straightforward. They can all be plenty complicated and difficult. The lens through which we view them though, the avenue by which we approach them, that’s where the simplicity rescues us from ourselves.