Is there any way for the normal busy American to find moments for quietness and relaxation in today’s hectic world? Modern culture is full of paradoxes between the demand for a rushed pace of life and a plea for simplicity. We feel the opposing pulls wherever we go. At the bookstore whose shelves are packed with business management books, we also come across home design books that show us the beauty of a plain white wall. A fast-paced talk show tries to stress the importance of finding margin. But really, how do we do this? How do we create space and time for rest in a life that is too full?
1. Say no to Stuff- Belongings place a serious strain on any person’s life. Think about how much time is taken up by stuff. We can spend hours of the day browsing online catalogs or window-shopping, looking for that one little trinket or one new outfit that we think will make us happier. But the time we spend shopping only makes us busier, and in turn, creates more internal stress.
And stuff doesn’t make life any easier once we bring it home. We need to find a place for everything, and then we need to keep it organized and clean. I used to be a clothes-aholic. I would shop compulsively and keep all my outfits neatly stacked or hung in the closet. It took me several years to realize how much stress my hoards of clothing were causing me. I would hours trying to keep my closet organized, trying to decide what to wear and shopping for a new pair of shoes. Finally, I decided to pare down to several selections for each season. Simplifying my wardrobe freed up time I never realized I was using.
Look through the closets and shelves in your house. Do you have five sets of china? Thirty pairs of shoes? Seventeen bike locks? Put everything you haven’t used within a year into paper bags and take the bags to the nearest Goodwill. You’ll never regret it, and along with more space in your closets and shelves you will find that you have more time for enjoying the simple life.
2. Say no to Activities-As long as there is life, there will be meetings. And organizations. And activities. Whether it is the local Kiwanis club, the neighborhood mom’s group, the park social event or trumpet lessons for the kids, there will always be another activity clamoring for our time and attention. We need to decide what activities are priority to us, and kindly but firmly say no to all the others.
A good test of whether you have too many activities is to look at a calendar of your weekly evening events. If you have an ongoing activity scheduled more than two nights out of the week, you are probably over-committed. This summer, before launching into a new autumn season of activities, ask yourself what activities really matter to you. Maybe you value the activity offered by the local volleyball team. Maybe what matters to you is your Wednesday night church meeting. Whatever you choose as priority activities, commit yourself to those and then don’t hesitate to say no when other opportunities knock. If you dare to say no to more activities, you will be freed to discover the wondrous relaxation of a quiet evening at home.
3. Say no to Worry-Nothing wastes more time than worry. What is worry? It is simply trying to solve tomorrow’s problems before tomorrow comes. It has been said, “Today is a gift-that’s why it is called the present.” Indeed, we have no control over what has already passed, and we cannot act in the future. The present moment is the only one in which we can really live, interact, speak, choose. To think compulsively about the future, especially when we do not know what the future holds, is a waste of time. And more than that, worry wears us out on the inside.
Write down the things that you worry about. Are you worried about your doctor’s appointment next week? Are you worried about whether or not you’ll be able to manage your sister’s kids who are coming to stay with you next month? Once you have identified the things that cause you worry, tell yourself, “There is nothing I can do right now to handle this situation. I will let it wait for me, and when the time comes to face it, I will have the strength I need.” If you are able to save tomorrow’s problems for tomorrow, you will find that you have much more energy and time to deal with the problems-and delights-of today.
4. Say yes to Quiet Time-To create margin in your life, you must say no to some things. But it is important to say yes to other things. One very important yes is a yes to quiet time. You may need to do a little experimenting to discover what time of day is best for your quiet time. If you live alone, it may be an hour in the evening, where you can relax and journal at your apartment. If you have children, you may find that the best quiet time is in the early morning, where you can drink a cup of tea while watching the sun rise. Purpose to give yourself at least half an hour of quiet time every day-time spent in reflection and silence.
5. Say yes to Friends- We often mistake friends for activities. If an old friend calls us, wanting to get together for coffee, we might write it off because we’re thinking, “This is just another activity to make my week hectic!”
But in truth, one-on-one time with a friend is much different than an activity. Time with a friend is valuable. An hour or two to sit and chat with someone we care about is the opportunity to be refreshed-it is a chance to share the joys and burdens of life, to laugh and cry or just chat together. When all is said and done, it is our relationships with other people that makes life beautiful. So if you have the choice between running errands or getting together with your friend, choose the friend. You won’t ever regret making people a priority, and you will find a special type of rest for the soul when you spend time with a good friend.
4. Say yes to the Moment– One reason we lack margin is that we don’t see life in proper increments. We portion our life into weeks, or days, or hours. But real life isn’t made up of these rigid time compartments. Life is made up of moments, and we will discover margin everywhere if we learn to recognize the moment.
So, what is a moment? A moment is not an increment of time. It is an increment of life. Your honeymoon is a moment that lasts for week (or two if you’re lucky). Your staff meeting is a moment that lasts for two hours. Dinner-making is a moment that lasts for as long as you give yourself to make dinner. A moment consists not of the time it takes, but of the reality that exists within it.
Why is it so helpful to understand the concept of a moment? If you are able to recognize the value of a moment, you will soon discover moments of solitude and rest where you never expected to find them. Between your stressful afternoon appointment and your commute home during rush hour, there is another moment-the moment where you happen to look up and see a swallowtail butterfly flitting between two skyscrapers on busy city streets.
If your life is regimented by segments of time, you may be too focused on your schedule to enjoy the beauty of small moments. But if you realize that each happening of life has value, whether it takes much or little time, you will be able to enjoy the brief moments of beauty that add so much to life.