Monday, 9 October 2017

Thinking about a very busy man

A few months ago a friend I rarely see crossed paths with me, and began to say how nice it would be to meet up. The opening words used were “I know how busy you are, but . . .”

I had (not rudely I hope) to counter that description. “I’m not at all busy,” I replied. The friend in question has a full life with many responsibilities. Her time is already committed. I think it unlikely in reality we will take time to drink tea together often, not because she is “busy” but because she is responsible, and she has given her time to people she loves who need help and who she feels deserve her commitment. I also know she is fond of me. I don’t mind that we so rarely see each other; I understand very well how women prioritise their time – family first – it’s true of me too, except I leave spaces the size of the Nevada desert in mine or else I disintegrate. I’m not busy. I spend a lot of time alone, a lot of time thinking.

Then today I read the minister’s letter in the church magazine of a nearby congregation. It expressed the intention of inviting another minister to preach in their church, adding that they could ask but “he is a very busy man.”

I thought about him, brought to mind his name and his face. I met him once. I noticed his kindness, his reflectiveness, the way he stopped to examine a thought that troubled him, his gentle (but real) enthusiasm. We were in a one-day course at which I was the lone representative of a particular strand of study - the one he’d come to teach as it happened. So I had the privilege of a while in his company, learning from him one-on-one. We sat close together to apply our attention to his laptop where the necessary information was. It is not easy for me to learn from a teacher, because the consciousness of their spirit looms so large for me that it obliterates the material I’m meant to be learning. Almost everything I know I learned by myself or just living alongside and observing. But that particular man was patient and quiet, and I was able to learn from him. I liked his presence; I found him peaceable. 

I thought about the letter in the church magazine that summed him up as “a very busy man”.

Two of my family are letter-cutters in a monumental masonry. I imagined them, at the end of that man’s life, carefully drawing out and cutting his name – into slate, or granite perhaps – and adding the dates of his life below it, and then under that the inscription, “He was a very busy man.” And I wondered if that’s what he would have wanted.

The freedom of simplicity has to be guarded very jealously. Times and seasons, events and moods, ebb and flow in our lives, and the retreat of every ebb tide (in our social climate of consumerism and mass-production) leaves its debris on our beach, the gadgets and garments, the bric-à-brac and baubles, belonging to this mood or that interest while its tide was in flow mode. Keeping one’s house in order is a patient, constant task. Like gardening with its pruning and weeding. For one’s environment to be beautiful, wholesome and clean, it is essential for it to have few objects, and those lovingly and faithfully curated.

It’s much the same with time. Especially if you are a maker – a writer, and artist, a composer, a philosopher, a pray-er or preacher. And if you are a practitioner – a healer, a musician, a worker in wood or clay, iron, glass, cloth or stone. Also if you are a doula, a parent, a companion, a spouse, a friend. One has to guard against the accumulation of debris washing up on the incoming tides of time. It is a patient, ongoing work, the maintenance of freedom, peace and space - and with them the flexibility to respond and to listen. But unless you do it the quality of what you can offer atrophies. “Busy” becomes “shallow” in the long run. And it leads to dishonesty too, I’ve noticed, because it brings guilt in its train. Accumulation creates problems.

1 Thessalonians 4.11. This is still the richest advice. “Make it your aspiration to live quietly, working with your hands just as we told you. That way you will be worth respecting and you won’t be a drain on anybody.” My paraphrase of a variety of translations.

It would not be acceptable to me to imagine my daughter, focused and careful, cutting the words “She . . .  was . . .  so . . . busy . . .” into my gravestone (though in parenthesis – I won’t be having one; my ashes will be scattered after my cremation by the crematorium staff; no memorial left behind). But “She . . . lived . . . quietly . . .” would do okay.

I have time. And if you need me – though you probably don’t – I have time for you. I’m not busy.







25 comments:

Fiona said...

I love this post and the sentiment it expresses, Pen. Modern life upholds busyness as the ideal, or at least the norm and the expectation, to the extent that it's so easy to imagine that others are too busy to find time for us, whether or not this is actually the reality. It's wonderful when someone can say, "I'm not busy. I have time. I'm here if you need me," and for those statements to be believable and genuinely meant. Much better to be peacefully available than frantically overcommitted.

Pen Wilcock said...

:0)

xx

Sandra Ann said...

Struggling with overload :-(. Ferrying Ben to and from college, disabilities, sickness, homeschooling and having to work (albeit from home) thanks to the Government changes. Like a hamster on a wheel, never ending. Wonder what would be on my epitaph? "she tried real hard but drowned amidst a sea of responsibility!" Well done for striking the right balance :-) xx

Pen Wilcock said...

God bless you and your hard work and faithfulness. You cheerfulness and creativity is a sign of the Holy Spirit's flame that never goes out. You are a wonder.

There was a time in my life when I had responsibility for 5 not-quite-independent children, and needed every penny I could lay my hands on, in a none too lucrative occupation. I had *no* time, then. None. I had to timetable every day and colour in each block for distinctiveness because there were no spaces in between. I had to start at 5 and work through until late into the night. I used eating time for sermon preparation and novel-planning. I used rock and roll tapes in the car to keep me awake driving home late at night. I do not miss those days one bit.

Getting to where I am now has been the work of decades of determination. To live simply on a small income, to have the time to really savour life, to have no debts - I look back to the years when I had a mortgage and more to do than I knew how to juggle, and I am so grateful for what I have now. Most of all I am grateful to the Bible teacher who 30 years ago alerted me to the New Testament imperative of getting free from all kinds of debt and staying that way. It helped me prioritise - no big holidays, no high living, just get that mortgage paid down. Freedom is a pearl of great price. xx

Deborah Jenkins said...

We are about to embark on a significant life change that will enable me to be less busy and have more time to write. I find your post truly inspiring as I do have the odd moment of panic - not to be busy is quite scary when it comes to it. What am I if not a teacher etc? It is forcing me to be honest about where my real identity lies. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your experiences.

Elin Hagberg said...

I am a very busy woman and my house is certainly not in order. Thankfully I am a person who seems to be able to make sense of clutter and not see it as clutter the same way as other people. That helps but I also need to clean, reduce and organize. Right now is my busy season and my season to give to others more than to receive. It sounds bad somehow when I write it down but I don't feel that it is that bad. I have had a lot of time for myself as a single woman and as a woman living with a man and no children and I will most likely get time for myself when the kids get older.

I do try to give myself some peace and quiet. Staying up just a little while on my own, listen to a prayer on the bus, pray and meditate when a moment is offered, go to church with the kids for supper, choir for the older one and playtime for both of them until evening service. The service is short and they can mostly keep themselves together with the help of some church toys and my instructions. It is not as relaxing as church on your own but it is rewarding to see old people smile when my one year old runs up and down a church bench laughing and my five year old making prayer drawings or asking me to write prayer for her on the notes with private prayer ("Mom, write a prayer for me that there should be no guns!"), taking communion like a pro and lighting candles for her animal friends who sadly have passed. Then I know that the effort it takes for me to get them to not behave like total monkeys is worth it.

This summer I stayed a week in my family's cabin in the woods. It was probably the best time ever. I don't drive so I could not drive away from there and that was in part wonderful. I "had" to be there and enjoy it and I did. We can use a cell phone there and we have electricity and the next door neighbor even have fibre wifi but we have an outhouse and most things are quite simple. You can light a fire in the wood burning stove and enjoy the sound of the fire. I brought a couple DVD:s (we have a DVD-player that works most of the time, sometimes the picture goes green and that is fine, then we watch a green film or turn it off) but after that I had to watch an old comedy show, endless films about moose hunting (no joke) or not watch TV. I picked option 1 and 3 at times. I hope for a summer with at least another week like that next year and hopefully more. Also being close to nature is such a help for my mind.

Sorry for the essay, I was inspired tonight... Hugs and kisses!

Anonymous said...

Made me cry...so beautiful and important. I discovered your blog in the summer during the long school holidays of peace, quiet and contemplation, and have found so much comfort that I'm not the only one to think and feel the way I do. Thankyou so very much.

Pen Wilcock said...

Oh, I love this blog! What interesting, delightful comments and people!

God bless you Elin, Deborah, Anonymous, in your individual paths and lives. God give you grace and peace for the season you are in right now, in all its challenges, all its richnes. xx

Pen Wilcock said...

Heheh - 'richness', even! I wouldn't want to short-change you! xx

Julie B. said...

If I could I would book a flight and come and steal some of your extra time. I need a sound, wise, objective, loving, Christian, sensible mind and heart right now.

Love this post, Ember. xoxo

Pen Wilcock said...

Waving! I'm here. Send me an email, Julie. xx

BLD in MT said...

You just blew my mind. I'd never thought of the care of my home as an ongoing task like weeding the garden. I think I've always held an idea that one day it would be finished, but I suppose that's not true or even desirable.

It is a minor pet-peev of mine the way people so casually say they're "too busy" to do X, Y, or Z. We're all "busy" living. It isn't unique to them, but they play it like a trump card or something to avoid saying, "I don't want to," or "I can't," etc.

Pen Wilcock said...

Yes, I think it's become a euphemism for those less palatable truths. People say "too busy" because they think "I don't want to" sounds rude, maybe?

I had a conversation with a farmer about a mutual friend who grew prize petunias. The farmer spoke about them admiringly and said he couldn't produce anything like that. So I said I thought he could if he put his mind to it but with all his sheep and cows to look after, he just didn't have the time. The farmer said he did have time. "We all of us have 24 hours in every day, all exactly the same, he said. It's what we choose to do with it that makes us different." And I loved that. x

BLD in MT said...

That IS good.

Matt and I've said something similar, though in a less classy and succinct way. People wonder how we get so much done--travel, garden, friends, canning, sewing, tie-dye. We say it is because we don't watch television. Some people spend their time watching TV, we're doing that other stuff.

Pen Wilcock said...

Yes - also, to some extent, I think TV satisfies our desire for human interaction, so we're less likely to seek out others if we watch TV. Years ago we had some near neighbours who had no telly, and neither did we. We saw a lot of each other - a couple of times a week. Then they got a telly and we hardly saw them at all after that.

Ganeida said...

I have found there are 2 types of busyness: one is simply moving from task to task & if that can be done at my own pace all is good but the second one involves people & that is where I always come unstuck. If my busyness involves too many people my center dissolves & I become ratty round the edges ~ especially when their spirit doesn't align well with mine. I quite like mindless tasks because one can think & meditate as one goes but people generally require much more effort & that is quite simply exhausting.

Pen Wilcock said...

Such an interesting differentiation! Yes, even when there is much to be done, moving quietly from task to task at one's own pace can have a focus and rhythm that is good for the soul.

Anonymous said...

How many times have I had such a feeling of relief reading things as you write them, because the words could have come from my own spirit too. Thank you.

Their being so "busy" has ultimately dissolved my relationships with siblings, cousins, same-age nieces and nephews. I know people have seasons of extreme, all-consuming obligation and responsibility, yet for so many people it is the case that they are prioritizing "things" over people and relationships. I have often felt strange for the way I have preserved so much breathing space in my own life, as compared to the cacophony most people seem to be managing frantically or happily from one year to the next. I will probably not have life's later years of empty nest, retirement, quiet that they await, so it has worked out well that I've given it to myself when I have (of course it is providence and mercy of God!).

So many of life's most precious treasures in human souls have crossed my path specifically because I was there, I was not busy. I want to be that. I want always to carry that space and state of rest both in my life and within myself, available to meet other souls as they seek and travel and simply endure in the struggle of faith all that they must through the years of this life.

Pen Wilcock said...

That resonates with me. One of the reasons I live as I do is because I want to age gracefully and die without regret. With this in mind, I have asked myself what I want of life. I realise that while I might enjoy travel or interesting experiences, what I really want is the freedom and peace to savour the beautiful ordinary - the changing lights of the sky, the seasons of trees, the company of those dear to me, the fireside, the pleasure of my own small room. One of the things I enjoy best in the whole world is sitting in bed looking through the window at my next door neighbour's flowering cherry tree. I could do that for hours. Because I am content, I am ready to relinquish life. Because I have really looked and listened, loved and enjoyed, I am content. Because I lived simply, I had the time to really look and listen, to love and enjoy. It's a somewhat precarious and impecunious path, but a happy one.

Anonymous said...

Yes, yes yes. Thank you so much for this, and for your last comment, dated 12th October. As I was reading the original post if heard ny spirit saying “this resonates with me”, and there, you have said those exact same words. I am in what I appreciate is a very enviable position. My husband and I have recently retired and have moved to a beautiful area of the country from a big busy modern city. Things couldn’t be more different. But, more than just moving from a busy noisy place to a quiet and peaceful one, I am searching for a complete change of lifestyle, and that means a different way of being. I am in my 60’s but realise that I have never really got to know myself. I have live reactively, allowing others to pull the strings, expecting me to do when they want me to do, and think and believe in ways that I have been told are right. Now, I am living much more simply, learning to tread gently, in a more environmentally friendly, peaceful way. Standing and staring. Finding ways that are right for me, with an unhurried rhythm and leaving time for ... nothing, so that when I am called upon I can give of myself generously.

Pen Wilcock said...

:0)

God bless your journey, friend.

rebecca said...

Precisely! Like you, "I leave spaces the size of the Nevada desert in mine or else I disintegrate. I’m not busy. I spend a lot of time alone, a lot of time thinking." I could have written this post myself. Just not stated as well and clearly as you did. And as you ALSO said so well, "It's a somewhat precarious and impecunious path, but a happy one." (Well, "happy" most of the time.) ♥

Pen Wilcock said...

Hello Rebecca. Waving! x

Alison said...

Sitting here reading one of your books and thinking how long ago I picked up a copy of 'Wounds of God' and how I keep going back to your books and your wisdom and all they have given me over so many years and wanted to say 'Thank you.'

Pen Wilcock said...

Oh, that's so kind! Thank you *very* much. x