Monday, March 15, 2010

"You've got to make time ... "

I don't know about you, but I've wasted my share of time.

I've lost time. I've donated time. I've lost track of time, given a minute of my time, and even, despite embracing non-violence, killed time.

For the life of me, I have yet to figure out the alchemical formula for manufacturing it.

I say this as someone who would gladly have spent cash money on 25-hour days, were they an option. We are a culture of too much to do and too little time with which to do it. We seem to be hurtling toward middle age and beyond, trying to fill our days in order to fill our inner void. To build an unassailable sense of self that provides a yardstick with which to trim the world to manageable dimensions. We are terrified of not making good use of time, making of time a commodity in a way that suites our overriding sense of ourselves as producers and consumers.

None of this is news. We know we are hamsters on the vast wheel that is our restless society. Some of us have found creative ways to "opt out," to slow down, to move at a more truly human pace. But for those of us who find ourselves in the middle of the American economic doughnut, it can feel increasingly like we're falling through the hole.

Recently, I read that something like 50% of US households with incomes of $100,000 are living paycheck to paycheck. In my house, figuring out how to make due with low six figures would be a nice problem to have. But I understand why folks are struggling. Around here, we both have to work because one salary simply would not pay our bills. We have a very modest home, are paying to lease one car, have lawn care donated by my mother, don't take expensive vacations, don't own a flatscreen TV, and barely squeak by. Daycare expenses for Maddie have a lot to do with it, but if one of us stayed home with her, the other's income would not suffice.

But this post isn't about money, it's a about time. With both of us until recently working full time, plus an hour commute each way for me, maintaining the house took up much of weekends. As I've posted previously, I was getting up at 4:30 in order to do centering prayer and practice my bass before 6:00 in order to be ready for work, take Maddie to daycare, commute 40-plus miles, work for eight hours (often more), drive home, cook dinner, and put Maddie to bed on alternative nights. That left less than an hour, usually, before I had to be in bed myself.

Sound familiar?

We are constantly bombarded with messages about what we should be doing with our time. We need to make time to sit down to dinner together. We need to shop for and consume healthier foods. We need to make time for exercise. We need to "make time for ourselves." We need to "make time for our spouses." We need to spend more time with our kids. We need to find a worthy cause for which to volunteer. We need to make new friendships, get to know our neighbors, find a rewarding hobby. We feel guilty if we aren't doing these things.

Am I the only one who thinks there just isn't enough time? At least for many of us?

Don't get me wrong. I realize that "making time" really means prioritizing. I have known for some time that centering prayer has to be a top priority. It's as vital to me as eating, sleeping and breathing. My wife easily distinguishes meditating me from - well, the other me. I just had to decide to sacrifice time in the evening to make sure I honored that commitment. I knew how important music has been in my life, so I had to sacrifice still more post-Maddie-bedtime relaxation to fit that in as well. I knew I needed to exercise, for reasons of both physical and mental health. Couldn't figure out how to accomplish that one. Without all of the elements in some kind of balance, I knew the path I was on wasn't sustainable, which is why I quit my job.

Fingers crossed I can find a new one, or some other solution economically. The alternatives, though, were a heart attack, or a failed marriage, or a poor parent-child relationship. Maybe all three. The alternatives were unacceptable. So from a reasonably calm place, thanks to sticking to my prayer practice, I took a leap of faith.

I really don't know what to say to other folks who feel the way I was feeling. Who feel trapped in a way that appears to offer no palatable options. I don't know how a single parent "makes time" for centering prayer. I don't know how a working couple with kids achieves a balance that makes contemplative life feasible. I don't know how to be counter-cultural and survive, without taking a leap of faith.

I also know that, thankfully, not everyone is as out-of-kilter as I was. We each have to find our own balance, and there are many, many paths. When I've looked back previously at similar forks in the road, I was always tempted to discern a pattern, God's guiding hand. Then one day it occurred to me that which fork I took really didn't matter - God was there regardless. The pattern was simply my own human need to extract meaning from life's events.

So I'm just going to keep praying and see what happens next.

- monk about town

1 comment:

  1. I'm wasting time right now. Glad to find this though. Hope to read more.


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