Hope you’re not too busy to read this

by Father Mark Goldasich

“So, how are you?”

It used to be that when asked this question, a person usually responded with “Fine” or “Can’t complain.” Someone recently observed that, more often than not, the answer today — for almost everyone — is “Busy!”

And, if that was the feeling during the summer, how will we ever survive now that Labor Day has passed and we’re back into our daily grind? Folks today seem to be in a state of constant motion. We’re never really present where we are, but always itching to get to the next thing on our list. This exacts a huge price from us. Most obviously, it puts us in a state of continuous stress: We have ever-growing to-do lists and nothing ever feels completed.

We’ve lost the ability to concentrate for more than a few minutes at a time as our smartphones, watches or computers keep us distracted with various dings and chimes that alert us to yet another email, news flash or post on Facebook.

And, in the speed to get to everything, our communication with each other has disintegrated to 140-word tweets, texts filled with emojis or emails devoid of punctuation (and often meaning). Even meals as a family have degenerated into everyone at the table glued to the screens of their individual phones or tablets. We’ve lost the art of meaningful, leisurely conversation.

Father Ronald Rohlheiser, OMI, captures the dilemma well in this quote from his book “The Holy Longing”: “We want to be a saint, but we also want to feel every sensation experienced by sinners; we want to be innocent and pure, but we also want to be experienced and taste all of life; we want to serve the poor and have a simple lifestyle, but we also want all the comforts of the rich; we want to have the depth afforded by solitude, but we also do not want to miss anything; we want to pray, but we also want to watch television, read, talk to friends and go out.

“It’s a small wonder that life is often a trying enterprise, and that we are often tired and pathologically overextended.”

So, is there any hope of getting off of the crazybusy train? Fortunately, yes, but it takes both effort and a desire to be countercultural.

A tool that I’m using to reorient my mind, heart and calendar is a book by Valorie Burton, entitled “How Did I Get So Busy?: The 28-Day Plan to Free Your Time, Reclaim Your Schedule, and Reconnect with What Matters Most” (Broadway Books, 2009; 246 pgs.; $12.95). In the interest of full disclosure, this is my second time picking up this book.

I only made it to Day 4 that first time around, a chapter that dealt with “busyness is often based in fear.” The challenge that day was: “Acknowledge your biggest fear. Make a decision to push through it.” Apparently, my biggest fear was that I couldn’t implement what this book was suggesting. Rather than push through it, I gave up instead.

Well, I’m giving it another try, as things have only gotten crazier! How about you? If you’re still adjusting to the “school year schedule,” you might be too busy to read right now. However, take time to consider the author’s “Ten Commandments of Self-Care”:

  1. Use all of your vacation time every year.
  2. Commit your time off solely to nonwork-related activities.
  3. Take your rest seriously.
  4. Have fun at least once a week.
  5. Eat regularly, preferably sitting down.
  6. Exercise regularly, preferably standing up.
  7. Be fruitful and productive, not busy.
  8. Use technology to gain time, not consume it.
  9. Connect heart-to-heart with the people who matter to you.
  10. Be led by the Spirit.

Personally, I’d recommend reversing those commandments and starting with Number 10. If you’ve got God’s Spirit guiding you — a relationship that’s nourished by prayer and the sacraments — you’ll find ways to implement those other nine.

Start now. Why wait until next January to add some quiet sanity into your life? After all, you’ll only be busier then anyway!

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