I apologise for my long silence. I’ve recently been thinking a lot about “a theology of enough”, pace of living, and sustainability in all areas of our lives. Instead of crafting a beautiful and articulate essay, I thought I’d offer my ramblings and learn from what responses and questions, if any, fellow YAR readers have to offer to the considerations. I think considering the way we pace our lives, and in particular our working lives, is a spiritual discipline, and therefore an important idea to consider — whether for the first time or as a reminder.
Thesis? I think Western-driven norms of a working week of 40 hours significantly hinders the possibility of living what I call a “sustainable life”.
I seek balance. For controversial issues, I need to hear from a variety of sources before I’m able to formulate thoughts for myself that I can live with longer than a week. I seek balance. If I have spent the majority of a day indoors, my soul craves for fresh air, even for a brief period, to attempt a state of health. I seek balance. I need to find a way which my idealism doesn’t burn me out, or wear me down, or strip me of joy or small pleasures. I seek balance. I need friendships which cross barriers – of religion, nationality, race, personality, gender, age, class. I seek balance. After years of youth-infused idealistic activism and energy, I seek
and a slower pace of life.
God is too amazing to allow the millions of encounters each day to pass by wholly unnoticed. I seek to live in such a way I catch glimpses of God around each bend, in each hour, in each human encounter. I’m more and more convinced, however, that working fifty hours a week and saving the world by scheduling meetings, involvements, activities, etc. for each minute of my waking life is not the pace of life I’m called to — and I wonder how many of us might be called to live out this western society – driven “rat race.”
People are too beautiful to schedule into corners of my life — for 30-minute touch and go conversations at the local pub or coffeeshop once a month. Creation is too beautiful to gaze at through a storm-proof window while gulping down the last dregs of the morning coffee in the few seconds before running out the door to work or an appointment.
We make choices. We attempt the minimum to be a part of society (and not of it) and find ourselves quickly swept up in its demands and enticing advertisements for making our lives better, quicker, and easier. We choose email over letters, computers over paper, and find ourselves in a world of microwaves, cell phones with internet, bread machines, prepackaged meals, online communities, quick flights, houses far from friends because of the land value, air-conditioned cars … and find ourselves having conversations in the tornado-spinning rat race — where we brag about our full calendars and attempt to schedule each waking minute.
I want my choices to determine a slower pace of life than what’s so easy to get caught up in. I want a life which has time for people, time to smell the roses, time to visit the older neighbour with a basket of fruit from my fruit trees. Is this a crazy dream? Certainly. But I’ve realised one thing for sure: the 40-hour work week has to go. We no longer work to live; we live to work. Sure, some of us have been lucky to find ourselves in fulfilling, meaningful, wonderful work … but usually those of us who have, have also found ourselves working more than that 40 hours because of our commitment.
At this point, as I’ve found myself in one of those fulfilling, meaningful workplaces, I’m working on the pace firstly by limiting my hours strictly to 40 hours. It’s much harder than one would imagine, especially for a volunteer. However, I’ve determined that I need to start now if I’m ever going to have a truly sustainable, joyful, generous life.
I wrote to a friend a few months ago, and I think those words still echo where I am at now. (I was writing about my choice to give up personal email for Lent):
We need to restrict our automatic reflexes so that they do not have to become ingrained and a dangerous competition to rites of breathing for life. We need to maintain a life of choice and intentionality – where we breathe and watch and listen and smell.
I’m finding more and more that what I seek is the basic breathing, space, listening, spirit of life – it’s about the essentials – not about the fancy shmancy stuff; and definitely not about seeking power, security, fame, wealth …
Yet I recognise those as easily-trapped human drives, and I think my best chance for avoiding getting sucked in is by cultivating right now, the space and intentionality in life so that I know how to breathe, how to sit and drink tea and have conversations, how to wander aimlessly in awe of the beauty in creation and in the people around me… I think that’s my only chance.
This is a daily spiritual discipline that I work at. I have many questions about it, and worry at times if some of my actions appear hypocritical. For now, though, I think it’s a good direction to head. I’ve noticed that others are also seeking this balance, after lives of racing speed, they’ve agreed to slow down. It’s a movement, and in many different forms it’s catching on. I only hope that we’re seeking a sustainable shift and not a momentary relieving reaction.
Amen and Amen. One of the tricks I’ve found over the years is moving to a new city. It tends to wipe the slate clean. And suddenly I find I have evenings free and time on my hands. And then gradually my commitments find me again and I’m back at my old busy pace…
thanks for sharing these powerful thoughts & ideas & struggles. i think it is an issue we all need to wrestle with (if we could just find the time!)
Thanks for this reflection! I totally agree. Also, enough space and time for unhurried life relates to the issue of people being sleep deprived. Might sound like a stupid thing to care about, but I suspect eventually medical research will show that current sleep habits contribute hugely to unhealth and the destructive effects of stress.
Here are some ways I work on a humane pace of life: (1) I only serve on one non-profit board at a time (2) I rigorously limit my commitments to do stuff at and for church (3) I do not own a cell phone (4) I actively cultivate my observation skills by biking as much as possible, gardening, working out in nature instead of a health club, etc. (5) I sleep for 8-9 hours each night.
We live in a suburb. We’re considering a move to the heart of the local city. One of the many benefits of city living is being able to ramble over to a friend’s house on your own two feet and interact in a more natural and comfortable way compared to the “let’s make a date and then burn fossil fuels to meet each other” approach.