For years I have been taught how to squeeze more time out of the day. If I will just manage my time better I can cram more and more into my schedule. That is essentially the selling point of most modern conveniences like phones, the Internet, television, air-travel, and many other things. However, many people have discovered that the pursuit of more and more leads to less and less. We get more on our to-do list but we end up with little margin in our lives, less family time, less productivity, less joy, and it feels like less of our souls. Greg Mckeown, in his book “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less,” writes of this very concept.
As I see it, there are two problems with the undisciplined pursuit of more and more: it feeds our covetousness and it does not work. It is counterproductive. Notice that I did not say that it is wrong to pursue more. The desire to create, make better, improve, work and accomplish are all God-given traits that are rooted in worship of God. God made us in his image and created us to work and pursue beauty and excellence. However, the undisciplined pursuit of more and more destroys our lives and can ultimately lead to sinful self-worship.
Most of us experience times in our lives that are so stressful and busy that we get completely drained. Times like these are often associated with a new job, a new house, a new baby, a new spouse, or a new venture that has a ramp up period. In time these situations become familiar and manageable.
But what do you do when the pace of your life is unsustainable? Most of us act as if we can keep adding things to our schedules, our to do lists, and our daily routines without any consequences. Studies show that Americans work more hours, take fewer days off, and sleep less than most other people in the world. Add that to our insanely busy “down times” that are filled with ball games, karate lessons, boy scouts, girl scouts, dance, tumbling, gymnastics, and “play dates” for our kids, Facebook, TV, and iPods and you find a formula for disaster. It seems that we have a dangerous obsession with busyness.
Maybe it stems from covetousness. We covet what others have. We think that we will be less than or worse than if we don’t “keep up with the Joneses.” Perhaps it stems from an inability to say no. Or maybe we are terrified of being still because we fear what we might feel or hear. Maybe that is the reason we fill every second of our day with Internet, TV, Radio, iTunes, and anything else that will keep us from the emptiness. Maybe we fear what the Spirit of God would say to us.
Nevertheless, I dare say that most of us have been pressed up against it so much that we get tired. Not the kind of tired that a good night sleep fixes but the burned out kind of tired that makes us want to quit church, quit our marriage, quit our job, or just quit caring. So what do you do when your pace of life gets unsustainable? Better yet, what choices can you make that will keep you from getting to that point?
1) Set real priorities.
Hebrews 12:1-2a says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus…” From this passage we learn that God has a race for each of us that is unique to us and our abilities and experiences, that God wants us to finish well and, therefore, must have a real plan for our lives, and that we need endurance to finish our race.
You must decide what is most important and do that first. You have to put the “big rocks” in your schedule first. The only way you will ever read the Bible, pray, serve faithfully in a local church, spend quality time with your family, and take care of your health is if you prioritize them in your schedule. Those are big rocks. This also means that you must make some choices about what not to do. You must learn to say no. You have to learn to live at a sustainable pace and check your heart to see why you think you must live at breakneck speed. It is wonderful when you create room in your life actually to live life – to feel, breathe, love, taste, listen, enjoy. This is a discipline that only comes from setting real priorities and pursuing what is essential for your life.
2) Create a sustainable pace.
The writer of Hebrews tells us to “run with endurance.” How do you create endurance in your life? Ask any marathon runner and he or she will tell you that endurance comes from training, fueling, and resting. Runners train by running. The more they run they greater their endurance. Runners also fuel themselves by eating right. Finally, runners have to learn to rest properly. They make sacrifices in order to rest. Maybe they give up a late night show or party. They know if they do not rest they will break down.
You and I must learn to train, to fuel our souls with the Bible, and to rest physically and spiritually. We rest physically by getting to bed on time, taking a regular Sabbath day each week, and learning how to rest well when we get vacation time. We rest spiritually by listening to the Spirit of God, praying, meditating on God’s Word, and by staying in Christian community.
If you want to pursue less and accomplish more, then you must pay attention to your own soul, create margin, and care for yourself in a sustainable way. Learn to pay attention to yourself and to those around you. Understand that, if Christ is the center of your life, then caring for your body and soul is good stewardship.
3) Design a manageable plan.
Everyone is different concerning abilities, goals, and desires. What is essential is that we design a manageable plan that cares for our soul, pursues less on purpose, and allows us to accomplish more of the significant things we seek in life. This is where discipline comes in. We must make choices. Every choice to say yes also means that we must say no to something else. It is OK if you don’t try to do everything. Don’t buy the lie that tells you that you can do it all and have it all. Make your priorities clear. Create a pace that allows you to have margin in your life. Then follow your plan with discipline.