Reclaiming what the busy-thief stole

by Kristin on October 29, 2010

in Love, family & community

Photo by chriskoning_gr

The typical American family is too busy—that’s nothing new. In fact, we’ve pretty much absorbed busyness into our psyches.

I’ve always assumed we accept this busy pace because we’re not sure how to fix it. We examine the problem, but it feels impossible to change, so we carry on. (After all, there isn’t time to fully ponder these things.)

But it just occurred to me that maybe we’re approaching the problem from the wrong angle. Maybe the real issue is that we don’t have a clear vision of what we’re missing in our too-busy lives. It’s not that we’re incapable of making changes, we just aren’t convinced that those changes will be worth it. We’ve lost track of the beauty of a less-busy life, to the extent that we’ve stopped longing for those things that never materialize in the midst of a frantic pace.

Here are a few things I know my family misses out on when we get too busy. Perhaps naming them and remembering why they’re important will stir up a new determination to reclaim them.

Good food

This is an important one in our family—that we eat well and eat together. It takes time to plan a high quality, delicious meal, to shop for the ingredients, and to prepare it. Of course, when we get really busy, people still manage to eat. Sometimes they even manage to eat a moderately well. But even then, what’s lost is the incentive to sit down as a family and eat together, talking about the day and nurturing our hearts and minds as we nurture our bodies.

True conversation

In our family of five, communication is vital to making sure the household runs smoothly. It’s not that we stop talking to each other when we’re busy, it’s that we stop talking about things like feelings, hopes and ideas. When we’re busy, all of our talk is business: “Did you pay that bill? Should we make dinner plans for Friday or Saturday? When are your cross country meets this week?” During less busy weeks, we can get that necessary business out of the way and still have time to talk about other things—what we’re reading, something we heard on the news, a frustrating interaction we had, or an idea or project we’d like to pursue.

Communal pastimes

During busy times, we’re all running in opposite directions. Even when we’re home, we’re focused on individual pursuits, just trying to stay on top of life. When we’re less busy, though, the homework and dishes and instrument practicing all get done with time to spare, and we’re able to do something together—play a game, make cookies, or take a bike ride.

Spontaneity

Keeping a schedule is important, but it’s easy to fall into the habit of seeing every empty slot as one waiting to be filled. When we’re too busy, filling those slots becomes a necessity. We need to claim every spare moment if we’re going to fulfill our commitments and responsibilities. But empty, unplanned blocks of time are beautiful things in and of themselves. They allow us to extend a last-minute dinner invitation, to take advantage of a beautiful evening by heading to a park, to take a nap or or to work in the yard—not because we have to, but because we want to. Unplanned blocks of time also allow for something else that’s beautiful and far too rare: Peace and quiet.

What about you? What valuable things do you sacrifice when your life gets too busy? Are they worth fighting for?

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  • http://thealchemistblog.wordpress.com Genevieve

    First commenter!

  • http://thealchemistblog.wordpress.com Genevieve

    ‘Kay, now that I’ve claimed that spot, I can actually comment…

    Awesome post. I totally agree. I read once that “People pretty much do what they want.” It’s true. He hasn’t moved in with you ’cause he doesn’t wanna. She doesn’t come to your parties ’cause she doesn’t feel like it. He doesn’t listen because he doesn’t want to hear the truth. And so on.

    There’s no one holding a gun to our heads to keep us from doing the necessary re-prioritizing. We just don’t want it badly enough yet. What’s scary is realizing that we might not prioritize the things we really want over the things we think we have to do. First step: listing out what those things are that we’re missing, like you have.

    Happy Halloween! Happy Friday! I haven’t been drinking!

  • Dan J

    I do what I can to keep life from getting too busy.

    This immediately made me think of how much busy time we have compared to what the average European resident has. Consider the uproar in France recently when there was talk of raising the retirement age all the way to 62. Six weeks of paid vacation per year is the norm in Switzerland. A 35-hour workweek is standard in most of Europe.

    I think most of us here in the US really have forgotten how to slow down and relax. Many of us are in work situations that make it impossible for us to have enough time with our friends and family.

    What can we do? I wish I had a good solution. There certainly aren’t any quick fixes. Make the most of the time we have available for non-work activities. When you leave the workplace, leave work there. (Not easy for those who work out of the home at least part of the time.)

    This is an important one in our family—that we eat well and eat together.

    Excellent advice, Kristin. Eating well and eating together is something that makes so much sense, yet many families find so difficult to do. The perfect time to unwind a little bit and keep the communication going, especially the little things.

  • susan

    And downtime. We’ve taught ourselves to micro-manage and multi-task to the point of no return. We’ve forgotten how to fully unwind, be at peace with our thoughts, and enjoy ‘nothing’. Without downtime, we forget how to de-stress, how to create, how to recharge.

  • http://www.kristensloan.com Kristen Sloan

    One of the first things to go when life gets busy for me is quiet time, reading, and prayer. All of those are instrumental for my faith life and also for my sanity. I also agree that when we get too busy, we lose the time to spend in community whether that’s with your family, your church family, your neighborhood, etc. My schedule is getting a bit busier so I’m trying to re-prioritize so I don’t lose these important parts of my life.

  • Gary Wilson

    Great post. I totally agree with you too. I like to set one day aside every week just to do something healthy and fun that takes a long time and to do it with my wife. I love going hiking and since I live in Bavaria, we try to do that most weekend. Luckily I can walk to work and that makes the work day shorter.

    I also really try to focus on being present even when I am super busy. At least that way even if the time spent connecting, eating etc is short, I use it to the maximum.

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com Kristin T.

    Genevieve, you’re too funny. :) And you’re absolutely right about this: “There’s no one holding a gun to our heads to keep us from doing the necessary re-prioritizing. We just don’t want it badly enough yet.” And I, for one, don’t want to wait until a life crisis or tragedy makes me wake up and realize what’s really important/valuable.

    Dan J, yes, the Europeans seem to have this work-life balance thing figured out. It’s hard not to be envious. And it’s not just about vacation time—I know so many people who have tons of vacation time they never use, because they can’t find a “good time” to get away. Now *that’s* sad. I do think, though, that once we commit to one way to slow down in our lives (like making a point to eat meals together), we start to crave others. We can, in fact, recalibrate.

    Susan, yes! “We’ve forgotten how to fully unwind, be at peace with our thoughts, and enjoy ‘nothing’.” My mom is a specialist in early childhood education/play, and we’ve talked often about how over-scheduled kids are, and how much they miss out on when they don’t have that open-ended “nothing” time. It’s scary to think what an entire generation of kids raised like that will look like as adults.

    Kristen, I’m glad you brought up the “sanity” aspect of all of this. Sometimes we see these parts of our life—spending time with your community, finding time to pray and read, etc.—as a bonus, when in fact they very well might be necessities. In other words, they might not be the frosting on the cake, but the cake itself.

    Gary, I like the idea of setting aside one day each week. It’s a way of giving yourself “permission” ahead of time to not be productive and useful every moment. And yes—being present is important. Lots of people, for instance, grow up eating meals with their family but never feeling cared for and connected by that experience. How we use the time we have is what really matters.

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