My grandmother and St. Benedict lived 1400 years apart, but he would have approved of her.
Benedict, in his rule for monasteries still followed today by religious and laity alike, was a stickler for living a balanced life. He instructed his followers to have time for work, time for prayer, time for leisure–and not to let preoccupation with one crowd out attention to the others. He would have been appalled at the frenetic lives some of us lead today. He would have applauded Grandma.
I’m told that when my Grandmother was a young homemaker, she spent her mornings tending to the house and garden, but in the afternoon she changed into a second-best dress and sat on the porch swing or in the living room, doing handwork or visiting with neighbors.
Then, when Grandpa came home from work, she’d get supper started and the family sat down to eat, together. The day had been walked, not raced through.
In contrast, I recently had lunch with a woman who admitted that her schedule was frantic. She made two phone calls while we ate, and confessed to having two meetings yet that night. And that was a normal day.
I’ll be the first to admit my days have often been more like hers than like Grandma’s, especially when I was working full time. Today, most women do work full time out of the home. They’re also expected to volunteer at school, for civic groups, at church, and for their kids’ sports teams.
I’ve done all of that. I figured that if something needed doing, and I had the ability to do it, then I should do it. I now own a sweatshirt that I should have owned then. It says “Stress is what happens when your gut says no, but your mouth says ‘why yes, I’d be happy to.'”
I’ve learned to bring on the duct tape–figuratively, anyway. I’ve learned to keep my hand down and my mouth shut. Part of that learning process came from being a Benedictine oblate and following that ancient monk’s insights for living a balanced life. I DO volunteer for a couple choice things, but wisdom–and exhaustion–as well as St. Benedict have taught me that if I don’t volunteer, someone else will. One way or another, the job will get done.
However, if I volunteer too much, or if I let a job expand to gargantuan proportions, some things won’t get done–some very important things:
- Spending time with my husband, just talking, or maybe watching the sun go down.
- Walking my dog.
- Reading good books for more than 10 minutes at a time.
- Visiting with God on a regular basis.
- Listening to the birds while weeding my little flower garden.
- Writing real letters to friends and relatives.
- Taking time to make a home, e.g., plan and cook interesting meals, keep things neat and tidy and thus peaceful. You think that’s old-fashioned? Your family won’t.
- Getting enough sleep to keep me healthy and in a decent mood.
Lest you think I’m over-simplifying things, and that life can’t be slowed down, let me give you an example from that same frenetic friend.
Recently, after putting in a 10-hour day being indispensable and always available and running non-stop, she decided she needed a dinner out with her husband.
However, on the way to the restaurant, she took three phone calls from people whose “emergencies” she made her own.
“Let me see your phone,” her husband finally said–then took it and threw it into the back seat of the car.
“Now we can go to dinner,” he said.
I can hear St. Benedict applauding, and Grandma might be smiling, too.