Deglorifying busyness

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.


About Monica Sawyn

I'm a retired newspaper reporter/columnist, and although I still freelance, I miss the weekly column I used to write. I still "see columns" in everyday life and need a place to put them after they're written--thus, this blog. I'm Catholic, have been a Benedictine oblate since 1977, and live with my husband and our beagle in Sturgeon Bay, Wis. When I'm not writing, I'm probably reading, sewing, taking photos or walking the dog.
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4 Responses to Deglorifying busyness

  1. gtrgeorge51 says:

    Absolutely EXCELLENT! Your best article ever.

    And an extremely loud “BRAVO” for the message!

  2. Monica Sawyn says:

    Thanks hugely! 🙂

  3. Lauri L. Starnes says:

    I applaud you for writing this, and St. Benedictine, and your Grandmother. After 17 yrs. with AT&T I got laid off and was quite upset at first. Being unemployed has been rough, BUT I still get up early, embrace the day, do daily chores, tell my little family that I love them every single day, take time to pray every day, got a new camera and am learning how to use it, have planted numerous flowers, started a vegetable garden, fill all of my birdfeeders and watch and listen to all of the wonderful birdies, ride my bike, cook interesting and healthy dinners, and spend time with the man I love every evening…….oh yeah, and look for jobs…..:) But I now believe being laid off was a blessing in disguise, as my old life was WAY too fast paced! This has been a lesson to “slow down”! And when I do find a job again, I have learned that it is really just secondary to all of these other things that are going on around us every day that people don’t even sadly notice anymore with all of their texting, tweeting, etc. The Lord sure does work in mysterious ways………………

  4. Monica says:

    Oh Lauri, I applaud YOU! Rather than simply rail against the cards life has dealt you recently, you embraced the opportunity to look for the lesson and to listen to God’s voice. Your most profound statement: “…when I do find a job again, I have learned that it is really just secondary to all of these other things…” Good for you!

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