“...I know that saying no is a more difficult spiritual practice than tithing, praying on a cold stone floor, or visiting a prisoner on death row—because while all of those worthy activities may involve saying no to something else so that I can do them instead, they still amount to doing more instead of less. Limiting my activity does not help me feel holy. Doing more feels holy...”
Barbara Brown Taylor (An Altar in the World)
My friend Ellen and I tried to find a block of time to regularly get together for writing and reading our work to each other. We're both retired (so they say), so it should be easy, right? All that free time just looming out there. Not so much. She volunteers as a hospice counselor, works with a church program at a local housing project, takes piano lessons, works out regularly, including taking various exercise classes, is part of a centering prayer group and a book group. I work with my sons eBay business, keep up a booth at the Bama Flea, dog-sit, am on two church committees, facilitate a Spirituality group, and cook for any number of church related events. And, of course, I write a daily blog, make regular trips to the gym, and try to maintain a house. Attempting to find a two hour block of time to sit down together and discuss our writing was like negotiating a major global trade agreement. And, I don't think we're unusual.
Learning to say no is a constant challenge for people today. Needing more time to do less seems paradoxical, doesn't it? People are just so busy. We have to ask ourselves, “What on earth is that about?” I think Barbara Brown Taylor has hit the mark—it's about feeling holy. When we “do nothing” we feel lazy and, as my mother would say, “no-count.” For our generation, because we were children of depression era parents, the Puritan work ethic was hammered into our skulls every minute of every day. The more we do, the more useful and important we feel—especially when we're doing “the Lord's work.” That's Southern-speak for busting your hump for the church. The truth is, we don't know how to relax because we've never done it.
Balance is a learning curve for modern humans. We've not learned how to work hard, but also, relax hard. Work hard, but then allow ourselves some play time. As you grow older, time is not spread out quite so far ahead as it once was, which makes it much more precious. Learning to sort out what you truly want to do, from what you do so that you can feel holy, is important. Learning to say no is a critical life skill.
In the Spirit,