“If you’ve identified yourself as too busy, step off that jet-propelled treadmill. Take some time to catch your breath and confront the condition of your soul.” –Jean Fleming, Finding Focus in a Whirlwind World
Many times we don’t experience the joys of life as fully as we can because we’re too wrapped up in the busy-ness and daily-ness of life. With so many conflicting complications tearing at the framework of our lives, is it any wonder we sometimes long to escape to a desert island and experience a little bit of that refreshing, slower-paced “island” time?
Life throws so much at us, we often feel like we have no choice but to knuckle down under it all. I’ve frequently heard people say busy-ness is just a fact of modern life, and we’d just better learn to handle it, or discover how to thrive in the midst of chaos. Family responsibilities, careers, daycare, household chores, meal planning, bills, errands, health issues, car pools, school functions, sports, phone calls, traffic jams, community demands, church committees, political races, taxes, debt. These are just a few of the numerous — and often difficult — demands bombarding us daily.
When my first child was born, I was involved with a wide variety of activities. I was working part-time at a local hospital. I volunteered at an agency that offered peer counseling and support groups for women in crisis. I answered a hot-line in my home. I facilitated study groups. I was the Nursery Director and Preschool Sunday School teacher at our church. And I did all the normal wife/mother/homemaker things, too.
Busy, busy, busy, busy.
One day, before I’d finally stepped out of my over-commitments, I saw in my mind a picture of my life. I was sitting in the center and all around me were whirling the assorted activities that made up my busy days. I suddenly noticed that not only my activities but also my closely held personal priorities were circling around me. It dawned on me that maybe the priorities (family, spirituality, service to others) needed to be set firmly in the center hub of the wheel and I needed to make sure that the activities circling my life were actually revolving around my priorities, rather than just around me and my personal schedule.
I discovered that in order to be true to my personal priorities at that time of my life, I needed to focus on being a wife. And a mother. And to focus on the spiritual aspects of life. And to be available. My life had been busy with service to others, but I found even after I shifted my focus to my home, opportunities for service continued to enter my life. Service to others became a natural outgrowth of my life, rather than a title on a name tag or a job description at church or one more “to-do” item on a list in my day planner.
In the book Finding Focus in a Whirlwind World by Jean Fleming, the author says that she sits down about three or four times each year and re-evaluates her various activities in light of her priorities. She said some seasons of life are full of busy-ness and we just can’t help it (sometimes that’s just the way life is — hectic and full), but other times we need to be sensitive to possibly needing to sit quietly and focus on quieter pursuits for a time.
In her book, Fleming compared her life to a tree. The trunk of the tree was her number one priority (which in her case was a strong commitment to God). Out of the trunk grew the main limbs which were the main activities of her life (parenthood, career, etc.). And then from the main limbs would grow all those little branches that had a tendency to grow and multiply quickly. The little branches were the general activities that would crowd in and fill up her day. Just like a tree grows healthier and more fruitful by regular pruning, Fleming saw her times of re-evaluating her activities as that time of pruning her life to make it more fruitful. She found it more productive to do a few things well, rather than being involved with a myriad of conflicting activities, but not being fully fruitful with any of them.
I learned a valuable object lesson about pruning and fruitfulness in my own front yard. One year, I pruned back a Clematis plant that was overgrowing the front of the house. I cut it back almost to the stump. My husband and neighbors all thought I’d killed the poor plant. And to be honest, sometimes I wondered if maybe I’d been a little over-zealous in my pruning.
But the following Spring when the Clematis bloomed, it was absolutely breath-taking. Every vine had almost an over-abundance of blossoms. It was simply a mass of flowers — unlike anything I’d ever seen. Even people walking by on the sidewalk would stop to comment on how full and beautiful my plant was that year. But I know that if I hadn’t pruned the Clematis back to the bare essentials, it would’ve continued to grow long and gangly, never achieving the level of beauty and fullness that came from focusing all its energy and growth into it’s stem and main branches.
While we can’t ever free ourselves fully from all of life’s demands, we can have hope to discover a sense of balance in our lives. Or we can identify ways to shift between the two extremes — finding a time and place in our lives and hearts for contemplation, and then alternating that with other times of busy-ness and distraction. In the book Gift from the Sea, Anne Morrow Lindbergh describes this balancing act as “the process of finding a rhythm of life with more creative pauses.”
It can be difficult to find balance in the midst of life’s activities, but finding focus is necessary in order to function properly and reap full satisfaction and enjoyment from our busy lives full of activities, relationships and commitments.
–Excerpted and adapted with permission from A Simple Choice: A Practical Guide for Saving Your Time, Money and Sanity by Deborah Taylor-Hough (SourceBooks, 1999).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Deborah Taylor-Hough (free-lance writer and mother of three now-grown-up kiddos) is the author of Frugal Living For Dummies® (Wiley), A Simple Choice: A Practical Guide to Saving Your Time, Money and Sanity and the bestselling Frozen Assets cookbook series (SourceBooks).
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