Last night I couldn’t seem to get to sleep. I had so many to-dos bouncing around in my brain, things that “need” to happen today or tomorrow, and new ones kept popping in. I finally got up, got out my planner, and wrote down everything I could think of that was on that troublesome list, to try to get them out of my head. But the fear of forgetting something, or of not getting something done in time stayed with me after I lay back down.
This is a fear I’ve been paying more attention to, lately. I’ve been reading a few books that seem to highlight for me a common theme: our productivity and our identity are not one and the same.
While I think most people would say that know that—that what they do is not who they are—few of us live as if we really believe it. We make extensive To Do lists, work more hours than is healthy, and rush from appointment to appointment, stressed the whole time about what all needs to be done. The common accepted and respected response to “How are you?” in our culture is “Busy.” But if asked, we’d also say that we don’t want to live this way.
One book I’m in the middle of now points out repeatedly that the changes we hope for aren’t going to just happen—we have to practice them. What this means is that we have to take on practices as if the change we are hoping for were already true.
It is an eternal truth that what we practice, we become.
A few weeks ago, I decided to try out a new spiritual practice: not rushing. I’d found myself a few times with a too-full schedule, found myself stressing to get to places on time, found myself unable to be present when I arrived because I was feeling so guilty about coming in a minute late. And these elements were quite literally making me sick. I needed more spaciousness, more being than doing. Resisting the urge to rush seemed a good place to start.
I had to actively think through how I would make this work, what changes I would need to make to support this practice.
For one, I couldn’t schedule meetings back to back with no space in between. I’m the sort of person who looks at Google maps, sees that it’s going to take 17 minutes to the place I’m headed, and then think to myself that I need to leave at 1:47 to arrive on time to a 2:00 meeting. (This is untrue, because the time it takes me to finish what I’m doing, get out the door, drive through DC traffic, get parked, and get inside is inevitably about double that.) In order to feel more spaciousness in my day, I was going to have to build some of that spaciousness into my plans.
Part of what I had to build in was space to feed my body. It was too easy for me to schedule things in such a way that there was no time for me to sit and just eat, and there were too many times when I realized it was 4:00 and I was crashing because I hadn’t managed to nourish my body.
The second change I needed to make—or really, give myself permission to make—was to let people know when I was running a few minutes behind. It’s remarkable how much of a difference it makes to my stress level when I’ve sent a quick note or called ahead to say that I’m going to be a few minutes late. I no longer feel such a strong urge to rush, no longer get angry at the traffic light that turns red and delays me. Despite my attempts to plan for spaciousness, I have indeed been late a few times. And it turns out that nothing terrible has happened because of that.
The other funny and scandalous thing is that God does not love me or value me any less when I’m 10 minutes late to a meeting. I remain God’s beloved child. I used to suspect that every infraction I made caused God to purse God’s lips and tsk tsk under God’s breath. But God’s love is bigger than human love, and God’s vision is bigger than human vision. Christ came to bring us abundant life, not abundant tasks.
When we live as if what we do is the most vital assessment of who we are, then it is no surprise that we end up believing that. If we wish to believe differently, then we must live differently. And maybe that starts with making sure we take time for lunch.