We humans revel in accomplishments. That fact becomes quite evident at this time of year as so many earn diplomas or degrees from pre-school to college. Along about now schools are passing out awards for attendance, athletics and academics. So many are working so hard to do well. At my gym the folks exercise with a vengeance hoping to keep their hearts and muscles working better and longer. There are summer camps of every conceivable variety, and plans for reading or learning new skills. We humans measure ourselves constantly by how much we have managed to do on any given day, particularly here in the United States where our Puritan ancestors inculcated a sense of hard work into our national thinking. We are creatures of habit, and we strive to make the very best of the limited number of hours that we have each day. Our industrious natures have lead us to successes and made our lives more comfortable. We pause only briefly now and again to recharge our energies and prepare for the next onslaught of duties that we feel compelled to complete. In the spirit of FOMO, fear of missing out, we are constantly on the go.
Sunday was once a day of rest, but we have put our own spin on that notion. On a recent day of the Lord I awoke at my usual early hour in spite of the fact that I had stayed up rather late the evening before. I have reached an age at which I am no longer able to give myself the gift of sleeping in. Usually it’s rather quiet around my neighborhood on Sunday mornings but on this particular date the streets and sidewalks were filled with runners and bike riders participating in a race. They had been at it for quite some time before I passed them on my way to church, and I found myself wishing that my knees would allow me once again to run like the wind. It amused me that so many were willing to forego their sleep time just to compete, but then I knew that if able I might have been out there with them.
After church services I decided to spend a bit of time cleaning my garden up just a bit while my husband designed a way of watering our hanging baskets with the sprinkler system. Seven hours later we had both managed to complete our tasks. With sunburned faces and aching backs we laughed out the idea that we were supposed to rest on the seventh day according to the Bible. Of course in some bizarre way the tasks of weeding and trimming and building was actually fun for us, so we concluded that our hobby was in reality a form of relaxation. In our hearts we knew that we got a charge of elation by ticking off yet another set of achievements. It was as much about the joy of completing a goal as having a rather strange brand of fun. It was nice to see our backyard haven looking so lovely, but I had to laugh in my mind as we sat surveying what we had done while planning the next phases of our never ending projects.
I find myself continually grading the worth of my days by the number of things that I have done. My Google calendar is filled with “to do” lists and appointments. When it is blank I have to fill it lest I begin to worry that I am not doing my part or “missing out.” I am part of an extended family calendar and I sometimes compare myself and feel as though I am a piker. When I see friends managing to do almost superhuman things, I worry over wether or not I am falling behind. My FOMO meter sends an alarm to my brain and I push myself to do one more load of laundry or read a few more pages of a book or walk up and down the stairs for a few minutes. My electronic devices monitor my efforts and keep me focused on the prize of making the most of a day. I may not be able to run, but I am still part of the race.
I waver between feeling good about my use of time and wondering if I would be better served to simply sit for a time doing nothing more than listening to the sounds of quiet. Meditation from time to time might serve me well. Do I dare appear to waste time? Am I willing to admit to an inquiry about my day that I did absolutely nothing? Would I do well to slow my pace from time to time? Should I really and truly learn how to rest on the Sabbath?
Life goes by so quickly, and there is certainly nothing wrong with making the most of the time that we have. It’s good to keep our bodies and our minds active. The opposite of industriousness has flaws and concerns of its own. Still, I worry that our society is continually on the verge of exhaustion. Is it possible that we expect too much from ourselves and each other? Is our tendency to push to the limits always a good thing, or does it have the potential to divert our attention from more important matters?
When I was young there were predictions that our inventiveness would ultimately lead us to an era of expanded leisure time. As machines took on the tasks that had once been ours we were supposed to experience a shortened work week. There were questions about how we might adjust to a new way of thinking and doing and living. It was to be a golden era of developing better relationships with family and friends. Instead all of those marvels allowed fewer people to do the same amount of work. Suddenly jobs became so competitive that we found ourselves having to expend even more of our time and efforts to prove ourselves worthy. Forty hour weeks stretched to fifty and even sixty. We needed more degrees, better training so that even our so called free time was often devoted to studies designed to allow us to advance in our careers. We used the raises that we received for our efforts to pay for activities and hobbies that filled our calendars even more. We race from place to place, task to task often existing on fewer and fewer hours of sleep. We are a chronically tired nation with the exception of those who have chosen not to play the achievement game any longer.
I am who I am, a rather competitive and energetic person. I actually find joy in my constant motion and don’t think that I would be able to relax more even it I tried. When I sit for too long I find myself tapping my feet and twiddling my thumbs. I feel uncomfortable and need to get up and get going. Not even retirement has been able to slow me down. Perhaps my worries that I should succumb to quietness more often are unfounded, but something tells me the maybe a bit of balance might be for the good.
When I see people falling into the cracks because we are all so busy that we do not notice them or take the time to let them know that we care, I begin to think that all of us must at the very least add time for meditation, prayer, or a quieting of the mind to our schedules. Maybe it is good that we are so goal oriented, but from time to time our goals must include people as well and that means allowing time for both ourselves and those we love.
The English tea time is a grand idea. We need to incorporate breaks even if only for a short time. Those electronic devices that rule us so have the capacity to set timers and force us to pause now and again in the same ways that they urge us to walk and move around. Our achievements are wonderful as long as they include looking around and noticing now and again. There should be no fear of missing out whenever we pause for much needed rest.