Being Still - Time Management


As Paulo Coelo once commented: ‘One day you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve always wanted. Do it now.’[1]

Another writer, Peter Drucker, observed: ‘The supply of time is totally inelastic. No matter how high the demand, the supply will not go up. There is no price for it and no marginal utility curve for it. Moreover, time is totally perishable and cannot be stored. Yesterday’s time is gone forever and will never come back. Time is, therefore, always in exceedingly short supply.’[2]

In order that we can get to that point, we need to sit down to work out what our goals are; otherwise, we will not know what to aim at – or, even worse, we will drift out in the sea of inactivity and indecisiveness. Another alternative would be to react to circumstances, instead of us determining the issues that we confront – some of which will be favourable, and others less so.

Mark Twain was reported to have said: ‘Years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you did not do, than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, Sail away from the safe harbour, Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.’’[3]

There is always time to do things – we just need to access whether we are using it correctly.
We might be spending the time that we have in gambling, watching indecent images (e.g. pornography) when we could be helping the homeless or visiting the older generation.

We could be playing games on the computer when we could be spending time with our spouse.

We could be deciding on being involved in issues of social justice – using our time to read, act, protest.

There are activities that cannot be hurried, such as foraging. You cannot go out and quickly gather crab apples, blackberries or mushrooms.

C S Chesterton, in his 1930 essay The Joy of Dullness, comments: ‘I can recall in my childhood the continuous excitement of long days in which nothing happened; and an incredible sense of fullness in large and empty rooms. And with whatever I retain of childishness…I still feel a very strong and positive pleasure in being stranded in queer quiet places, in neglected corners where nothing happens and anything may happen…It seems as if we need such places, and sufficient solitude in them, to let certain nameless suggestions soak into us and make a richer soil of the subconsciousness. Certainly, if there is such a need, it is a need that is now being everywhere neglected.’[4]

More recently, Pamela Paul has written: ‘Boredom teaches us that life isn’t a parade of amusements’ as it teaches us how to be more resilient and creative. She continued: ‘More important, it spawns creativity and self-sufficiency…Boredom is something to experience rather than hastily swipe away…Boredom is useful. It’s good for you.’

It is an antidote to our society’s mantra that ‘every spare moment is to be optimised, maximised, driven toward a goal.’[5]

After quoting Blaise Pascal (the seventeenth-century French mathematician and philosopher) who said ‘All of humanity’s problem stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone,’ Ariana Huffington comments: ‘When we have learned to sit quietly in a room alone, we can maintain that inner connection that allows life to proceed from the inside out, whether we are alone or in a crowd of screaming people.’[6]

There is the perspective in that, when we take time out, we will hear God’s voice more perceptively. It is in those times that we can pray like Solomon at the dedication of the temple: ‘O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven or on earth – you who keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way.’ (2 Chronicles 6: 14)

An example of this is Teen Challenge, a ministry to youth with issues like drug abuse, was founded when its founder, David Wilkerson, took time out. He made the decision to sell his television and used the time that he would have spent in watching it (which was two hours each night) in prayer instead. In the months and years that followed, he not only perceived the vision that God had given to him with clarity, but he also discerned the balance between praying God and supplicating to Him for the needs for the way ahead.

It goes to confirm the old saying that ‘Westerners have watches, Africans have time,’ that is people in the West are so obsessed with time. However, it cannot be so true now as the battle against the clock seems to have reached most areas of the globe.

Most of our busyness is down to our inability to control our schedules. One solution could be the lifestyle concept from Japan called ikigai, literally life and the result of certain action. In the English language, it could be translated as ‘reason for being.’[7]

In this thinking, we are to ask ourselves the following four questions:
·         What do I love?
·         What am I good at?
·         What can I be paid for now – or something that could be my future earnings?
·         What does the world need?

The ten rules that accompany ikigai are also:  
1.    Stay active and do not retire
2.    Leave urgency behind and adopt a slower pace of life
3.    Only eat until you are 80 per cent full
4.    Surround yourself with good friends
5.    Gent into shape with daily, gentle exercise
6.    Smile and acknowledge people around you
7.    Reconnect with nature
8.    Give thanks to anything that brightens our day and makes us feel alive
9.    Live in the moment
10.  Follow your ikigai

The proponents of this concept have given some ideas through morning ritual to fulfil each of these pillars, such as:
1.    Start small. Take ten minutes to read a book today.
2.    Accept yourself. Tell yourself these affirmations that compliment yourself.
3.    Connecting with the world around you. Put your phone in your handbag and enjoy your sights and sounds of the world.

Augustine of Hippo made the observation: ‘The charm of leisure must not be indolent vacancy of the mind, but the investigation or discovery of truth, that thus every one may make solid attainments without grudging that others do the same.’[8]
4.    Seek out small joys. Find three things to make you smile in your day and note them down.
5.    Being in the here and now. Take time to enjoy your lunch/a cup of coffee without distracting yourself with other activities.

From continental Europe, there is the Danish concept of cosiness (hygge) and the Swedish concept of lagom which encourages a balanced life; but these are accompanied by the Dutch thinking of niksen, which means literally ‘doing nothing.’ In daily life, the implications are ‘doing something without a purpose, like staring out the window, hanging out, or listening to music.’

Carolien Hamming, a coach at CSR Centrum (an organisation that combats stress and burnout), remarked about niksen: ‘ The cultural bias against doing nothing comes across heavily in the Dutch language. The popular proverb, ‘Niksen is niks,’ for instance, means ‘doing nothing is good for nothing.’ And another popular Dutch saying, ‘Doe gewoon normaal,’ translates to ‘just be normal.’ In practice, this is a suggestion to stay busy, but not too busy; to rest, but not too much. Above all, it means don’t be lazy. Be productive. Contribute.’[9]

Research has been found to show that stepping back ‘ instantly makes us more creative, better at problem-solving, better at coming up with creative ideas.’[10]

The time of quiet assists us in becoming more emotional resilient and empathetic to others. An article has stated: ‘Studies show the ability to tolerate alone time has been linked to increased happiness, better life satisfaction, and increased stress management.’[11]

An unknown author wrote: ‘Remember to turn everything off at least once a week, including your brain. Then sit somewhere quiet and just chill out.’[12]

What is better is to take time out and be with God, however hard it might seem to squeeze the time. It does not have to be hours, as fifteen minutes here and there would work well.
I have included a chart at the end which might help as you are still before God.

Other ideas are as below[13]:
·         Find a few hours to get away from your normal routine. Turn off all technology, pray, and think through your life – thanking God for the past, considering the present and contemplating the future. Think about how Christ has grace to have met your every need in the past, will meet your need in the present and the future.
It will be useful to make a list of what needs to be done as it has been found that writing alleviates anxiety[14] and making more effective.
·         Have a fast from social media and use the time that you would normally spend online to pray, think, memorise the Bible, or read books and articles that would uplift your soul and draw you closer to God.

We need to step back and re-think how we use media. Even if we are not ‘trolls’ who abuse others needlessly, what we put up on the sites may not reflect how God would want us to communicate (Philippians 4: 8).

We have lost the capability to think and reason in any deep and meaningful way as Nicholas Carr has observed: ‘[The media] supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. Whether I’m online or not, my mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.’[15]

The various platforms that we subscribe to will affect our thinking, for good or worse. It will determine our feelings and thoughts, with every ‘like’ and every comment that we make. Although technology like other matters like music is neutral, it does affect us either positively or negatively. Neil Postman has commented: ‘New technologies alter the structure of our interests; the thing we think about. They alter the character of our symbols: the things we think with. And they alter the nature of community: the arena in which thoughts develop.’[16]

Tony Reinke reminds us: ‘[W]e all need to stop and reflect on our impulsive smartphone habits because, in an age when our eyes and hearts are captured by the latest polished gadget, we need more self-criticism, not less…Our personal freedom from the misuse of technology is measured by our ability to thoughtfully criticise it and to limit what we expect it to do in our lives. Our bondage to technology is measured by our inability to thoughtfully criticise ourselves. What shall it profit a man if he gains all the latest digital devices and all the techniques of touch-screen mastery but loses his own soul? Are we courageous to ask?’[17]

There is the example of a man who posts an incredible sunrise-over-the-sea photo nearly every day, which differs daily. It is an antidote to the frivolous, banal or cruel content that can come from us.

There is the useful ‘4P’ rule of social media that we need to observe: Pause, Pray before Posting Positively.

The new way of thinking is JOMO (joy of missing out) in reaction to FOMO (fear of missing out). It has been calculated that the almost 70 per cent of employees do not disconnect from work e-mails or communications even though they are on holiday.[18]

We need time to rethink our lives in the electronic world and will end up with us unsubscribing from old e-mail lists; turn off the push notification on your e-mail app; take your work e-mails off your mobile; unfollowing unhelpful, egotistic and self-serving Twitter accounts; and switching off your devices 60 – 90 minutes before you go to bed.

We are informed: ‘We grow emotionally distant with our expressions. We become content to ‘LOL’ with our thumbs or cry emoticon tears to express our sorrow because we cannot (and will not) take the time to genuinely invest ourselves in real tears of sorrow. We use our phones to multitask our emotions. In the age of the smartphone, we are both trying to escape emotion and trying to ‘plug the need for contact with the drug of perpetual attention’ 

This juxtaposition, by necessity, makes us broadly connected but emotionally shallow.’[19]

We have to remember that anything that is not face-to-face is not a connection. The importance of personal relationships is that, in our brains, there is a set of neurons that initiates the emotions of the other person when we see them in person. This reaction initiates empathy within us, which is a necessary component in the production of serotonin, the hormone that makes us happy and contented.[20]

·         Fast from food or another area of your life to focus more deeply on God.
·       
If f you commute, have regular quiet commutes of praise, prayer, thanksgiving and communion with God – use that time to get to know Him better. If you are walking, use each step as an opportunity to tell God what is on your heart and mind. If you are driving, please do not pray with your eyes closed!

·         Consider taking time off from work or caring for a spiritual retreat. Use your holidays, drop your children at a trusted friend or family, and make your time about pursuing Jesus. It could be a walk in the countryside, just Jesus and you talking.

It is important to consider the important relationships in your life. They are integral to you, your wellbeing[21] and your personality. As we are made in the image of God, who found fellowship in each member of the trinity, so we have a need to reach out to those in close proximity, which could be relationally or geographically.

Mary LoVerde, a work-life balance expert, commented: ‘The first thing is to admit that you’re spending too many hours at work. Secondly, you need to look at whether or not you really accomplish less if you leave an hour earlier, and research tells us that there’s no significant difference when this happens. The question we’re always asking ourselves is ‘What do I need to do?’ That’s the workaholic’s mantra. I think a better question to ask is ‘What do I need to quit?’ Do I need to quit thinking that I get all my rewards at work and start looking at other parts of my life? Do I need to quit having that Monday morning meeting where nobody gets anything done anyway because they’re all so tired?’

She continued: ‘Your body and your emotions are a great feedback system. If you’re sleeping well, if you love your job, if you’re productive and if you have great relationships, you’ve got work-life balance. If you don’t, your body will talk to you, your relationships start to deteriorate and you’ll stop feeling like yourself. That’s when you know you’re out of balance.

‘Connection is what creates balance. Connection with your family, friends, colleagues, clients, your community, your God. When you become disconnected from those things because you’re working so hard, it prevents you from ever getting a sense of wellbeing.’[22]

Renee Zellweger, the actress, commented on the costs and overwork: ‘You’re really unhealthy and unbalance and, you know, about to die. And then you look back on it and wonder what happened . And where are the relationships that you didn’t have a chance to nurture?’[23]

Tony Reinke tells us: ‘FOMO [fear of missing out] is neither unique nor modern. It predates the acronym coined in 2004, it predates WiFi, and it predates our smartphones. FOMO is an ancient phobia with a history that reaches back far before we started using our opposable thumbs to text one another gossip. We can say that FOMO is the primeval human fear, the first fear stoked in our hearts when a slithering Serpent spoke softly of a one-time opportunity that proved too good to miss. ‘Eat from the one forbidden tree, Eve, “and you will be like God”.’ What more could Eve or Adam want – to escape creaturehood, to become their own bosses, to preserve their own independence, to define their own truth, to become all-knowing, and to delight in autonomous regality. They could keep all the glory for themselves by becoming gods and goddesses! Who could refuse the irresistible chance to become godlike in one bite? These words – this lie! – were loaded with succulent promise too good to be true. It was false flattery. It was Satan’s attempt to dethrone God by spinning words into insurrection by God’s own image bearers. In other words, FOMO was Satan’s first tactic to sabotage our relationship with God, and it worked. And it still does.’[24]  

An example would be Jesus Christ, who came from fellowshipping with the Father, to be brought up in a close family relationship with Mary his mother, Joseph, his brothers and sisters, and those living in the town of Nazareth.

He then entered into a community-type relationship with His twelve disciples in particular and a wider following. He also had time for more intimate friendships, such as with Mary, Martha and Lazarus, and with more mentor-type relationships with Peter, James and John.

We have difficulties with relationships because we are disorganised, not being able to prioritise, put tasks in front of people. We use our busyness as a front not to engage with other people, either intentionally or unintentionally, so that our interactions may be many or few but all of them are extremely shallow.

Richard Swenson commentates: ‘We must have some room to breathe. We need freedom to think and permission to heal. Our relationships are being starved to death by velocity. No one has the time to listen, let alone love. Our children lay wounded on the ground, run over by our high-speed good intentions. Is God now pro-exhaustion? Doesn’t He lead people by the still waters anymore? Who plundered those wide-open spaces of the past, and how can we get them back? There are no fallow lands for our emotions to lie down and rest in. We miss them more than we suspect.’[25]

A test would be the number of topics that you use when meeting up with other people. Apart from family and/or work, what else do you talk about with others? How much do you know about them beyond the superficial?

In the past, our ancestors had very few relational circles in their friendship Venn diagram, usually being family, church and work. Because they did not travel very far and communications was not as instant or as global as it is now, the circles were limited to five or six with a maximum of 100 or 200 people who were usually in walking or horse-riding distance.

Someone[26] has pointed out that, in this age, our relational circles have expanded, so we now have to try and manage the following:
·         Family nearby
·         Family further away
·         Work
·         Church
·         Neighbours
·         Old school and university friends
·         Colleagues
·         Former colleagues
·         Hobbies
·         Children
·         Social media

In each circle, there is an overlap where we may, for example, see a work colleague at a hobby evening. Indeed, those circles may also be divided as we may belong to different grouping in the workplace, have several hobbies and (more likely) belong to several social media platforms.

The net result is we can end up try to juggle 40 to 50 disconnected circles, with as many as 1,000 to 2,000 people with whom we are attempting to keep up the relationships.

We need to be still and work it all out. There may be people that we remove from our Christmas card list as the holiday friendship was fleeting, the social media site either removed or muted, make frequent visits to a family member living at a distance because you have responsibility to look after them.

I came across this message: ‘If you died tonight, your employer would have a job advert out to fill your role by the end of the month. But your family and friends would miss you forever. Don’t get so busy making a living that you forget to work on making a life.’[27]

We need to listen to ourselves – our soul, our body, our mind. As Frederick Buechner wrote: ‘If I were called upon to state in a few words the essence of everything I was trying to say both as a novelist and as a preacher, it would be something like this: Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.’[28]

In a ground-breaking exercise in Canada, a partnership between the Médecins Francophones du Canada (MFdC) and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts has resulted in doctors prescribing art museum visits for patients, which totalled 185 up to 2019. Doctors in the programme give patients prescriptions which are accepted at the ticket booth for entry. This treatment has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, and increase feelings of wellbeing. The positive outcome was expressed by Stephen Legari, the Montreal museum’s resident art therapist: ‘It brings you to a different level of understanding who you are as a human being and what you’re experiencing.’[29]

One of the available tools is to set out your top six priorities for the next six weeks, or four priorities over the next four weeks, place them on a card so that you are focussed on what needs to be done.

Points to Ponder:
·         What are your top six or four priorities at the moment?
·         Is there anything that you need to stop because it is draining your resources (such as your gifts, finances, time)?


My Personal Retreat[1]

Withdraw and Pray:
(It needs you to take time out with your Bible, a notebook and a willingness to be open to God)


Define your season of life:
(It could be a time of joy or sadness; single, engaged or married; children or none; employment, out of employment or retired. It could be a time of reaping or sowing, teaching or learning. You will need to think about your current situation. We are reminded in Proverbs 16: 9 that ‘In his heart man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.’)

My priorities:
(These will vary according to individual circumstances, but there will be common themes in many of our lives.)
·         Think about the following areas as a kick-start to the thought process:
·         Growing in personal holiness
·         Serving in the local fellowship of believers
·         Evangelism among those who do not know Jesus
·         Loving my family
·         Attending to my work
·         Caring for my physical and mental health

With a ready pen and an open notebook, ready for the Holy Spirit to speak to you, these areas can lead to the following questions:
o   Am I keeping close to Jesus and relying on His grace alone? Am I reading His Word daily and talking to Him in my quiet time and other occasions?
o   What is my present involvement with each priority?
o   In my present season, am I giving the right amount of time, attention and energy to each priority?
o   Is my present investment into each priority bringing glory to God?
o   Is there anything about my present investment into each priority that is not bringing glory to God and this needs to change?
o   What the best opportunities that this season of my life offers? Am I ‘buying into,’ ‘rescuing from loss’ and ‘improving; these opportunities?
o   Are there any ‘good’ activities or ‘noble’ endeavours that I am presently involved in that are hindering my investment in priority relationships?
o   Why am I involved in this particular activity? Is it to glorify God and make me look good (either to others and/or myself)?
o   Is there anything that I am doing presently that needs to be postponed until another season?
o   Will what I am sowing in this season reap a good harvest in the next year?
o   Am I bearing fruit in the most important areas in this season of my life?



[1]This exercise is adapted from Janelle Bradshaw, ‘New Year, New Start: Plan for a Purposeful 2008,’ Crosswalk



[2][2]Peter Drucker: The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done (Harper Business, New York, 2006), p.26
[4]Quoted in Annie Holmquist, ‘Why are we so afraid of boredom?’ Intellectual Takeaway, 9 October 2017, https://www.intellectualtakeout.org/article/why-are-we-so-afraid-boredom
[5]Pamela Paul, ‘Let children get bored again,’ The New York Times, 2 February 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/02/opinion/sunday/children-bored.html
[6]Ariana Huffington, Thrive: The Third Metric of Redefining Success and Creating a Happier Life (W H Allen, London, 2014) p. 122
[7]Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles, Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life (Penguin Books, New York, 2017)
[8] St Augustine of Hippo, City of God, Chapter 19 – Of the Dress and Habits of the Christian People,  http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf102.iv.XIX.19.html
[9][9]Quoted in Olga Mecking, ‘The new Dutch trend that’s better than ‘hygge’,’ Woolly Magazine, (no date), https://woollymag.com/culture/the-new-dutch-trend-thats-better-than-hygge.htm
[10]Quoted in Olga Mecking, ‘The Case for Doing nothing,’ New York Times, 29 April 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/smarter-living/the-case-for-doing-nothing.html; Sandi Mann and Rebekah Cadman, ‘Does Being Bored Make Us More Creative?’ Creative Research Journal 26 (2), 2014: 165 – 173, http://clok.uclan.ac.uk/22263/1/22263%20Does%2520being%2520bored%2520make%2520us%2520more%2520creativeV2.pdf
[11]Amy Morin, ‘7 Science-backed Reasons You Should Spend More Time Alone,’ Forbes, 5 August 2017, https://www.forbes.com/sites/amymorin/2017/08/05/7-science-backed-reasons-you-should-spend-more-time-alone/
[13]Ideas developed from Kevin Halloran, ‘John Stott’s Simple Secret for Spiritual Productivity,’ The Gospel Coalition, 30 May 2019, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/john-stotts-spiritual-productivity/
[14] E J Masicampo and Roy F Baumeister, ‘Consider it done! Plan making can eliminate the cognitive effects of unfulfilled goals,’ Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 20 June 2011, http://users.wfu.edu/masicaej/MasicampoBaumeister2011JPSP.pdf
[15]Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains (WW Norton and Co, New York, 2010) p.8
[16]Neil Postman, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology(Vintage Books, New York, 1993), p. 20
[17]Tony Reinke, 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You (Crossway, Wheaton, Illinois, 2017) pp. 23, 194
[18]Blair Decembrele, ‘ Your Workplace Guide to Summer Vacation,’ Linked In Official Blog, 11 July 2018. https://blog.linkedin.com/2018/july/11/your-workplace-guide-to-summer-vacation
[19]Tony Reinke, 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You (Crossway, Wheaton, Illinois, 2017) p.179
[20]This phenomenon is developed further in Robert M Lustig, The Hacking of the American Mind: The science behind the takeover of our bodies and brains(Avery Publishing Group, New York, 2017)
[21]Roy F Bannister and Mark R Leary , The Need to Belong: Desire for Interpersonal Attachments as a Fundamental Human Motivation, Psychological Bulletin 17 (3), 1995: 497 – 529, http://persweb.wabash.edu/facstaff/hortonr/articles%20for%20class/baumeister%20and%20leary.pdf
[22]Carly Lewis, ‘All work, no play? Beat your work addiction before it beats you,’ Refinery 29, 21 October 2017, https://www.refinery29.com/en-gb/2017/10/175143/work-addiction-advice-overworking
[23]Jonathan Van Meter, ‘Renee Zellweger’s Lost Decade,’ Vulture, September 2019, https://www.vulture.com/2019/09/renee-zellweger-judy-garland.html
[24]Tony Reinke, 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You (Crossway, Wheaton, Illinois, 2017) p. 158
[25]Richard Stenson, Margin: Restoring emotional, physical, financial and time resources to overloaded lives (NavPress, Colorado Springs, 2004), p. 27
[26]Randy Frazee, Making Room for Life: Trading Chaotic Lifestyles for Connected Relationships (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2003); Jeremy Linneman. ‘The Secret to Taming the Crazy Busy life in 2018,’ The Gospel Coalition, 4 January 2018, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/secret-taming-crazy-busy-life/
[27]Linked In message, Karen Davies, 14 October 2018
[28]Frederick Buechner, Now and Then: A memoir of vocation (HarperCollins, New York, 1983) p. 87
[29]Katie Sehl, ‘Doctors can now give out prescriptions for a visit to the museum,’ Fortune, 6 July 2019, https://fortune.com/longform/montreal-museums-health-prescriptions/?utm_source=Newsletter_AH&utm_medium=Thrive

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