Psalm 46:11 “Be still and know that I am God.”
The past couple weeks have been surreal, to say the least. I recently had family up here visiting and we were watching the news together and following the Coronavirus updates as if we were outsiders looking in. They left on a Saturday morning as if everything were relatively normal, and by that same evening I received word that Masses were cancelled and school was suspended. The reality of the situation was staring us right in the face, but it was still slow to sink in.
The parish staff and clergy from St. Pius went back and forth for hours in a group text, trying to determine the best course of action to notify parishioners and community members of our cancellations. We made the spontaneous decision to keep the church doors open that Sunday, and we welcomed a slow trickle of visitors in for private prayer as we tried to wrap our minds around what was going on. The circumstances were shifting rapidly, and new updates and directives began to come in daily.
Today, as I sat in my office taking care of virtual learning and make-up work for our formational ministries, I couldn't help but feel a sense of loneliness and disbelief. Then Monsignor came in for a meeting, and as he was sitting across from me talking about the possibility of delaying some sacramental celebrations, he told me to project hope and positivity when communicating with others. I realized then, that even when the outlook seems bleak, the way he shepherds his flock is filled with such confidence and anticipation that I can’t help but latch onto it myself. We worked through some things and then I asked him, “What should I write about today?” I explained that I sometimes like to put out a blog post on the parish page and he pondered for a few moments, thinking, waiting. As he walked out of my office he said, “Slowing down. Write about slowing down.” Despite all that is going on right now, he found the silver lining and, at once, I had my own directive.
So, what does slowing down mean for us right now and how does that look? It seems like something forced upon us given the state of the world right now. But, how do we find the silver lining in our own lives with respect to taking a step back and gaining some perspective? Well, the first thing we need to remember is that we weren’t created to be in a hurry. God made us to be intentional beings. When we hurry, when we succumb to the “glorification of busyness,” we encounter the enemy of what should matter most. The funny thing is, the busyness that we create in our own lives can sometimes leave us feeling like a victim of our circumstances. How often do you own the busyness that you’ve created? How often do you love it? Or do you complain and feel like it’s always the fault of someone else, some organization, or some entity that you don’t have enough hours in the day and that you’re always racing around.
Being busy can bring out qualities in us of self-centeredness and frustration due to the pressure we put on ourselves. Being in a hurry is not a mandate, and there are plenty of other ways we can go about our days that bring out better qualities in us – not only on a personal level, but when it comes to our families, our friends, and our faith as well. The first thing we need to do is ask ourselves “why” we are living such hurried and over-scheduled lifestyles. In my own case, I know that my desire to do more and accomplish more is tied to my strengths. My top five strengths include something called “Significance,” which is the desire to make a difference and live in a way that influences others. I like to invest my time in things that will have a lasting impact. But sometimes, if I’m careful, this strength can come back and bite me in the backside. I jam-pack my schedule, I have difficulty saying “no” to things, and I sometimes place a priority on the quantity of my work over the quality. The problem with taking on more is that it has to be done faster, and that is where the cycle of hurry begins.
This Lent has been a great opportunity for me to slow down a little bit. I am completely out of my comfort zone and have been given the opportunity to challenge myself in new ways. I have the opportunity to slow down and look for depth in my relationships in a way that I was unable to do before. Rushing through a book at bedtime or my nightly prayers is a shallow experience. I can now spend more time connecting with my loved ones, and with God. I can look at the things around me in a more thoughtful way and think about what I really want (and really need) in my life. With regard to my work, I have been given the opportunity to focus on the spiritual formation and relational side of my ministry, seeing the real needs of those I serve, rather than feeding into the constant desire and pressure to perform well and be “on” all the time.
On a more personal note, the slowing down has been quite challenging. As I mentioned before, I am used to a fast pace and finding things to do all the time. I now have to take a step back from getting my daughter’s First Holy Communion dress ready, planning for a spring break trip to see family out-of-state, and dealing with the expectation that everything happens on “my time.” I have to figure out a way to work full-time and assist with the management of schoolwork, chores, and all-around-boredom of four kids stuck at home. But rather than seeing these things as obstacles, I am trying hard every day to see them as gifts or opportunities to learn from the circumstances. Maybe the sacrament deserves more focus than the dress, maybe a stay-cation will better serve my family than a vacation, and maybe I need to learn how to live on God’s time.
As a woman, I also live with the nagging guilt of never having enough time to find a sense of balance. When I am too busy, I feel guilty for not spending as much time with my children or taking enough time to communicate with God in prayer. When I do have time to slow down, I feel guilty taking any of that time for myself because there is always more to be done: laundry, cleaning, grocery shopping, or – dare I even say it – sleep. It becomes an endless cycle of busyness, overworking myself, and being exhausted. But my heart longs for nothing more than a sense of “rest.” My heart not only wants to rest on this earth in the hands of someone that loves me and who will care for my physical and mental needs, but it also longs for a true rest in the hands of a loving God who will care for my spiritual and eternal needs.
God designed each and every one of us to live at a slow pace. He wants us to take time and process what is happening in our lives, to ponder the truth and beauty around us, and to focus on what is truly important. Including the sacrifice and miracle we remember at Easter – His Son, Jesus Christ. During this Lenten season, and this worldwide pandemic we are all dealing with, make the decision to do what God asks of you. Slow down. In fact, slow down to a pace at which you are uncomfortable. Don’t let your desire to do more and for things to “get back to normal” rob you of the grace and faithfulness that God has put right in your lap.
Take a walk with your family – without your phone and without music. Turn off the television and read a book. Dig out the old family photo albums and have a good laugh. Give your beloved pet the extra attention they deserve. Make a meal using an old family recipe. Take out your calendar and begin to cross things off. And when this is all over – when our doors can open again and when we can begin adding things back to that calendar – only say “yes” to half. Try and leave off some of the optional responsibilities and leave room for more time with those you love, more time for service to others, and more time for prayer and worship.
Say a prayer to God this week and ask him to help you uncover the root of your busyness. Ask Him to help you pause and for help in avoiding the rush. Think of one, single thing that you can pray for, slowly and intentionally, for someone else. Remind yourself that hurry has no place in the beauty of God’s Creation. Be still and know that God is with you.