Someone once said, “If I had my entire life to live over, I doubt I’ve have the strength!” We live in a nation of huffers and puffers that run a mad marathon through the day and moonlight into the night. All over this country exhausted, sleep-deprived women in homes and offices are wondering what is the point of it all. A couple of secretaries talking about their friend, said, “Poor Sarah, she used up all her sick leave and had to call in dead yesterday.”
The Bible tells us. “To every thing there is a season, and a time for every purpose under the heaven” (Ecclesiates 3:1). Sometimes I’ve tried to jam Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and the 4th of July into one season of life. No wonder I’ve experienced burnout and poor health! What a joy to embrace a saner season when I move slower yet get more done that really matters. I notice the sunset and can hold a sick grandchild in perfect peace with no sense of other tasks tugging at me. I can set my mind or hands to creativity – take matter unorganized and organize it. I can look beyond the obvious and see the eternal.
I’m convinced that slowing down can be the most essential thing we can do to maintain our health and sanity. For me the whole health challenge has been like finding pieces to a giant puzzle – and I’ve searched high and low for those pieces! Maybe I’m slowing down because I’m so worn out from the multitude of things I’ve done trying to be healthy!
Is It Possible to Slow Down and Get More Done?
Many times slowing down is exactly what is needed to become more efficient and more effective in what we choose to do. A person who works from a place of calm purpose is likely to accomplish a lot more than one with frazzled nerves and a pressured sense of hurry. When we’re feeling really rushed, we can become inefficient and so task oriented we can become insensitive to the needs of those around us. So let’s slow down!
Years ago, when I was the managing editor of Latter-day Woman Magazine, I accepted an article by Dorothy Nielsen called “A Lot to Do, Slow Down!” Let me quote from it: “This is what hurrying did for me recently. I hurried to get the Jell-o salad in the car and spilled it on the garage floor, so I got to the church late. As I was hurrying home to clean it up I smashed the fender of my car on a pole outside the garage. I hurried to get an estimate to get the fender fixed and was late for Dan’s cello lesson. I hurried home to call his teacher, slipped in the Jell-o on the garage floor and yelled, ‘I don’t have time for this, I’m going to be late for PTA too!’ No wonder I tell myself often, you’ve got a lot to do today, so slow down. By going slower, I get twice as much done. Slowing down to get more done means focusing my attention completely on the task at hand: placing the Jell-o safely in the car, carefully steering past the pole. It means not worrying, fretting and stewing, but just doing. Worry and hurry doesn’t improve my performance, it hinders it.” So let’s slow down!
Ironically, slowing down is the key to avoiding both burnout and boredom.
The Negative Results of Nonstop Activities
Many of our kids are unwittingly living on a fast track as exhausting as our own – and sometimes we as parents encourage it. In a December 15, 1997 Newsweek article called “Burned Out and Bored,” Ronald Dahl, professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, said: “Our fast-paced lives lead kids to seek ever-bigger thrills with ever-decreasing satisfaction.” He told of taking his nine-year-old on one of the fastest roller coasters in the world. Mr. Dahl said, “We blasted through face-stretching turns and loops for 90 seconds. Then, as we stepped off the ride, my son shrugged and, in a distressingly calm voice, remarked that it was not as exciting as other rides he’d been on.”
His analysis of this has direct application to modern life in general. He said the constant intensity of the stimulation is part of the answer. “What creates exhilaration is not going fast, but going faster. Accelerating from 0 to 60mph in a few seconds [creates a] powerful sensation, but going 60 for hours on the interstate causes so little feeling of speed that we fight to stay awake.” Could there be a connection between being bored and burned out? Can they both be a product of going too fast too much of the time?
We can’t feel the excitement of acceleration if we are always going 60. We have to slow down, stop, then start again. The same principle applies if we are going hundreds of miles an hour. When I took a long trans-Atlantic flight on a jumbo jet the takeoff and the landing were the only time I was aware of speed. What if we never land in our daily lives? What if we never give our bodies time for repair like the planes get before every flight? What if we go too fast to feel the delight or notice the beauty around us? Is it any wonder we eventually crash when we live a life of nonstop high-speed activity?
Nostalgia – Thinking Back at Slower Times
I’m 63 – although it was a shock at first, I’m getting quite used to be considered a senior citizen, and I feel well qualified to tell you how nice and slow life was “in the good old days.” Because the pace was slower, any acceleration was noticed, any activity seemed exciting.
Kids today would think my childhood was boring – no TV, video games, computers, no fast-paced entertainment – but I was never bored. We played slow-paced games where we had time to think and laugh and enjoy each other. We went to movies where we weren’t bombarded with images that changed every fraction of a second. I remember twirling to my sister’s record of “Dance, Ballerina, Dance” coloring with crayons, making up stories and adding sound effects on the piano, writing my first “make believe story” in a spiral notebook, and reading tons of books. We had a back yard and an apple orchard and a wonderful tree house and a swing. I remember climbing apple trees and eating tiny green apples and smiling with glee when grownups told me that eating green apples would give you a bellyache – because I ate tons of them and never got one! I remember swinging and singing, balancing on a big barrel, making dolls out of hollyhocks, going on bike rides, playing baseball for fun and not to win.
What happens to that early fascination and delight with life that is so health-giving and health restoring?
Increase of Role Options, Focus on Achievement
Another thing besides the pace that has changed totally since I was a little girl are the role options for women. Just a few decades ago women either married and raised a family or they went into teaching or nursing. Now, we can be anything and do anything we want to pay the price for.
Sometimes the price is very high, too high. As the role options multiplied and the voices to do more, be more, contribute more have called to us, is it any wonder that we have found ourselves over-committed, overextended, and too many times over-wrought?
The women’s movement has brought for some – instead of liberation – a whole new level of enslavement. Only a small percentage of working women are able to turn their home responsibilities over to someone else. Most women just add to them the commitment to spend a large portion of their hours being paid to accomplish someone else’s priorities, leaving little time to work on their own. My experience has been that I was in survival mode when I was working full-time and sometimes ended up feeling that I wasn’t doing anything very well. I couldn’t do any second mile activities – I was struggling to do the bare essentials, and so much of what brings me the greatest satisfaction went undone.
We continue to be sold the bill of goods that achievement itself is the name of the game. I’ve found that accomplishing something has no value unless it matches our inner values. Unless it makes us larger and more compassionate and contributes to the souls of those it touches. If we lose character strength through any achievement or activity, or if it hurts others, or damages our health, the success has been a failure and we would have been much better off not to have done it at all.
I used to get so caught up in “getting things done” that I paid no attention to what my body was telling me. In my younger years I had a great impatience with my body’s weakness. I’ve fretted and fussed at myself for being sick or fatigued, overlooking the lessons of life that were there for me. My new goal is to reverence my body, know it as a teacher, listen to its unmistakable messages, such as, “You have unresolved fear, my dear, and so I, your stomach, feel upset and queasy. Go to God and find your peace, and then I’ll settle down. “Or, “You’ve been pushing too hard, resting too little, and I, your immune system am overtaxed. Give yourself extra time to rest and unwind, or tomorrow you’ll be sick in bed.”
Values In Retrospect, What Matters Most Now
I have walked down the road of life many miles, then looked back and shook my head and said, “How could I have every thought that committee or marketing program, or that class that kept me away from home so many evenings mattered that much? Why did I spend so much time working, or worrying about how my hair looked and what I was going to wear?” One thing I’ve never said, is “Oh, if I only hadn’t spent so much time with my kids,” or “Why did I spend so much time feeding my soul?” It is always easier to see what matters most to us after the fact.
What matters most to YOU right now? One good way to take a look at this is to draw a line vertically down the middle of a sheet of paper. Label the left hand column “values” and list a few things that matter most to you.
Now label the right hand column “efforts and time spent” and jot down a brief summary of what you are doing to focus on those things.
Are you giving the values and people that matter most your best time and efforts? In the 90s a survey was taken that showed an inverse relationship to what people said they valued most and what they spent their time on. If we are wise we will decrease the number of roles we choose to play to the point that we can focus some real time on what really matters to us in the long run. Then, at the end of each day, we can feel satisfaction and peace, and at the end our lives we will not be filled with regret.
How to Carve Out Time to Feed the Soul
Decades ago, Ann Morrow Lindberg in her book Gift from the Sea, said “the feminist did not look far enough ahead.And so women today are still searching. We are aware of our hunger and needs, but still ignorant of what will satisfy them. With our garnered free time, we are more apt to drain our creative springs than to refill them. With our pitchers in hand, we attempt to water a field instead of a garden. We throw ourselves indiscriminately into committees and causes, not knowing how to free the spirit. We try to muffle its demands with distractions. Instead of stilling the center, the axis of the wheel, we add more centrifical activities to our lives, which tend to throw us yet more off balance. Mechanically we have gained in the last generation, but spiritually we have lost. For women, the problem is still how to feed the soul.”
Let’s start carving out time to feed our souls by making a “not to do list” We’ve been programmed to keep careful track of all the things we need to do. Now let’s start keeping careful track of all the things that aren’t worth doing. The saying “Anything worth doing is worth doing well should be altered to say, “Many things are not worth doing at all, and many things are not worth doing well because they’re not worth the time it takes to do them well. Only a few things are worth the best energies that we have. The most important decisions we have to make every day is whether we are using our time to feed our souls, contribute to those around us in a meaningful ways, and live true to our deepest values.
Media and Cultural Traditions
How does our explosive society lure us away from these values? For one thing, the media put forth images of unachievable ideal looks and lifestyles. When I was in high school it was a big deal to get our hair and nails done and wear makeup for the big dances. Women nowadays expect themselves to look that good every day – and that takes a lot of time and money. You can’t imagine how much fun it has been to work at home in sweats with no makeup on! What have the media really done to us as women? Do we have to buy into it?
The media explosion has also increased our stress level by informing us of hundreds of grievous happenings we can do little or nothing about. Great Grandma rarely knew what was going on at the farm ten miles down the road. Now, we have brought into our very living rooms the plight of the tsunami victims in Asia, earthquake and terrorist and war victims, mudslide victims in the Philippines, hurricane victims in our own country. We do what we can, but the suffering and un-fillable needs hurt our hearts. It is hard to be content sing lullabies and stirring the soup when the world outside our doors is exploding!
The technology explosion has made more goods and services available than our forefathers could have dreamed of – and created a rampant materialism with a vast and confusing array of choices.
If we are going to paint a wall, for example we have to choose between four thousand colors, not just a manageable few. All those choices take time and energy that we could better be using for what really matters to us.
In this society burnout is more than a remote possibility; it has almost become the norm. Sometimes unrealistically high expectations of ourselves in regard to our Church responsibilities feeds the fire. Dean Larsen said that “over-zealousness is at least as much to be feared as apathy. Trying to measure up to too many expectations without some sense of self-tolerance can cause spiritual and emotional burnout.” How can we heal from burnout and unrealistic expectations? How can we take ourselves apart from the clamor of our society and maintain or regain our physical and emotional health?
Here are a few things that have proved healing for me:
. Writing Therapy
I’ve found writing therapy to be healing and a great key to health. Here are some different ways to use it:
Journaling. Three books that give great therapeutic journaling ideas are: Writing as a Way of Healing, by Louise DeSalvo and Writing to Save Your Life By Michele Weldon, and The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
Writing can be a great help for emotional cleansing. Years ago a great counselor, Naomi. Chipman, taught me to write a line, then write the next line directly over it so it can never be read by yourself or anyone else. That technique frees you to write anything that comes up, the get rid of anger and other bad feelings in a way that is healthy for you and cannot hurt anyone else.
Capturing is the technique of writing a scripture or thought that grabs you, then writing about what it means to you, how it applies to you. Capturing can open the heart to personal revelation.
Therapeutic writing has helped me in other healing activities, such as forgiving, letting go of things I can’t control, clarifying values and beliefs. Truth is healing. Writing can help us go back and restructure wrong conclusions made in emotionally-laden moments in our path. Cognitive therapy can lead us to truth. The truth really can make us free.
I believe forgiving is a big part of healing. In her novel, A Love Beyond Time, Martha Newman said, “Forgiveness is the only true basis for happiness, and forgiving life for all its injustices is the beginning foundation. Hating life is like hating your own body. Unfair though it is, it nurtures you, cradles you, and gives you experiences. When you forgive life, then you can forgive yourself, for you are simply a part of life. You can act like a child and not hate yourself. You can be wrong and not hate yourself. You can be unfair and admit it. In other words, you can be human and still be good. You forgive because that relieves the hurt. You don’t close up in order to protect. You open up in order to protect. With the forgiving – moment by moment if necessary – you are protected from the pain. It is as if you were an open window and if an arrow is shot, it goes through you and passes out, not shattering you at all.”
Gratitude is one of the most healing practices of all! Sarah Ban Breathnach suggests, in her book Simple Abundance, keeping a gratitude journal. I’ve found the truth in the song “when you’re worried and you can’t sleep, just count your blessings instead of sheep… and you’ll fall asleep counting your blessings.”
. Reading and Pondering
I’ve learned that it is essential to my health to have a time for quiet prayer and pondering and reading scripture or other uplifting material. What are some possible pondering times that might work for you: such as while exercising, doing dishes, driving alone in the car. What would work for reading times?
. Humor and Play are Healing
We all need special buffers against burnout – and one of them is humor. It’s so important to be able to laugh at ourselves. We need to look for the funny parts of being human and recognize that our very human-ness is a very endearing quality.
A little girl named Janet wrote a letter to God, She said, “Dear Mr. God, I wish you would not make it so easy for people to come apart. I had to have 3 stitches and a shot!” At this stage of life I could also wish God had not made it so easy for me to come apart! But too often I’ve contributed to the “coming apart” by moving too fast and not slowing down for golden moments for laughter and play.
I lived on the fast track for many years. When the little Darla inside kept pestering me, telling me she wanted to come out and play, I told her to go to her room and stay until she finally minded. My health suffered, my relationships suffered, my soul suffered.
So I’m going to put on the list of what really matters: keeping in touch with that child self which is such an important source of our creativity and our joy and laughter. Someone said that you don’t stop laughing because you grow old; you grow old because you stop laughing.
Taking Time to Laugh and Play
An old Chinese proverb says “Laughter is heaven’s favorite medicine.” I’ve been having my grandchildren tutor me in the fine art of laughter and merriment and playing. They do it all so well! Several times lately I’ve joined my one-year-old grand-daughter Arianna in gigglefests over the simple game of peekaboo. It takes so little to make a child laugh.
Adult life can be full of serious issues, problems, tragedies and illnesses. But it is not healthy to take ourselves too seriously. God created us with the ability to laugh and to play. The Bible says “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine” (Proverbs 17:22). The medicine of laughter and a merry heart has no side effects, and positive results with case studies that go clear back to Adam. How often do we have merry hearts? How often do we play like children? When was the last time you wiggled, jumped, played on a swing or slide, rolled in the grass, waded in a creek? What are your favorite ways to play?
My grandchildren even make work play. When I painted the fence with my two oldest grandsons they made it into a wonderful game! I let them do most of the “work” and felt like Tom Sawyer! I get such a kick out of waving a bubble wand in the backyard and watching my grandchildren chase the bubbles. We all love the rainbows on bubbles that glisten in the sun. We giggle together at ducks who come right up and snatch the bread from our fingers. I like to lie on the grass and watch the children play, enjoying the littlest children romping on top of me! I love holding a child and singing to them and doing finger plays. They remind me of all the great beauty of life in the moment!
Truly Important Things
When I work too many hours truly important things like play get squeezed right out.
Author Dorothy Nielsen said, “In my most successful days, I slow down and schedule breaks to recharge my batteries. You might find me gazing out the window, calling a friend, browsing through a book, having a giggle session with a teenage daughter, or rocking a child. I learned long ago that spending time for loving, listening and understanding is not wasting time, it’s putting it to the very most significant use. These slowdown times help me go faster on my other jobs. And after all, it’s not saving minutes that matter, it’s saving memories.”
I’ve learned that when I’m hugging a little child or patting a friend’s shoulder and listening to her problems not to feel like I should be doing something more productive. There is nothing more productive than love.
We need to get back to the basics. The Lord told us that the first and second great commandments are to love God and each other. This is not a grim and difficult thing to do but a joyful kind of life. The way of peace and the way of the Lord is not hurry and frazzled nerves and feeling like we’re juggling all these different balls all the time and that if we let one ball drop, all is lost. We have a choice and we can refuse to get caught up in this juggling act. We can choose to slow down and walk the path of peace.
Letting the Inner Child Out to Play
I’ve been doing a few other things to let little Darla out to play – even when I’m not with my grandchildren. One of the things that drew me to my husband Doug nearly 20 years ago was that he made me laugh and invited me out to play. He’s still making me laugh. We went shopping recently and saw some of those extreme pointy toe shoes and said, “I don’t know why anyone would buy those. They are so impractical.” He said, “Oh, I don’t know. They could be very useful for killing cockroaches in tight corners.” We have gone back to reading Pat McMannus humor books together. We never get through a chapter without some good belly laughs, which are so healthy for the body, so healthy for the relationship.
I’ve signed up to take watercolor classes again. I’ve wanted to paint forever, but it always seemed so frivolous – so unessential – so I’ve seldom done it. Yet I find that something happens when I let myself have fun painting. There is a reconnection with something deep inside. I sat in my yard one morning making a feeble effort to capture the beauty of a sunrise and I felt more alive than I had for a long time. When I’m in the painting mode I’m looking carefully at things, noticing, aware, alive. And I’m in the moment – I’m not worrying about yesterday or tomorrow.
oems – just for fun, so I wrote this one:
Poetry is playing with words…
Letting them out to sing and shimmer in the sun.
Poetry puts springs on words, lets them bounce,
Sets them free to frolic in the fields.
Puts words in swings, pushes them high
Gives them wings and lets them fly.
Poetry is daring to be frivolous;
Weaving colorful word fabrics with rhyme or nonsense
To please the inner child
Not to please rule-makers or parents who say,
“Quit fooling around and get something done!”
But letting words speak just for fun –
Poetry is aliveness to beauty, noticing the moment.
Getting words out of their lazy beds
to slide down rainbows and sail over the sunrise.
Poetry is listening to the sounds of words
hushing and hissing, shouting and laughing.
It is never telling words to be quiet and go to their rooms
But freeing them from tight cocoons.
Poetry says, “Come, be alive again,
sing with joy and smell the fragrance of flowers,
see tiny flames of sun dance atop mountain streams.
Dare to be a child again–believe life can be wondrous and good.
Believe in love, believe in magic, believe in living, doing, expressing.
Let long-lost feelings ooze through layers of mud and debris
to burst forth in fountains of fun.
Dare to come into the light; for real life’s just begun.”
Real Life Begins When We Do What Matters Most
Has our real life begun yet? Are we taking time for gratitude, for writing, forgiving, playing?
I have a deep feeling about the Savior’s involvement in this process. He is the One who set the perfect example of what really matters and He is totally interested in helping us follow that example. In her book He Did Deliver Me From Bondage, Colleen Harrison said, “I do not need more self-mastery or self-sufficiency. I do not need to DO more. I need to rely on the Savior more, believe more, ask more, receive more.”
I challenge you to check up on yourself to see if you are focusing your time and energies on what matters most to you. I’ve heard it said that nobody grows old merely by living a certain number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals. Our ideals are what matter most to us when the fog clears. When we listen to our inner truths, our deep knowing, when we quiet my minds and sit in the silence of our being, what matters most becomes crystal clear.
Our true inner voice that reveals this to us does not urge us to speed, to hurry, or to stress, but to the calm of caring, the peace of purpose, the fun of focusing.
Clarity of values brings simplicity, not overwhelm. I find the need for fewer clothes, fewer “things” fewer commitments. I easily say, “no” to many things so that I may say “yes” to the few God is telling me are mine alone to do.
I challenge you to lengthen your “not to do list” and generate a plan for slowing down. We always have choice, we always have options. It really is up to us how we choose to spend each precious minute, and whether we buy with our mint of time what matters most to us, or what matters least. There is infinite value in peaceful living and I pray that each of will relax into life, live our values, and share the joy that brings with all around us.
Note: Some of the material from this article was taken from Darla’s inspirational talk tapes The Juggling Act and Peace of Mind. They are now on sale for only $1.00 apiece! So is her booklet To Be a Mother, the Agonies and the Ecstasies. Go to www.rosehavenpublishing.com and take advantage of this unbelievable price.