Does your life reflect what you say is important?
Three years ago, I posted this entry on my blog. The parts in bold I have bolded today.
One of the most interesting experiences in my early study of simplicity was participating in The Pierce Simplicity Study. Linda Breen Pierce was doing research for a book on people who had made the choice to simplify – for whatever reason. Out of that study came her book Choosing Simplicity: Real People Finding Peace and Fulfillment in a Complex World.
I found her website and decided to complete the questionnaire. It was a helpful experience because it made me really think through what I believed, where I thought God might be leading me and where I needed to focus my attention. I submitted my questionnaire and actually had some follow-up contact with Linda. In the end she quoted me in the book (under a pseudonym and I’m not telling who I am!).
The following excerpt is from “Chapter 1: Why Simplicity”. When I have taught Calling vs. Clutter: The Joy of a Deliberate Life, I usually read this section to the group when we start. It is a little lengthy, but I think it is an excellent introduction and well worth the time. Chances are this either describes you or someone you know well. I am reprinting this here with the permission of the author. In the next day or so, I will post a Part 2 with some of my own thoughts about the passage.
From the book:
Joe and Cindy Pfender had it made. They owned a beautiful, brand new 2,200-square-foot home set on one-half acre outside of Houston. Their home was located in a lovely neighborhood brimming with Southern hospitality and seven community pools for those hot Texas summers. They were the proud parents of three children – Chelsea, six, Shane, two, and Quinn, the baby in the family.
Joe worked hard to provide this lifestyle for his family. Every morning he left for work at 7:00 a.m. and returned 12 or more hours later. His commute took 45 minutes each way. He spent his evenings reading and responding to over 200 e-mail messages related to his job as a regional manager for a major steamship line. Pressure from senior management and customers was constant, but Joe handled it quite well – at least that’s how it appeared from the outside. He entertained his customers frequently with drinks and dinners in fine restaurants. Many weekends he was away on business trips. Joe had the feeling that his work week never really began or ended.
Not surprisingly, Cindy began to feel like a single parent. On those frequent evenings when Joe did not make it home for dinner, she hauled the kids off to a fast food restaurant for dinner, a distraction – something of a treat to compensate for their missing father and husband.
One day Chelsea came to her dad with a drawing and proudly announced, “Daddy, look what I did.” Joe pointed to each person in the picture and asked Chelsea to tell him about each one. Chelsea responded, “That’s Quinn. He’s crying. That’s Shane. He just hit Quinn. I am reading a book and Mommy is cooking dinner.” Chelsea then pointed to the one remaining figure, saying, “That’s you, Daddy.” “But why is my face all colored in?” Joe asked his daughter. “That’s not your face, Daddy, that’s the back of your head. You’re working on your computer.”
Chelsea’s drawing was a stunning revelation to Joe. He envisioned his daughter all grown up and remembering her dad as a person who was always working, a person who was not there for her. At that moment, Joe understood what was most important to him. It was not the status and stimulation of his job, his house, the swimming pools, or the health club. It was his wife and his three children. As Joe reflected, “No amount of money or position or home or belongings can replace supporting one another and going through the process of raising our children together.”
Joe and Cindy’s story is representative of millions of people in the world today. As we move into the next millennium, people everywhere, but especially in North America, are questioning what it really means to have the “good life” we have worked so hard to achieve.
It has been a fifty-year odyssey to get where we are today. Shortly after World War II, we entered a period of great prosperity and material abundance – a prosperity that continues to grow unabated, except for minor fluctuations from time to time. But here we are, fifty years later, with many of us finding that our hearts and souls are hurting. The prosperity we have enjoyed – our larger and more luxurious homes that house our increasing cadre of furniture, clothes, gadgets and toys, in addition to our fancier cars, second homes, and lavish vacations – is just not enough. These things do not bring us the happiness and peace we hope for and expected. According to the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, we Americans earn twice as much money at the close of the twentieth century than we did in 1957; yet, the percentage of people who report they are “very happy” has declined during the same period.
In fact, we are struggling to make sense of the spiritual and emotional wasteland we call modern life. We feel trapped in an almost compulsive drive to amass more wealth, status, and power. There is an addictive quality to this consumer-driven lifestyle. No doubt about it, each additional boost of wealth, status, and power gives us a high that feels so good. But like any addiction, the high is fleeting, often leaving us feeling worse than ever and convinced that the solution is to get more.
If materialism is addictive, so is our desire for productivity and efficiency. We are constantly trying to milk the most out of each minute of the day – on the phone while doing something else (like driving), driving instead of walking, reading the newspaper while eating breakfast, watching TV while helping our kids with their homework. Our love affair with productivity and efficiency generates busy, chattering minds. We are like the lead robot character in the movie “Short Circuit,” always clamoring for more input. Often we have trouble relaxing when we finally get some leisure time; we cannot easily escape the habit of working, thinking, and above all, saving time.
And we have plenty of company. When an addiction is the cultural norm, it is hard to realize we need help. After all, isn’t everybody doing it? Gaining perspective on our condition is a real challenge when our society depends on our staying this way to continue its economic growth.
The 1995 report, Yearning for Balance, prepared by The Harwood Group and commissioned by the Merck Family Fund, concluded that we Americans feel our priorities are “out of whack, that materialism, greed, and selfishness increasingly dominate American life, crowding out a more meaningful set of values centered on family, responsibility, and community.” However, the report also indicates that we are ambivalent about what to do. We are attached to our materials comforts and do not want to give them up. At the same time, we are aware that our deepest aspirations are nonmaterial ones.
The three bolded ideas have been going around and around in my head for weeks.
What is Important?
Several weeks ago I sat down and made a list of all the things that are important to me. Some of them are important by necessity such as sleep, eating, grooming, taking care of Caroline, spending time with David, exercising, cultivating my spiritual life, etc. Some of them are important because they are a reflection of who I am and the gifts I have. The list was lengthy and included many activities that I once enjoyed but no longer participate in. It also included hobbies and spiritual interests. It would take four of me living fifty hour days to do everything that was on those lists. And yet most of the ideas and interests are always in the back of my mind, wanting to be experienced or picked-up again.
One of the significant downsides, I think, of being an older first-time parent is you have had many years to explore and cultivate your interests. Because of this, your interests are often wide and varied. You’ve had the opportunity to become skilled in many areas. When you have a child, the amount of time you have for that drastically changes. Yes, I know there is a season for everything, but sometimes even deciding which season it is is challenging!
Coupled with this is the unique blessing and challenge of both David and I working at home. Our work is integrated into our family life which is great and awful at the same time. I love working at home, but it definitely presents a different set of challenges. Part of the challenge is knowing when to walk away from the computer. When is enough enough? We already are experiencing the feeling that our workweek never really ends. Even though we don’t work on Sunday, it still feels like we never are really done, especially if I spend time blogging on Sunday or we work on my blog on Sunday.
I can already detect in Caroline a certain level of resentment toward our computers. When we are in front of them, we aren’t with her. We may be in the same room, but it isn’t the same thing. David and I are trying to figure out the best ways to share caring for her, trade off worktime each day, and work when she isn’t up without robbing ourselves of the breaks we need. The thought that someday Caroline would say to a friend, “Yes, my parents worked at home and they were always around, but they weren’t really there for me, know what I mean?” cuts at my heart like a dagger.
I’ve also had more professional opportunities open up to me in recent months and I need to determine how I want to handle those. We’re at a new church and are in the process of becoming members. I want to find meaningful ways to participate in the life of the church and get to know people. I don’t want to just show up on Sundays.
I also don’t want to be a hypocrite. How can I tell Caroline that things like eating well and exercise and community and people and relationships and serving others and being creative and working with your hands are important and not model those things myself? Children know what is important to you. They know because they watch and listen. I’m not stupid. Caroline is going to learn far more by what we do than what we tell her is important to us.
Today at lunch, Caroline had beef, sweet potatoes, and apples with blueberries. A very nutritious lunch. What did she want to eat? She wanted to eat the white bun and the french fries I was eating. We had driven through McDonalds on our way home from doing errands and, in the interest of time, had grabbed a couple of $1 double cheeseburgers and a large fries to split. So here I am going out of my way to make sure she has healthy food to eat and I’m sitting there eating junk that I don’t even want to give to her. But she wants it because it is on my plate. Am I eating this stuff because it is good for me? No. I know it is bad for me. I’m eating it because then I wouldn’t have to mess with making a meal and cleaning it up when I get home. In the interest of time and efficiency and getting on to something “more important,” I’m eating junk and setting a bad example.
No Longer Bowing to the God of Efficiency
And so I’ve finally gotten to the point in my life where I am no longer going to try to fool myself that there is some magical balance to be achieved in order to maximize the meaningful and the efficient. I’m tired of bowing to the god of efficiency and time management and finding another way to get one more thing done in my day. As a result, a whole lot of things are going to go. Some of those things that are going will make room for things that truly are more meaningful and have been neglected.
Some of the first things to go have already happened. I resigned from one blog I contributed to and am removing two other sites I have. I’m already working at streamlining this blog and am going to be cutting back on how frequently I blog and what I blog about. I don’t feel compelled at this point to quit blogging completely, but it is going to be taking a different path. I’m unsubscribing from a number of newsletters I receive, mostly for blogging info.
We’ve already spent time over the past month getting rid of even more stuff around our home. Honestly, every time we purge I think there can’t be anything else to purge and then I find that there is yet another layer of “stuff” that I’m ready to get rid of. We took a carload of Caroline’s things to the Pregnancy Resource Center and another carload of stuff to Goodwill. We probably have another trunkful of things to take to Goodwill if I could find the time to collect it.
I realize this is rambly and I don’t even feel I’ve effectively communicated what I’ve been thinking about lately. But I’m sure there will be more about it in the weeks ahead.
On the contrary, you’ve communicated your thoughts very well. Very well indeed. This is giving me a lot to think about.
This has been a very difficult topic in our home. Unfortunately, this is one of the issues on which my husband and I have never agreed, and whatever steps I have made toward simplicity, he’s made others toward increased fill-in-the-blank. I’ve long since given up trying to find a way to win him over from “the dark side”, and have just tried to work around him. But I find that I too have materialistic tendencies, unrealistic expectations of what I can get done in a day or week or year, and hoarding tendencies. Without a check and balance, I run amok. And still, I try to simplify. Thank you for your post. It encourages me and challenges me to keep on trying.
This is a wonderful post, Sallie. I have a 15 month old daughter, a 4 year old daughter, and three other children, and I have been feeling a lot of guilt about this kind of stuff lately, too. I notice especialy with the girls that when I am tied up in front of the computer, they are trying to get my attention…but many times, part of me is not there. And since I am not a newbie to all of this, and have been a mom for almost 18 years, I know that at some point the intense hunger to be with mom subsides, and then you’re left with just the memories of how they once snuggled with you. I think that media, computers, and all the rest are very, very insidious, and very difficult for most families to manage well. I am thinking very seriously about getting a lock of some sort for our computer so that neither the older kids, my husband, or me will be tempted/ able to spend so much time at the computer. I think you are right to purge, and then purge again and again. I am in the process of trying to do the same. We live in a rural area, where we have almost nothing available. I often make trips into the large city, 45-plus minutes away, several times a week. Those days are always very, very stressful on the kids and me (we homeschool, so they are with me almost all the time), but we always try and cram in as much as possible because we live so far away from everything. But lately, because of money pressures, and rising fuel prices, I have made a conscious, concerted effort to just stay home more, and to make do, or go without when at all possible. At first I felt restless because I am used to busyness and near-constant activity, all the time. But I have been, quite frankly, very amazed at how my “appetites” are beginning to change, and how both the kids and I are enjoying the quietness of home, and nothing more…. Just quietness, and home. I guess all this just to say that I think that you are right. Many things are good, but there are seasons when our children are little where our intensity needs to be focused on them and our homes….and that’s about it. The clutter and junk need to go, the time-eating activities need to go, the chaos and the general busyness need to go. And no matter what we think at first, we will never miss the extra activities or “stuff” that we get rid of. Keep sharing your thoughts on all of this, Sallie, because it is making me think through all of this, too.
This is a great post. It is true that when working from home it is hard to delineate starts and stops. Fortunately for me, my work time HAS to be when the kids are already in bed (I review TV shows and must post within 3 hours of air time).
Jen, over at the “Et tu?” blog, has been talking about this same topic. She is trying to build hard stops into her day. Her theory is that long ago, everyone had a “hard stop”. When it got dark, work stopped (because they couldn’t see!). So dusk was the cue for everyone to start wrapping things up. Artificial light and cheap electricity changed that for us.
She is trying out praying the Liturgy of the Hours (like the monks do). Three times a day, certain Scriptures are read (usually Psalms); in the morning, early afternoon, and in the evening. When the evening prayers (Vespers) are said that is the end of the day. She reports that lighting candles and saying her prayers – and forcing herself to stop work at that time – has made her day more productive, but her spirit more peaceful.
In a practical matter, you should do your best to work out a schedule so that someone is always “on” for your daughter, and the other one can devote 100% concentration to their task. It sounds like you are finding your way in that area, and that is good. You also might consider having an old fashioned schedule, with a “town day”; you have one day scheduled to go to town and the rest of the time you stay home. It might do you well to start celebrating Sundays the old fashioned way, as well. Years ago, all stores would be closed and it was a day of rest. No servile work. A media “fast” each Sunday might be helpful as you find balance in this area of your life.
I’ll be interested to hear how things work out!
Lindsey @ ETJ
I have found it is extremely hard at times to work at home with children around. My kids are great, but they simply do not understand when Mommy is working on the computer and cannot play right then. Considering Caroline’s age, this is doubly hard for you and her both. Mine are old enough to understand the words, but they just don’t WANT to understand that means I cannot play.
You know, I think constantly re-evaluating and looking at our schedules, lives, work load and such are important. I know you and I’ve talked privately in email about working and my struggle with going back to teaching or not—-but one of the “pros” of me going back to work would be that all 5 of us will be away from home at the same time each day. Chad and I will be working and the kids will be at school from 7-3ish. Then, when we all get home, we’re all HOME.
As odd as that sounds, sometimes I think that would be a positive to be able to compartmentalize our work/play/work/home life.
Hang in there. Prayers for both of us!
*sigh* Your post is great and hits me where I’m at.
I have been struggling with this — and I don’t even have a job! (I was going to say I don’t work, but a mom never doesn’t work!) There’s stuff I want to do, stuff that of course I have to do, and then additional things I take on as a ministry. Then I have a busy husband, a preteen, a second grader and a little baby. All have different needs and desires from me that I want to meet. Sometimes I just don’t know how to do it, and the sad thing is, when I’m tired, I end up doing things to relax that aren’t really important to me. So I’m trying to purge activities from my life that aren’t really meaningful or helpful, and then trying to put in more of the things that are important to me but many times I don’t get around to doing. It’s hard…
Oh yeah, I can relate to this one. It’s a really hard thing to do, to really prioritize what’s important to you and to LIVE it, not just say it. Sigh.
Good luck on all your new projects and purging. We just moved into a new home and I am absolutely floored, almost into inaction, at all of the stuff we have. I am seriously going to take the next six months to get rid of everything that we don’t need. Stuff is draining, activities you don’t need are draining, nonproductive interneting is draining.
Thank you for this post! I just bought a timer today, special to use for when I am taking my little breaks on the internet (3 a day, 10 minutes each! with coffee or tea). I also work as a freelance writer, but let’s be real, I am going to have to carve time out for that when my husband is home because there is no quality writing going on with kiddies about.
Good luck on all your future endeavors. I hope you keep blogging here too. I know that we all enjoy your writing and I think you like writing here too : )
P.S. I also think winter is a natural time to regroup and have thoughts like this, don’t you think? And I am looking forward to SPRING!
Thanks for your good and insightful comments.
Susan – I went through something very similar when I quit teaching and was home full-time. It really does take time to adjust to being at home all the time and knowing what to do with yourself.
Milehimama – I think part of our problem with the stops and starts is having a baby/toddler who won’t cooperate! LOL! It is definitely easier now than it was a year ago in terms of keeping some semblance of a schedule, but we have found we have had to constantly adapt our strategies to work and do other things as Caroline has changed. We’ve literally changed things at least a half a dozen times in the past sixteen months. As her needs change, we have to reevaluate how we do things. We’re going through another one of those times now, I think. We can come up with all the fancy schedules and plans we want, but sometimes the other party who lives here has ideas of her own (like double ear infections!).
Lindsey – I think in trading the pros of the compartmentalization you simply take on a different set of problems. Let’s face it. There is NO PERFECT WAY TO LIVE. I don’t care what anyone says. EVERY OPTION has its pros and cons. Yes, you would all be on more of the same schedule, but you would give up a tremendous amount of freedom. Personally, I would rather take the struggles to make it work well at home than give up my freedom to do so. But that’s just me and that doesn’t also take into account the financial aspects that you are weighing as well. For everything I find challenging about working at home, the freedom that comes with it is so wonderful that I would find it very hard to give it up willingly.
Ann – Yes. Stuff can be a huge source of paralysis. I have been there. I do understand.
Wonderful post. Definitely many things to think about. I believe I will go make my own list of what is important!
It is funny that your example has to do with food…I gave up Coke for this very reason. I didn’t want my 2-year-old drinking it, but how could I truly say ‘no’ when I had it three times a day!
Sallie, I commend your vision and planful-ness. This takes discipline but it’s so important! I know that our computer screen sucks in the kids faster than feathers in a tornado. Doesn’t matter what’s on it, either: they want to STARE at the screen. Merely having it on is feeling like a larger responsibility as time goes by. But turning it off is so hard, when you’re used to googling around for every little snip of information!
One thought: curtailing any behavior is easier if you create new routines which turn your attention to new things. I know connecting with a mom’s group through my church was one small but very valuable change I made when the kids were tiny. Good luck Sallie.
*sigh* Your post remains great and STILL hits me where I’m at. 🙂
I’ve started back at to college to finish up my long-lost degree and have used the opportunity to really cut back on my computer time. I find that I miss the creative outlet that blogging and photography give me. My creativity is just having to be funnelled into Algebra. ha! I will say that I accomplish more with the more that I have do. I am not self-directed so it helps to be busy. Even so, I’m really thinking hard about how far to take my college education. Is having a degree in line with meeting my goals for my family? Going to cut this short… my boy wants to play a game with me. 😉 Thanks for the post. Let me know if you ever find that magical balance.