Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Tyranny of the Urgent

Some time ago I ran across a rash of “how to manage your time” articles that set me to thinking furiously—not for the first time in recent years—about my own life and what I can and cannot do to make better use of my own time.

For starters, I can’t seem to keep a schedule to save my life. Talk of MOTH (Managers of Their Homes) or other scheduling programs sends my blood pressure straight up. But, neither do I get much done without some sort of plan with which to approach the day.

The best thing I’ve found is to make a rough sketch of our daily, weekly, monthly routine—preferably on paper—but then be flexible enough for the inevitable interruptions that, despite all my denials, are a part of my life.

Last Wednesday, for instance. It was the first day of the week that I could stay home until at least midafternoon. I had lots of plans for cleaning, decluttering, etc.—only a portion of which gets done in the short segments that I get at home these days between piano lessons (4 children in those), ballet classes (for 5), the dentist (for 9), eye doctor (for 3, and 2 more of us yet to come), chiropractor, ladies’ Bible study, church, grocery shopping, Wal-Mart, and dry cleaning. But much of that time on Wednesday was eaten up by broken glass in the kitchen (a science experiment gone awry), a neighbor dropping by (we own rental properties next door, and this concerned an empty mobile home we’re trying to rent, then devolved into a discussion about an interested young couple who it turns out has something of a squabble going with their prospective neighbors-to-be—all things I needed to know beforehand), and a phone call with my mother (healing from a back injury in a car accident six weeks ago, and who craves my calls at least once a week, if not more often).

My frustration with so-called time management is that it’s so task-oriented—get X,Y,Z done in a certain amount of time. Kindly but firmly refuse to take on things that get in the way of what you know is most important. (And I’ve done plenty of that in recent months.) My life as a mother (of eight, no less!) can become extremely task-oriented. Get up. Brush hair and teeth. Dress. Make bed. Do laundry. Start schoolwork. Send oldest child off to geometry. Plan for dinner. So on, and so forth. The problem with that is, life happens. The two-year-old gets up, has to be taken potty because she will “hold it” until she wets herself otherwise. My choice: to do it myself, or delegate. Somehow, everyone else must be reminded, as I’ve reminded them every day of their lives before, that they must eat breakfast, and THEN practice piano and do school, before getting on the computer. Milk gets spilled. Another choice: do myself or delegate. (If I delegate, chances are the floor will stay sticky, necessitating more work later. Often I delegate anyway.) If it’s a Tuesday or a Thursday or sometimes a Wednesday, some of us have chiropractor or dental or orthodontic or other medical-related appointments. (Just dental appointments stretched over 6 weeks last fall, and that didn’t include one child’s embarkation on orthodontics.) When we come back, I have to hope that the children I left at home (the older ones can babysit now) actually did their work and didn’t fritter away the time squabbling with siblings or chasing toddlers. (Or sneaking TV.) Then I have to refocus my own self on doing what has to be done before the next wave of … whatever. (Piano and ballet are 4 afternoons a week.)

None of this takes into consideration the needs of relationships … and mothering and ministering to a community are both far more relationship oriented than task oriented. It means nothing if I hustle through our routine and never make eye contact with my children, never stop to hear their squabbles and talk them through or listen to their questions … chafe when my toddler wants to cuddle instead of savoring her sweet smiles, soft skin, wispy golden hair, and round eyes full of wonder … scold the older boys for wrestling rather than stopping to admire their hardening muscles … choose a quick, easy-to-prepare meal rather than take the time for the fancy one my daughter requested more than a month ago, and slow down long enough while cooking enough to explain and instruct her in the fine art of making cream sauces.

But relationships are what’s more important. I can burn myself out completely in giving and serving and doing, but if my children don’t know that I love them, if I don’t feed their spirits and souls as well as their bodies and minds, then it’s for nothing. “If I give my body to be burned, and my goods to feed the poor, and do not have love …”

A few weeks ago, my stress levels were sky high, and I felt crushed under the weight of all that managing a household of ten requires. Well-meaning friends offered advice, but much of it was unusable. I do take time for myself (writers’ group, hot soaks, spending the time during some ballet and piano sessions reading, without interruption), and I do delegate chores to the kids. They wash and fold laundry, clean the kitchen every night and after meals, do rudimentary pickup on the living room (I think the ability to “see” certain kinds of dirt and clutter doesn’t kick in until they’re grown and out of the house, and maybe not even then) and vacuuming, take care of the ferret and the cat we’re babysitting indefinitely (long story), and the ducks and chickens outside. The older ones babysit, help the youngers with schoolwork, help bathe the littles.

Also, I have been endeavoring to eat moderately well, and stay on a fairly stringent supplement regimen. Getting enough sleep is a little harder. What I hadn’t been doing, however, was consciously surrendering each moment to God’s timing, including the possibility that every little interruption, even the things that chew up my time (like THREE trips to the DMV this week to license a new car, because the signatures weren’t “just so”—it belonged to the deceased mother of a friend), are still part of HIS plan for my days. When I started forcing myself to do just that—breathe in, breathe out; yes, Lord, You’re in this moment—then the stress started to trickle away.

This doesn’t change how busy I am. I still struggle to fit in time to write, especially on days when I can’t sit down at a computer and string two thoughts together until after everyone’s bedtime. I’m still not the best at multitasking, that most elusive of skills and so necessary to mothering several. Or at delegating. There are times when I just want to fall into bed and stay there for the rest of the week. People get sick, sometimes. Or, more often than sometimes. Dishes break and potty-training children have accidents and visiting cats hack up hairballs in my carpet. The messes must be cleaned up, and I can’t tell them to go away and come back later.

But, this is the life God has called me to, and I have to trust that although I’m only one person, and can only accomplish just so much, that somehow He will make sure it’s enough … because HE is enough.

Actually … He is more than enough. What an awesome thought.

1 comment:

  1. Love this post, Shannon.

    And be assured, even when you are in a household of 1, the enemy of our souls finds ways to make us think God isn't going to meet our needs, whatever they might be. True is just the opposite as you so clearly state.

    Becky

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