I’m continuing to repost entries that seem timely as we think about the new year, goals, etc. This was originally posted January 26, 2008. Almost four years later I still find myself thinking about some of these very same issues. And I’ve never forgotten this story below. I often think of it.
Warning: Blogger thinking through her fingers.
In May of 2005 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 (secular) 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.
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.
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 crap. 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 horrible example.
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 the True Womanhood blog a number of months ago and never mentioned it here. I will be taking down Sallie’s Stack and Up North in Michigan, my other two sites. 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.