I don’t know if it’s due to my personality or my role as a mom, but it’s easy for me to become preoccupied with everything that I need to do. Even if my schedule is not very full, my brain has a tendency to bounce around rapidly like a ping-pong ball. When I am mentally preoccupied in this way, it becomes difficult for me to give my full attention to my work, others, and God. It is challenging for me to live and act in a peaceful manner. It is easy to justify this mental preoccupation; our culture glorifies being “busy.”
Even if we’re not actually busy, we can feel a need to act busy. We often talk about the story of Mary and Martha from the Bible but forget Jesus’ admonition:
“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her” (Lk 10:41-42).
Jesus refers to the anxiety and worry — the mental preoccupation — that Martha had.
Instead of shrugging off this story by saying, “that’s nice, but I can’t help being a Martha,” I am trying to make changes in my life to embrace a bit of silence. Like Mary, I want to have a mind and heart that listen to the Lord — so that even when I’m doing many things, I am at peace in God’s presence. Here’s what I’ve been doing to bring a little bit of rest and peace into my life:
1. Use a timer to designate rest time — and make this a priority.
It’s tempting to think that as soon as the kids are happy, napping, or preoccupied, we should immediately dive into whatever projects are on our to-do list. While sometimes, we need to give our first attention to the tasks at hand, there is a value with making time for leisure and relaxation. I like to make use of small increments of time to make this happen. If dinner needs to simmer on the stove for 15 minutes, I’ll set the timer, sit nearby to keep an eye on the stove, and spend a few moments in prayer or with a book. If my son goes down for a nap, I’ll set a timer for 20 minutes and spend that time doing whatever I need to rest and re-charge before moving on to various tasks.
2. When life feels overwhelming, write it out.
As much as I love my planner, I frequently forget to pull it out. But, I’m finding that if I take just 2 minutes to write out everything that I need to do, a load is taken off my brain. Not only that, but I’m able to delegate different tasks to certain points of the day, which enables me to see where I can create small opportunities for prayer and relaxation. Countless religious orders designate time in their daily or weekly schedules for recreation and still manage to accomplish many things, and I think we can all learn from their example.
3. Appoint an “electronics-free” day.
When there’s a moment of silence in between tasks or events, it is incredibly tempting to pull out some kind of technology. I’ve often thought, Oh, I’ll read a book … after I check my email. Or, I’ll spend some time in prayer … I just need to check social media notifications first. I’ve even told myself, I’ll just hop on my computer really quickly — and then, thirty minutes later, I’ll notice that I’m still online. For Lent one year, my husband and I decided to appoint one day a week where we don’t use unnecessary electronics until a designated time in the evening. We still continue this practice, and I’ve found it immensely helpful. Not only is there less noise from the media surrounding me, but when I have time to rest, I don’t immediately start surfing Catholic websites or watching a show. Instead, I have the opportunity to pray with true silence and cultivate hobbies that don’t require electronics.
In his encyclical on human work, Laborem Exercens, Pope John Paul II notes that “Man ought to imitate God both in working and also in resting, since God himself wished to present his own creative activity under the form of work and rest”(#25). While our work is important, it is also necessary that we make time for rest and leisure in our lives and become open to the ways in which God is speaking to us. While there is nothing wrong with doing many activities, let’s try to reject the anxiety of Martha and instead embrace the profound peace of Mary.
What are other practical ways that we can create moments of rest in daily life?
Copyright 2018 AnneMarie Miller