Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism gave me the courage to schedule more time for writing. My third book won’t get published if I keep trying to fit it in around everything else.
“Everything else” includes my non-negotiables–spending time with family and friends, meditating and getting outside, preparing food and tidying up, reading, listening to podcasts and relaxing. It includes life-giving work–offering spiritual direction, preparing and co-facilitating contemplative experiences, and volunteer activities. It also includes meetings, sending and responding to emails and deciding moment by moment what I will say yes to and what I will say no to.
“Only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter,” writes McKeown. As much as I want to believe I can fit it all in, I can’t. Something loses out. Most often it’s my writing.
Two conflicting beliefs arose as I began making writing a priority: the belief that we all have a unique gift to offer the world and the belief that every moment is sacred–whether we are washing the dishes or creating a masterpiece. These represent two different postures: focused, forward movement and receptive rest.
Finding our purpose and living it out led Jesus to leave his quiet life as a carpenter and become an itinerant teacher, healer and Saviour. Sue Monk Kidd, in The Book of Longings invites us to live out of “our largeness.” Poet Mary Oliver asks, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Marie Forleo, author of Everything is Figureoutable says, “There has never been and never will be another you. You have a purpose–a very special gift that only you can bring to the world.”
I believe this is true, and it’s also true that our purpose isn’t our identity. I need to know who I am when I’m not writing. That’s the gift of the present moment. Each moment we can come home to ourselves, to who we are, an identity that is not achieved or dependent on what we do. Writing is a way I live out my purpose not who I am. I am a cherished child of God, loved and lovable, whole and complete, whether I write or whether I don’t..
However, if every moment is holy, and I am not what I do, I can easily assume that what I choose to do doesn’t matter. But it does. My discernment experience told me that while God is in everything and every moment, there are still choices to be made in how I spend that moment.
It’s easy to see we need to make healthy, kind, and loving choices. But there are a lot of things we can do that are healthy, loving and kind, and we can’t do them all. In my recent discernment, God invited me to choose what is most aligned with who I am and what makes me most alive right now–even though it meant not going to Bible study, even though it meant disappointing others. Instead of going to Bible study, I’m offering a short series of weekly gatherings for my church on Zoom to reflect on four podcasts about compassion.
As I open to the tension between these two postures of focused movement and receptive rest, I can appreciate both as necessary. I feel joy when I’m doing what I love and peace when I don’t have to do anything at all but breathe in the wonder of the moment.
Joy is peace dancing. Peace is joy at rest.
― Frederick Brotherton Meyer
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“Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.”–Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.