Reading Adam Hamilton’s Enough: Discovering Joy through Simplicity and Generosity is a good way to start 2012. Hamilton challenges the pervasive realities of consumerism, instant gratification, and materialism that despite their lure ultimately enslave us and diminish our quality of life. He reminds us that “it is a gift to be simple.” Joy comes from our spiritual lives and relationships, including our relationship with God, and seldom from ownership. His work is countercultural in a society whose prosperity and quality of life is based on unsustainable lifestyles and practices, and in which growth in overall spending and consumption is considered a sign of health and well-being.
As I read Hamilton’s book, I was challenged to say something about time and prayer. Many people have time for everything except prayer. In three decades of ministry and mentoring pastors, I have heard scores of pastors confess the following: “the tasks of the church are so great, with so many programs and responsibilities, that I seldom have any time for prayer, meditation, retreat, and study.” Professional, personal, and family life suffers when we neglect to balance the inner and outer journeys.
It is equally difficult for laypeople to find time for prayer. Consider today’s young couples or single parents – up with the children at seven, getting themselves and the children ready for work, daycare, or school, going to work, and coming home to dinner, getting the children bathed and bedded down, and having an hour or so to relax. No wonder our spiritual lives suffer and we find ourselves going from one activity to another without any sense of coherence to our lives. No wonder so many couples are simply trying to catch up, not to mention enjoy their family life and relationships.
It is frankly difficult to find an antidote to this sense of busyness. We are addicted not only to consumerism, but to seeing time as a commodity in which we must pack as much into a day as possible, often multi-tasking, and seldom slowing down simply to reflect on our lives. Even this morning, as I prepared to write this essay, I was tempted to grab my coffee and cereal and place them on the arm of my arts and crafts chair, so I could eat and write simultaneously! I wanted to “save” time as a commodity that might otherwise be in short supply. I was convicted by the theme I was writing – so I set aside the computer and enjoyed a quiet, reflective breakfast, mindfully eating my morning cereal as I gazed at the woods behind our home.
Can we pray in a busy life? Do we have enough time for prayer? While these days my vocational life isn’t as busy as it once was, I still seek to live by the following affirmation: “I have all the time, money, and energy to flourish and serve God.” The issue is having “enough” in terms of personal and spiritual resources, and living by abundance rather than scarcity in terms of time, treasure, and talent.
There is no one pathway to simplicity of life, but let me suggest a couple ready to hand ways of experiencing simplicity in daily life:
- Simply breathe. We can’t live without breath, but many of us barely notice our breath. Our breath is hurried and shallow, reflective of our personal stress. Take a few minutes in the morning, noon, and evening simply to pause and breathe gently and deeply. Let your breath be a way of monitoring your overall well-being moment by moment.
- Breathe between tasks. I have a practice of taking a deep breath and praying “I breathe the Spirit deeply in” when I move from task to task – placing a call, picking up the phone, turning on my computer, starting the car, bathing my grandson. Thich Naht Hanh similarly breathes his prayers: “Breathing in, I feel calm. Breathing out, I smile.” Breathing our tasks weaves our day together in such a way that we are spiritually-centered amid a variety of tasks.
- Living prayerfully. Prayer doesn’t need to be long and involved. The apostle Paul says “pray without ceasing.” I pray a quick “bless you” when: I wake up and see my sleeping wife; I greet my grandson as he awakens; I purchase groceries; interact with co-workers; encounter a neighbor on a walk; greet a group to whom I’m speaking; respond to an e-mail; and other tasks throughout the day.
- Do One Thing at a Time. A curious line pops out in Mark’s Gospel: “For many were coming and going, and they [Jesus’ disciples] had no leisure even to eat.” (Mark 6:31) Mindful living involves being present to the task of the moment: play with your child, prepare dinner, write a note, work on a document, as if it is the only thing at the moment. Experience the fullness of every task and encounter.
- Move with the Spirit. Take a few moments throughout the day to get out of your chair and move. This isn’t an exercise program, but a way of calming the spirit, relieving stress, and being present right where you are.
- Give Thanks. Gratitude connects us with the universe, opening us to divine energy and relatedness. When we are thankful, we always have enough. Say “thank you” often, and give thanks throughout the day for the blessings you are receiving.
- Let Your Words be Prayers. Speak prayerfully, breathing your words, making you’re your words loving and caring (even in conflict), in all situations. Ask yourself, “do these words bless, heal, and unite.”
These tips are not “one more thing to do” in a busy life, but a way of living. It is not “what” you do, but “how” you live your activities. In the “how,” we discover a spaciousness to our lives, experience a greater sense of centeredness, and move from scarcity to abundance in such a way that we truly have “enough” time to pray, love, and enjoy this good earth, our families, and our vocation to be God’s partners in healing the world.
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty two books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age. His most recent text is Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church to be released in January. But, above all, he seeks to share good news in ways that transform lives and heal the planet. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.