“. . . in the arrangement of our day I think we must try hard for ‘gathered-up-ness’
and not leave the priceless moments just to the impulse of the moment.”
“The Letter ‘M”
September. A month for fresh starts. Even though it has been years since my schedule was regulated by school or job, when school supplies show up in grocery stores and yellow buses slow traffic I feel the inner surge that signals a new beginning. More so, really, than the start of a new calendar year which invariably spurs new resolutions: penance for my holiday excesses. September, in contrast, invites me to clean my house, weed the garden and address the muddles of my everyday living.
I welcome September as a month of ordering – or reordering – my life. Summer, with its more relaxed schedule, visits with friends and family gatherings, welcome as it is, conspires against an ordered life. Establishing an Autumn schedule, with routine and rhythm, must be shaped by the will since it is no longer commandeered by children and workplace.
Lilias understood the challenge of unstructured living inherent to the mission work of the Algers Mission Band. She addressed this in an open letter, The Letter M, published in the El Couffa, their in-house magazine. Noting the“very elastic nature of evangelistic work” she observes the tendency to “grow intellectually slack” and proceeds to define areas in which this is manifest: choosing the work of the day, arranging of drawers and boxes, keeping up with daily reports, even accuracy in their financial accounts. She challenges: “. . . we are commanded to love the Lord with all our mind, so we know we are to serve Him with all that ‘mind’ represents of thought and care and ‘gathered-up-ness.’”
I try to imagine how her words might have resonated in the hearts of her readers stationed, in pairs, along the coast of North Africa and down into the Sahara desert. It was a lonely mission with little accountability. Open hours stretched before them like the limitless span of desert. How easy it would be to become slack in schedule, muddled in purpose. Without anyone to observe their daily exactions or encourage their efforts, one could easily loose sight of their higher calling. A bit like my life – but without the ease!
I admit to a life-long struggle with time management. I tend to be an all or nothing person. All work; all play. But how to balance those elements – leisure with labor – in a way that is productive, yes, but likewise healthy and restorative? Even as Lilias challenged the workers to intentionally focused lives, she built into their yearly schedules seasonal gatherings, fall and spring, for rest and inspiration; Christmas/New Year’s celebrations; summer breaks during the hottest months of the year. Rest and relaxation were built into the daily schedules recorded in her dairies. God knew our need for balance: after all, He set the gold standard with a weekly day of rest!
The balanced life. How is that achieved? One that is both productive but allows the full enjoyment of the wonderful world God has given for our own delight and innate enrichment? At start, for me, it begins by building into the daily schedule time set apart to be alone with God. To align my spirit with God’s intentions for me through meditation on His Word, through “conversation” with Him through prayer. Somehow that sets the compass of my will toward His purposes and helps determine the priorities of my choices for the day. It includes scheduling in periods of refreshment throughout the day: a visit with a friend, in person or by phone. . . a cup of coffee and a good book or current periodical. . . a short walk or porch time listening to birds and watching butterflies sip nectar from brightly colored blossoms. . . The natural rhythms of the day and week provide the potential, likewise, to encourage balance in routine work and leisure. (Sometimes, I fantasize the cloistered life where the hours are regimented by bells and chants, days divided by meals and prayers!)
I doubt that this dilemma is unique to me or to my particular stage of life. Each person – throughout each season of life – has to figure out how to make life work for them: the mother with young children for whom a crying baby starts the day. . . students struggling to keep up with assignments and activities. . . individuals with full-time jobs that swallow huge chunks of their day. . . the infirmed whose hours are governed by pain and pills. . . The list goes on and on. Even the best intentions can be shattered in a moment with a crisis or chronic on-going issues. An unexpected interruption can disrupt a well-planned day. Yet when I have done my part to devote “gathered-up-ness” to the hours of my day, I can better accept the exceptions and interruptions.
I return to the challenge, as relevent to me, as to Lilias’ band of workers scattered over the face of Algeria. The purpose is the same: “to love God with all my mind” so as to “serve Him with all that ‘mind’ represents of thought and care and ‘gathered-up-ness.” And likewise is the means: “the arrangement of our day” so as to “not leave the priceless moments just to the impulse of the moment.”
Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace.
John Greenleaf Whittier