A few years ago when my daughter and I were searching for a condo in Toronto the only non-negotiable for me was large south and east facing windows so we could have natural light and I could continue my tradition of quietly watching the sun rise on my days off. Sure enough, our living room ended up being on a corner where we had windows facing each of those directions and a great view from the tenth floor.
When Cheryl and I were subsequently married and establishing new daily rhythms, one that emerged naturally was early morning coffee together in our office while watching the sun come up through the large, easterly windows. That morning time also has become whatever we need it to be: sometimes talking, sometimes quiet, sometimes silly, sometimes deep, sometimes thoughtful, sometimes together, sometimes alone, always worthwhile. Morning pause.
I have always built times of pause into my life, not because I’m lazy (much) but because I’m enough of an introvert that I like to think quietly and need to pause to straighten out my brain. Not everybody is built like me, I know but I think everybody needs to find natural downtime.
I think I inherited my love of simplicity primarily from my maternal grandparents who didn’t even have a television through most of their lives. They lived in a small village where people knew each other and where you could walk to the butcher shop for thickly sliced side pork for the evening meal. Their days were filled with work and household chores and when evening came they would read or talk or finish some more chores.
The farmhouse they lived in when I was young was simple even for life in the sixties. They heated with a coal stove and if your bedroom got cold at night you put on another layer of blanket. Out house? Check. Garden? Check. Chickens? Check. Wood stove? Check. Hand pump at the kitchen sink for water? Check.
Every night they would read a chapter from the Bible, think or comment about it, then pray together for everybody who came to mind. I know this because, on the few occasions when I stayed with them as a child, I can remember how those prayers seemed to go on foreeeveeerrr!
My grandfather was the quietest man I have ever known; I never heard more than several words from him at any one time. He gave me permission to eat anything I wanted out of his garden and I still remember the peas. Yet he loved people, visiting the city, restaurants, real estate. I learned years later that this almost silent man was a main union organizer at the factory where he worked because of the unfair practices there. We really can’t slot people in broad categories, can we? And he loved simplicity.
My grandmother was a more outgoing person with fiery Irish blood running through her veins. She loved to chat, to laugh, to peel potatoes and she proved that apple pie could be a transcendent experience. She had opinions, told you when you were wrong and apologized when she was. She cleaned deeper than others did and talked about Jesus as if he was in that chair over there. She once secretly gave me a large (for her) chunk of money to help me when I returned to college. She too loved simplicity, perhaps even more than the quiet man she was married to did.
Where are you going with this, Brian? Please let me know, I’ve got stuff to do … kinda in a hurry here.
Well, I am writing simply because I’ve been thinking about simplicity. About pausing. I have more time to pause these days and I realize that, while it matters a lot to me, I also want it for you. No, not a life like my grandparents had and not a life like I might live, but a life where you have time to pause, to reflect, to rest, to listen.
Most of us wouldn’t know how to do without stimulation and noise for even a day. Imagine shutting off your phone, TV, computer and spending quiet time by yourself. Imagine no traffic or electronic noise or people talking? Could you do it?
Ever notice that most noise and busyness in our lives comes from outside ourselves? So much of our extra work comes from maintaining all the extra things we have accumulated. Over time busy and noisy become habits, addictions. They become the norm for us and cover up the important things in our lives that are deeper but more quiet.
Off the top of my head some benefits of pausing have formed into an acronym that you will forget immediately – GLERT:
God only speaks as we open a place to listen and to feel. The old saying that God is a gentleman and won’t go where not invited is essentially true. Some of the following topics are pathways to God: listening, enjoyment, rest, thankfulness.
The classic Bible verse in Psalm 46:10 confirms that there is a wellness and rest in seeking God.
‘Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.’ – (NIV)
We have to be quiet in order to listen. Our world doesn’t have much time to listen but what a blessing if we could. We have to set aside ourselves and what occupies us. Can you hear the voices that aren’t being heard? Your child, your spouse, your friend who has something to say, who needs to talk.
Can you hear your own silent voices? Do you even know your true desires, hopes, needs? Is there a void inside that can’t be expressed? There is a lot inside you that you need to hear and respond to.
Pausing allows us to experience this moment; to live in the present; to live in the sacred Today. Do you gobble your meals or linger on the flavours? Do you marvel at a fresh snowfall, the warmth of your pet, the laughter of a child, the smell of a campfire? The less time and energy we put into busy noise, the more time we have to enjoy what is here and now.
What can you shed in order to make more open time for yourself? I suggest at least simplifying in small ways. Allowing empty spots in your schedule is okay – okay? Take some small places and times through your day and week to stop. Do nothing. Maybe you could also meditate, think, read, pray, nap, whatever. Just be.
At first you will squirm and your instincts will be to get back to busy, but give it a real chance. Over time, simplicity and quiet times can become strong habits. Healthy too. And godly.
The best way … no, the ONLY way to be thankful is to take the time to stop and think about what you have to be thankful for. And the only way to be deeply thankful is to find a way to explore the circumstances of our lives that lie outside of our easy thoughts. There is transformative, satisfying thanks to be found in the forests that lie outside of our easily traveled path. It takes time to wander the forests.
So you see, pausing for things like simplicity, quiet and downtime aren’t about living in a log cabin or being lazy or sitting in a trance, they are simply ways to set aside the less meaningful so we can embrace the most meaningful.
We need it.
I know I do.