by the Rev. Josephine Robertson
At some point in my late 30s I flopped down into a booth in a sushi restaurant across from my best friend, unwound my sopping wet scarf and sighed dramatically “I am so damn busy!” She nodded, made a face and said: “Me too.”
We stared at each other for a while and mused that we kept saying to ourselves “next month will be different” or “it’ll calm down after the holiday” but it never does.
We hadn’t seen each other for months, we were both exhausted, stressed, and snapping at our spouses who were equally exhausted and stressed. By the time our sushi had arrived I had decided that something had to change.
We have a problem in the Western world, an addiction to busyness. One job isn’t enough, we must have a “side hustle,” our kids must be enrolled in all the afterschool activities, all the accelerated classes, our homes must be perfect, our bodies moving, our careers on an upward trajectory, and it seems if we aren’t exhausted all the time we must surely be forgetting to do something.
Enough is enough.
My Grandmother grew up on a farm high in the hills of Missouri before the countryside was electrified. In the winter, when it snowed, there was nowhere to go, and after the animals were fed and watered there was nothing to do. Grandma’s pace was different, slower, more intentional.
As my 40s came hurtling at me I found myself thinking about my Grandmother, and one day, putting our fine china dishes away out of the dishwasher it hit me.
First, you need to know that all we own are fine china dishes, and it is because of my Grandmother. When I was a child my Grandmother’s friends would express shock and horror that I was eating my PB&J off my Grandmother’s wedding china. And my Grandmother would arch an eyebrow and say carefully: if the people I love most aren’t good enough to eat off the “good”’ dishes, who is?
I inherited Grandma’s china when I graduated from college and moved out on my own. I ate off it for years, but eventually my friend’s hounding me to get “practical” china had me off looking at plates and bowls. And I hated everything I put my hands on. It was all clumsy, heavy, chunky, cheap. And I hated the idea of my favorite dishes crammed into the back of the cupboard, of more boxes when we moved.
And I thought back to my Grandmother and I went back to eating off Grandma’s china. Why? Because my Grandmother did not put off joy and she wasn’t weighed down by tradition. She survived the Great Depression, two World Wars, and the early death of my Grandfather. Grandma didn’t have time for everyday china and “special” china. She didn’t have patience for delaying the things she loved, or filling her days with “should.”
I entered my forties with a new commitment to saying “no” to a lot more of the things we tend to feel obligated to, and “yes” to the things that bring me joy.
It hasn’t been easy. Peer pressure is real. But my spouse and I got real about what matters to us and to our boundaries. We, too, lost patience with waiting for what we loved, or filling our days with “shoulds.” So we made some big changes. We added “house rules” that make doing what is right for us easier (like our rule that we aren’t out of the house more than two evenings a week).
And I got really clear about what I loved, what brought me joy, what connected me with the Divine and I made space for those things. Over the course of the last few years I realized just how much all that clutter was harming the whole of my life.
My busy, crammed full life had almost entirely drowned out the voice of the Divine (and I’m clergy, this is actually my job). As I cut out all the things I felt I should be doing, or had to do (it turns out a lot of stuff isn’t really required) and created space in my life, my connection to God grew and flourished. The “stuck” places in my life shook loose; I found my creativity returning and my prayer life expanding in new and surprising ways.
I found myself available when friends asked if we could meet. I wasn’t so rushed and stressed and grumpy with my spouse. But mostly, I had more time for the things that feed my soul and bring me joy. And that has made all the difference.
Which isn’t to say I live a perfect life. Some weeks are still crazy and busy. I have to return to my intention to “eat off the good china” on a daily basis. To help me do that I created a reminder checklist to use during my planning and you can find it (and more information on how I use it) here.
Our busyness and always on-ness is in many ways one more way of numbing. When we are never still, never bored, we never have time to think too deeply. When our time is never unstructured we take away the possibility of surprise and we delay joy. Like hiding the good china away in the back of the cupboard for an “appropriate occasion.”
Take it from my Grandmother: the occasion is now and the honored guest is you. Eat off the fine china.
The Rev. Josephine Robertson grew up Episcopalian and spent time at monasteries way before it was cool. She was ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church in 2011 and serves All Saints Episcopal Church in Bellevue, Washington as Vicar.
She founded Crazy Whole Life (a resource for spirituality and more for modern humans) in 2017. Her first book "It's All Sacred" is available from Amazon. She is a yogi, artist, poet, horse/dog/cat mom, lover of anything that glitters. She is married to the best Tex-Mex cook in Seattle.