In our American culture, we very much pride ourselves on productivity. The more we do, the more accomplished we seem to feel. Many modern conveniences in our society allow us to be “more productive.” We have cars, smartphones that can do basically anything we’d like, microwaves, fast food, instant this, instant that, and so on. Productivity, in itself, is a good thing too. But again, I believe here we see how this excess of productivity and activity have overtaken our American culture, leaving us to often feel rushed, busy, over-tired and over-stretched. “Always on the run” is the phrase we often use. We stack activity upon activity whether it’s our “to-do” list at home or places that we need to go. Too much throws off the balance of stability, rest and peace that we need to mark our lives for a deeper encounter with God.
All of this leads us to rush.
Rush to do this, rush to do that. Rush to go here, rush to go there. When we rush, it’s only a matter of time that we’ll also feel more frantic, frustrated and anxious about what we “need to do.” Now, granted there are some things that duty requires like trying to arrive at our job on-time. But what I’m referencing here are two things:
1. Unnecessary rushing about with things that do not, by duty, really require a strict time constriction.
2. Rushing that becomes not an occasional happening but has become a pattern of life – almost a type of lifestyle one becomes used to living more often than not.
The Lord desires us to fulfill our duties well, but not become so frantic, frustrated, over-stretched, and anxious that in the midst of them we lose our peace and rest with ourselves and our family. However, in our American culture, this is often what happens. We just overdo it. And we often overdo it in the name of good things.
A Hindrance on Deepening our Intimacy with God
A steady pace of rushing places a great hindrance not only on peace and rest for ourselves and our family, but also on our relationship with God. Rushing ruins our recollection.
In the spiritual life, recollection is one’s ability to “gather up oneself within oneself” in the midst of duties and take a few moments to retire with God within. One desiring intimacy with God strives to recollect themselves often throughout the day in the midst of their duties and occupations. Rushing is an enemy to recollection. And if we are often rushing to do this, to do that, it is likely we are so overwhelmed by “what we must do” that it hinders our ability and thought to recollect and dwell with God within. It also hinders our ability to recollect and retire with God at our times of prayer as well. Once one of St. Elizabeth of the Trinity’s Carmelite sisters once confided to her how difficult she found it concentrate and to keep her thoughts from wandering while in prayer. St. Elizabeth replied,
Oh, to avoid that we must be very watchful throughout our whole day. [emphasis added] Once or twice, when I saw the sacristy seamstress very busy, I rushed feverishly over my work, but God does not want His brides to do that. When I went to my prayer, try as I might, I could not rise above my ‘rags’. [Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity: The Charism of her Prayer by Jean Lafrance, Ch. 2]
Pause for a moment and read what St. Elizabeth said: “….But God does not want His brides to do that.”
Further in this same section of the book:
Our Lord wants us to be available to Him and shed the “rags” of our busily hurrying-about attitude, our hustle and bustle of unnecessary activity, to put on the tranquility of a disposition ready and receptive to His presence. To “rise above our rags” is to have our heart reside singularly and simply in the Lord; the inner and outer noises of the sense cannot uproot the deeper silence of one’s being in God. We bring to our spiritual life our own individual temperament, but even if one is upset, the waves of the storm are only on the surface; in the depths there is calm. We need to cultivate a disposition of openness in our prayer, to be quiet in ourselves and to listen. This comes with grace and takes time, perseverance and patience. It is a sanctification of all our thoughts, so that all we say or all that passes through our mind and heart may become for us an unceasing prayer.
There is much wisdom here to consider in our rushing culture; much we can glean from these few lines to reach a deeper intimacy with God. How often do you put yourself on a false-time clock with things that aren’t necessary? I found myself often doing this with our homeschool (likely due to my personality-type!) and I realized by God’s grace, “Why am I rushing to finish such-and-such by a certain time? I’m putting so much added pressure and stress on myself and my kids.” So I let that go so peace would begin to rule our day, rather than false pressure and rushing. Yes, doing the work is important. But I realized we were squeezing God out of moments of the day…I, especially, was. It was not worth that sacrifice. It was also a test of faith to “seek the Kingdom of God first, then all else will be given unto you” (Matthew 6:33). Did I really believe God would follow through with His promise if we made this adjustment, and that He is really the one in charge of our homeschool? Well, good news – the work always ends up getting done one way or another!
I heard someone once say that we ought to “work at a prayerful pace” – a pace that allows us to remain open and available to God and allows us to constantly seek Him in our hearts. This quote is often attributed to St. Francis de Sales:
Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly and in a calm spirit. Do not lose your inner peace even if your whole world seems upset.
Working at a prayerful pace. Not rushed, not hurried. Not on a mission to accomplish a billion and one things at the expense of forsaking the one most important – seeking God in the midst of our activity. And that is why the pace at which we work is very important to consider and bear in mind.
“We must be careful, in doing good works, even those of obedience and charity, not to fail to have frequent inward recourse to our God” (St. Teresa of Avila). This is a further condition to be observed in order to prevent external activity from disturbing interior recollection. “I will never do anything with haste or agitation.” [Emphasis added] This was a constant resolution of St. Teresa of Margaret of the Sacred Heart who, in the midst of a surprising amount of activity, always maintained a “peaceful, calm attitude, which showed her perfect self-control in each one of her actions”…those who rush headlong into action, without taking precautions, will soon lose their calm, become agitated, unable to recollect themselves, and their activity will become ever more absorbing and demanding…God wants activity, but not anxiety, for even in activity, the soul should attend to “the one thing necessary,” that is, union with Him.
[Divine Intimacy by Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalene, meditation #21]
The one thing necessary: Union with Him in the midst of our activity. This is a practice that takes God’s grace, time, and perseverance and patience in practicing it.
Questions to Consider
So let us consider a few things to help us maintain recollection with God throughout our day:
1. Am I often busied and hurried about the day-to-day business which I attend to?
2. If so, are they urgent and pressing matters that cannot be delayed? Or do I find I perhaps “compete with myself” in what I can accomplish or place a false “time-clock” on the things I do?
3. Has this rushing become a pattern in my life? Might the Lord be asking me to slow down – “work at a prayerful pace” – to seek Him in my day-to-day activity?
4. Can I simplify my day by choosing to do less? Perhaps 2 or 3 tasks rather than 4 or 5?
5. Do I really believe His Promises – that by seeking Him and His Kingdom first in the midst of my duties, that He will help me with the rest?
Perhaps you can make a resolution like St. Teresa Margaret of the Sacred Heart who said, “I will never do anything with haste or agitation.”
Resolve to work at a pace just a tad more slowly so that even in the midst of your activities you are able to still recollect and be with Him, keeping your gaze on “the one thing necessary” that our Lord said – Him.
Make every thought a prayer to God. Our minds get filled with a lot of thoughts throughout the day. If we are vigilant about what occupies our mind – also called “custody of the mind” – we might discover that many of them are useless and unprofitable to our spiritual life. Yet that simple thought of “How do I deal with this problem?” can easily become a prayer to God: “Lord, show me how to handle this problem.”
Remember, it’s not that activity that Jesus chided Martha for, but rather the anxiety she carried with it that distracted her gaze away from Him, away from prayer. In God’s mercy and goodness, let this not be us.
Image credit: Mohssine Chnaf on Unsplash