Don’t Break the Bowl: Straight Talk for a Busy Soul

We pulled into the school parking lot and swung open our van doors to let in the kids pile in, fresh from school and ready for snacks, sports practices, and all the activities of each evening.  My friend smiled as they scurried around us, backpacks and water bottles flying.  “How are you?”  she asked, and we both began to laugh. 

 Because we both knew.

But this time, I stopped myself.  

“I always say ‘I’m busy’,” I admitted.  “Like it’s a bad thing or something to apologize for.  But I’m beginning to realize that it’s a sign of life.  It’s a blessing to have many good things going on.”

My friend nodded.  “That’s absolutely true,” she affirmed, and she told me about a college friend who was now home-bound, caring for a daughter with an inoperable brain tumor.  “The family can’t go anywhere,” she said.  “They’ve had to homeschool, and they live in constant fear of catching anything which could compromise her health.”  

Her words echoed in my mind during the long drive home that day, and every day since.  Slowly some things began to surface that begged to be crystallized and clarified so that I could hold onto them in this busy, busy season of life.  Four truths to stand on when we feel we are being swept away by busyness.

 1. Accept busyness with joy as much as possible.  It helps – it really helps, trust me – to see each season as one with its own beautiful kind of busy and to embrace it.  I always thought when I didn’t have a baby or toddler in tow, life would have a slower pace.   That there would be a time in the future when I would be “all caught up” and that would be when I could begin to implement more prayer, more love, more time for the people around me.  That would prove to be absolutely not true.  We will never be caught up if we are racing after God.  Find joy and pursue holiness now, in the midst of your current ”busy.”

While I may not be struggling with strollers or racing to get through the grocery store before nap-time, I am now working myself, doing what I love but learning a new kind of balance.  Life has a different kind of rhythm, but it’s not necessarily slower. 

It is a sign, though, that life is going on, that we are growing, and blossoming, and becoming.  The dishes in the sink and the field trip forms on the sticky counter and the pile of shoes on the floor all speak, “there is a lot of living in this place.”  God is the giver and sustainer of that life.  And that’s a glorious thing.  Choosing to lean into a full life can change everything.

2. Know that there is no shame in saying “no.”  While busyness may be a sign of life, we sometimes still have to curtail it from sucking all of the life right out of us.  Whenever something doesn’t fit with our priorities, a little more ‘no’ can bring a little more joy to our many necessary ‘yeses.’ There may be an activity that can be dropped, an expectation that can be lowered, a plan that can be simplified. 

This is why the spiritual life involves discernment.  Too much of a good thing is too much.  We cannot be fully present to the thing in front of us, which is always God’s will, if we are distracted by a million future moments on our to-do list.  Bring that list before God, and ask Him to help you curate your life and not crowd out that which is most important. Sometimes the answer will be yes, sometimes no, sometimes–wait.  This is the virtue of prudence.

3. Be resolute in prayer.  This is one area which should always be a priority, even when being busy is a temptation to shorten it or drop it altogether.  God is the giver of all the life we are living, and He is the sustainer of it – and of us.  Stay close to the source, the very life-principle of our work itself.  Carve out a sacred time to pray each day, even if it’s just ten minutes, and stick to it, come hell or high water.  This is your non-negotiable.  In fact:” The busier you are, the more you need the interior life.”  (Jean-Baptiste Chautard, The Soul of the Apostolate)

 4. Take care of yourself.  A life lived in love will necessarily require countless sacrifices and opportunities to die to ourselves.  We exist for others.  But we do them no favors when we are spent and broken.   St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross famously wrote that “A woman’s soul is fashioned as a shelter in which other souls may unfold.”  Those words never cease to cut me with their truth -but let’s face it, no one wants a shelter with a leaky roof and an unhinged door. There are people you love who need you and deserve the best you.  Serve them by caring for yourself.  

Pay attention to the signals your mind, body, and soul give you – forgetfulness, irritability, fatigue, and a big one – desolation.  Did I say forgetfulness?   These are all signs, allowed by God, indicating that it’s time for a little self-care.  Take a nap, a walk in the sunshine, or have lunch with a friend.  Allow yourself to be refreshed and renewed without guilt.  When you do so, you are following Jesus’ own instructions:

“Come away…and rest awhile.” Mark 6:31

“He told them to give her something to eat.” Mark 5:43

“Come and have breakfast.”John 21:12

St. Thérèse was the epitome of love lived in the small sacrifices of life.  She desired to be an oblation, poured out for love of God and others, including sometimes the novices who fought for her attention.  (Sound familiar, parents?)   And yet, even she knew she had limits, recognized by Jesus Himself:

I often compare myself to a little bowl that God fills with all kinds of good things.  All the little kittens come to take their share and sometimes quarrel about who should have the most.  But the Child Jesus is there on the watch.  ‘I am very willing that you should drink from my little bowl,’ he says, ‘but take care lest you knock it over and break it.’    -St. Thérèse of Lisieux

A life well-lived, “to the full” of good things – that’s a blessing to be embraced.  

Just–be sure not to break the bowl.


Image used with permission of Unsplash.

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