Friday, October 19, 2012

Less is More

There is something about crisp autumn nights with a sliver of crescent moon that ushers nostalgia in the door.


And there is something about being a toddler's mother that makes nostalgia a fleeting friend, quickly replaced by the realization that the genius idea that kept Destructo-Toddler happy in the carseat--three powdered sugar donut holes--has generated other problems...
To vacuum or not to vacuum? 

Trails of crumbs aside, there are still moments when a wider horizon peeks through days thickly populated with a thousand potential disasters. And those moments make me step back and wonder if I'm doing this right.

These are times when many women can be free from the 9 to 5 grind and customize our lives, especially the elusive work-and-motherhood balance. I guess I'm one of those women. I work from home as a freelancer, so I make my own schedule and struggle to get it all done before my little Hurricane wakes up. Generally it works, but something always slides into the background. A ball always drops and rolls away in my juggling act. For me, that "something" is the leisure time for reflection and prayer.

I've become a much more practical, hands-on person than I used to be. I think it's inevitable. You can't be a dreamer when someone is tugging on you, needing the love-made-undivided-attention that only you can give. But that's only part of the picture. The underside is the fact that I find myself so driven to achieve in my work--partly the quest for financial freedom and party the quest to achieve that ephemeral thing called success--that I find myself slowly pressing on the accelerator, packing in the pendings on my to do list. My dreams always outpace my reality, so I am always running to keep up. And in the meantime, I get the impression that I am like the greyhound on a racetrack, stupidly chasing the prize that dangles just out of reach around and around the track.

So, I think now that a freelancer's "customized" life requires a high degree of discipline. Yes, there is a kind of discipline that drives me to get up at 5 a.m. to work in the quiet hours, focus on priorities like a ninja, and conquer small mountains with a silent "YEAH!" amidst the quiet tapping of a keyboard. That's one aspect.

But the deeper layer of discipline is not to let myself become a slave to this unexamined need to achieve. It's the discipline to say no. I can pull back from trying to do it all in one day. But once the day starts moving, I'm ready to sprint. And that's hard to control.

Underneath (deeper, deeper!), I think what's sometimes missing is gratitude and an ability to walk peacefully at God's pace. So I want another baby, and I want to get pregnant RIGHT NOW. Circumstances say NOT YET. And I am downcast. But at the same time, I know that walking in the spotlight of blessing, keeping step with God's pace for me, means slowing down and letting things unfold in their own time. Why am I in such a rush? Why do I need to cram myself full of every blessing right now? Isn't what I have enough?  What is driving me to fill up with more, more, more?

And I think that like many of us, I have transmuted that unspoken, unconscious, unarticulated desire for God onto a horizontal field, seeking "more" in too literal a way... when what I might need is less. When what I need are pockets of peace on a drive home, with Olivia munching on a donut hole and me watching that crescent moon following us above the highway. Or that crisp burst of cool air in my face that lifts my spirits when I step out of the car. The expansive quiet in the neighborhood during the five seconds of walking from the car to the front door. Those are tiny pockets of time, almost conspiratorial in their ordinary beauty, when I feel my heart touched by nostalgia and the longing for God.

I know that sensing the quiet presence of God is a gift that comes and goes, and that many people who actually have a spiritual life complain of weeks and even years of dryness. I don't think I really mind the dryness, which in my case is due to a total lack of prayer life. It's not the sudden glow of consolation that I'm looking for, primarily, but more the peace of knowing that I'm walking in step with the blessings I've received, walking in the circle of light and not trying to run after some elusive shadow that keeps egging me away from being satisfied. And I suppose, the joy of knowing I'm doing my part to keep up an old friendship that has been with me since college.

So here we have it. A moment of clarity. And human nature being what it is, I'm sure I will wake up tomorrow and forget all about the sliver of crescent moon and the call to silence, slowness, and peace...

Or maybe not. Because life really is customizable. We can change it at will. We are so free, even those whose lives are set within predetermined limits, even those whose range of choices are tightly circumscribed by factors outside of their control. We can choose to find that night sky of freedom and communion in the midst of whatever life deals out to us, and we can walk in that invisible circle of goodness no matter what happens externally. It's just a matter of choosing to. And that's the hard part.

For me, that's the next level of discipline. No one is standing over me, telling me what to do. I govern my own life and I control my actions and my attitudes, at least up to the point that my willpower allows. If I want to, I can streamline my inner life, make it more anchored in God, open again the inner ear of listening and faith.

Tomorrow is another day. My new motto: less is more!