Thanks to Richard Swenson’s book, A Minute of Margin, the recent death of my i-phone and the fact that it’s December, a month that has the capacity to upend my calendar, complexity is on my mind.
Each day the world becomes more complicated. The automatic, default direction of progress is toward escalating complexity. Much of this trend is to our liking, for we delight in sophisticated, impressive hardware, whether space shuttles, supercomputers, artificial hearts, or global positioning satellites.
But there is another aspect to this story. Complexity can bless, but it also can irritate. And most of us do not need a larger irritation burden complicating our already overloaded lives. At such times we might consider strong, determined, selective moves to keep our lives, our schedules, and our technology within a range of acceptable complexity.
It’s December, and Thursday is the kindergarten musical. Last Thursday was the 6th grade chorus concert. Saturday is the ballet recital that follows soccer practice and precedes the office Christmas party. A new work project just started. Life needs careful managing, and my new phone still lacks some “apps” to help me manage that life remotely. There’s a level of complexity to life and, in particular, life in December. On top of the events and the usual task lists, we all know there’s Christmas shopping and planning to do. Decorating. Cooking. Getting ready for company. The phone reminders are chiming hourly, an attempt to keep things from falling through the cracks, things that exceed my capacity to manage them. This is a month of noise and great expectations. And in the din of all that noise is a Christmas tree quietly reminding me there’s something more important going on than all these calendar items — if I could just slow down long enough to listen.
When the alarm sounds in the morning, I hit snooze. Ten more minutes of suspended time. It’s not because I have nothing to do in this month of December, this year of Decembers. It’s because I want to be quiet just a little bit longer, before the day begins to dictate my time instead of me. I feel guilty when I choose “snooze” over “off” because I reason that getting up an hour earlier would help me manage all this complexity better. But in reality, one hour is not enough to do that. No calendar or chart or phone reminder can completely manage the flurry of activity that is life in all its complexity. Trying is like herding cats. So I postpone the inevitable. Ten more minutes.
This morning I hit snooze 6 times. So when I did finally get out of bed it was to wake groggy little bodies to get ready for school. There wasn’t time to sit on the edge of the bed next to my seven year old, snuggled up in his fluffy blanket and wake him gently, enjoying the serenity of a child’s face at rest. Instead I had to rush him. He needed to move quickly to be ready in time today. But it was really just me that needed to move quickly, and I drew my child from his world of sleepy wonder into mine, an adult world where schedules harass and efficiency reigns. If we were perfectly efficient, I reasoned, we could still make it to school in time. I put all the burden of my calendar on the shoulders of children and goaded them out the door, past that quiet, glistening Christmas tree that may have been whispering something if I’d had the time to listen. I was busy herding my cats and regretting the snare of the snooze button.
But snooze buttons can be more than a snare depending on how you look at them. As I stop to write this, as the room grows quiet around me, I am pushing my mid-day snooze button. I’m silencing the task list for a moment. Instead I’m taking ten minutes to think about the people behind the tasks, the names associated with the events on my calendar. I’m pushing snooze on all those lists so I can listen to the whispers of Christmas. And Christmas is whispering its gifts. Simple gifts. That snooze button can be a window too, letting the light of God’s love and grace shine on my December.
I love Richard Swenson’s book because in just a couple of minutes each day (the book is written as 180 daily “reflections”), I can be reminded that complexity comes at a price, and those moments when we put our gear into overdrive to get everything done are meant to be temporary. We shouldn’t live our lives in overdrive even though much of the time we do. My kids don’t live that way. When my kids get home from school today, after they finish the homework and we determine the school has had enough of them for the day, they’ll play. They’ll be building things, pretending things, laughing, joking.They’ll be whispering about Christmas with wistful grins. They’ll be waiting at the window for the neighbors to get home so they can pick up the play where they left off yesterday.
They have gears for rest and play and work. They don’t have to push a snooze button (though they may want to push mine).