Schedule “Nothing.” You heard me right, schedule “Nothing.” What I mean by that statement is that, on your calendar, pick a couple times a week and schedule in “Nothing.” The quotation marks make all the difference in this blog. Obviously we cannot literally schedule nothing. I would not be able to function if not for my calendar. Between the church and our home life, if I do not utilize the electronic calendar feature on my computer/phone, I’d be a mess. One thing I have never been good at is how to manage a lull in my schedule. Truth be told, I hardly ever had a lull. That, I discovered, was actually a problem. I’d hear people complain about being bored and I’d quip, “I wish I had the opportunity to be bored.” I used to inwardly roll my eyes when people talked of the importance of alone time. There’s too much to do, and too many people I’d like to be with or need to be with to justify time to myself. On sabbatical, while in self imposed isolation with primarily family, I re-discovered the value of alone time, or if not alone time, unscheduled time.
So as contradictory as it sounds, I highly recommend scheduling unscheduled time! Here’s what it could look like, Tuesday evening, from 6:00-8:00 pm (or whenever works for you), you literally write the words “nothing” on your calendar. Or better yet, “flex time.” The idea being, you are intentionally creating margin in your life to either be flexible and have impromptu moments, or to have some time alone. You probably can’t do this every day, but I recommend a couple times a week to have a couple extended periods of time in which you have intentionally left open to take a deep breath and be spontaneous. It may allow you to respond to a need of a friend or family member without having to cancel another meeting or activity to do so. You may find yourself with nothing to do and so you grab a book and hit the porch to read. Feedback I’ve heard from so many people is that they run ragged from sun up to bedtime because we’ve filled our calendars with activity and we never catch our breath or our wits. One positive side effect of COVID, I’ve heard from multiple people, is that it has actually slowed us down a bit and we learned that we needed it. As activities increase, how are you going to protect your time?
This idea is not original to me. One of the books I read over the Sabbatical was “The Contemplative Pastor” by Eugene Peterson. In it, Peterson speaks of the need to create “margin.” Pastor’s are notorious for lacking any “margin” in their schedule. Thus, pastors, of all people, lack time for personal prayer time, personal Bible reading, flexibility to respond to friends, spending quality time with family. As a minister, I respond all the time to various needs, but often I have to cancel other things in order to do that. I learned that, in order to slow my pace, I had to schedule margin into my daily and weekly routine. That margin slows my pace and enables me to juggle less and respond more.
In addition to scheduling “flex time,” I also have personal prayer time and Bible reading on my calendar, family nights on my calendar, email correspondence, and phone calls written onto my calendar. Why? They are all necessary and when I try to accomplish all of those things without some semblance of a schedule, I find I do not give any of them the attention necessary. This way, if someone asks for a meeting during a time in which I already have “Bible Reading and Prayer” written on my calendar, I can decline the meeting by simply saying that I have a commitment on my calendar for that time. In our current culture, the calendar has become sacred. Sadly, people will respect a calendar commitment more than being told “I can’t during as I am spending time in personal prayer at that time.” The expectation is often that you would just bump that to another time and meet with them. (This is the little trick Peterson recommends.)
My point is that we can use the modern tools to help us be more disciplined in the ancient faith walk to which we are called, and more available for meaningful relationships. Jesus often withdrew and prayed, leaving His disciples who were constantly clamoring for His attention behind. He spent time alone and also wasn’t so “scheduled” that he didn’t veer off course for people who needed his attention. We have to create margin in our lives to have room for people and also discipline ourselves for time with our Lord and with our family (more on both of those topics in future blogs.) We have to find balance in life. This means, in order to slow your roll, you have to, at times, even minimally, schedule “nothing” to catch your breath, be spontaneous, be a friend, surprise someone with a coffee, or steal a few moments away in prayer, take a nap, in short, develop healthy habits for yourself and others.