We used to work with an almost-empty-nester who was fond of saying she is a one ball bouncer. “I can’t juggle lots of things,” she would say, matter-of-fact. “I can do one thing well at a time.” I marveled at her insistence on this as I spun through my to-do lists. Baby bathed? Check. Hosting planned? Check. Events, service, work, school… the weeks piled up and overflowed. Time well spent? Check…ish.
Truthfully, though I attempted to juggle lots of balls, I dropped as many as I juggled. Sometimes disastrously. Like when I double-booked myself and stood someone up. When we couldn’t find matching clean clothes. When I dashed off an email forthwith and then realized a major faux pas in the first paragraph.
Meanwhile our friend smiled calmly and said no to things. A lot. This irritated me. I perceived her to have plenty of spare time while I, Bilbo-like, felt “like butter scraped over too much bread.” And yet she did lots of things really well—hospitality, homeschooling, multi-course meals. Her family was happy, her home serene. What seemed a luxury to me back then I now realize was her life-blood, and in fact, her life work.
Because of my own perennial struggle with procrastination and ADD, empty time in my day has a tendency to fill, not with meaningful moments, but with a lot of whirlwind. Instead of cleverly seizing available hours to catch up on emails or get ahead on housework, I tend to fritter. If time came to me whole, like an oak tree, it would leave my workshop in chips. In the same space, a thoughtful ancestor might have slowly carved out a canoe, smooth-planed and beautiful, and launched out to see the world.
Knowing my whirling tendencies, I try to pressurize my schedule. The more on the list, the more I’ll accomplish, I reason.
The more balls I’ll drop.
The more wood I’ll chip.
I want to learn the art of slowing time. How to sit still and listen, how to look away (from so many distractions) in order to see. I want to learn a radical contentment in the moment—to accept what’s given instead of grasping at more. I want to pare down—not that, not that, just this, this pair of eyes looking up at me, this opportunity to cheerfully give.
In Hannah Coulter, Wendell Berry writes, “…you mustn’t wish for another life. You mustn’t want to be somebody else. What you must do is this: ‘Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks.’ I am not all the way capable of so much, but those are the right instructions.”
Hmm. I am not all the way capable of so much simplicity—just the one ball, gracefully bounced, just the one tree, sanded smooth. Still, those are the right instructions.
Take my one family, love them well.
Take my one kitchen, sing while I bake.
Take my life and let it be, ever, always, all for Thee.