We are inundated with noise in our lives today. I’m not merely talking about traffic, electronics, train whistles, or hip-hop. It’s not necessarily coming from the evening news, the endless reality shows, or the headphones plugged into the ears of the majority of the population under age 25.
I’m referring to the noise of all that, and yet none of that alone, specifically the distractions and obligations and commitments we operate under every day. I’m talking about over-commitments, drama, and stress. We are a culture consumed by busyness.
A huge part of turning off the noise is learning how to say no. With our jobs demanding a full day’s work, sports and music lessons for the kids, medical appointments, and social invitations in abundance, there are only so many hours in the day. And don’t forget the laundry, house maintenance, and grocery shopping that has to fit into that tangled mess somewhere.
Recently, a friend was lamenting to me about her schedule. “I never know from one day to the next — or even that morning! — what my day will look like, with all that I have going on.” Then she added, “I’m sure you know what that’s like…”
Well, yes. And no.
I’ve certainly been there and fully understand that some phases of life seem more inherently busy than others. When your kids are toddlers, to say they are active is an understatement. If you’re temporarily putting in overtime to save up for your family’s finances, if you’re starting your own business or if you’re transitioning into any new undertaking, these things all take more than usual amounts of time invested.
(As a side note to busy moms, please know that I have been in your shoes. I’m familiar with both the immense joy and the frequent frustrations of the never-ending to-do list that comes with the territory of parenting. Take encouragement in knowing that these days are short — even when they don’t feel like it — and that they are so worth it. And give yourself a pass, if necessary, from this blog post. You are doing the most important job in the world, you most likely don’t get enough credit, and you are certainly not being paid what you’re worth. Unless you consider the fact that you are training up the next generation and get to spend your days in the company of the most awesome individuals in the world: your kids. In that respect, parenting has benefits and investment options and a pay scale to beat any Fortune 500 company.)
So back to my original topic. I do understand the busyness that comes with some of these seasons. Although, when that phase becomes a pattern and begins to characterize my life, that’s a sign it is not merely a season, but a lifestyle. A seriously damaging, ineffective lifestyle, one that may seem to get a lot accomplished, but is really only cloaking frantic activity in the guise of productivity and feeding my self-importance.
The quiet mind is our goal here. Just that phrase alone is cause for me to relax a bit, to lose a point or two on my blood pressure rating, and breathe deeply. The quiet mind. As opposed to say, the crazy mind. The hectic mind. The scattered mind. The screaming, insane, out-of-your mind…
A quiet mind is centered and focused. It has a clear grasp of who I am, where I’m going, and how I plan to get there. And in those times when that knowledge is murky, the quiet mind still has functioning capabilities to work through the maze. It has time for the important things. Things like family, dreams, creativity, faith, hope, and giving. It keeps the big picture in mind, of this world being only a step in the whole journey, measured out one day at a time, full of one moment at a time, and how we choose to spend those moments defines who we become and how we are remembered.
A quiet mind hears the music. It sees the beauty in nature. It has the time to pause and appreciate someone owning their craft. It notices opportunities to reach out to those around us and give of ourselves. It recognizes that the next generation is looking on, and learning from us how they will live their lives.
A quiet mind places value on the immaterial. Things like reading a book to a child; meeting a friend for an extended talk over coffee; simple kisses with your spouse in the middle of a life well-lived together; talks with your teenager about her future; the moments of teaching respect for the older generation, thankful for the sacrifices they have made so we can make the choices we have today; sunrises and sunsets; walks with the family dog; relationships and mentoring.
A quiet mind is one who sees the over-looked and offers them dignity; sees the hurting and offers them acknowledgment of their pain; sees the potential for greatness in each one and understands that there is a certain quality in being created in the image of God; and takes the time to extend kindness, even to others who are different from themselves.
A quiet mind doesn’t happen by accident.
Everything in our culture is designed to grab your attention, grab your time, grab your wallet, and divert you from your focus. A news piece I found on CBS’s website states that we are exposed to possibly 5,000 advertisements daily, which is up significantly from 1970, when the average was 500. Five hundred seems like a lot to me, a definite threat to stillness of mind. Five thousand feels like an assault.
While we don’t have the option of taking down all the billboards, tuning out all the commercials, or just not seeing those magazines at the grocery store, there are some measures we can take to foster an environment conducive to serenity. I get to choose which magazines enter my home. Even the “harmless” ones, those filled with good tips and ideas, take time to look through; it is up to me to choose which ones are worthy of my time. The same goes for TV shows, movies, websites, radio stations, and books.
I get up in the morning and have that choice every day of how I will spend my time. Obviously, there are responsibilities to keep, people depending on me, and work to be done that is not optional. Aside from that however, I get to choose my attitude, my mindset, how I will fulfill all those commitments and what I will do when I’m finished. My mental outlook at that point often determines how quiet my mind is throughout the course of my day.
Getting enough sleep at night also factors in to how quiet my mind is. Those who suffer from insomnia and those who, for whatever reasons, are constantly denied a peaceful night of rest (again, parents of babies and/or toddlers!) have nothing in reserve when the day wears us down. It’s difficult to have a quiet, centered mind when you’re sleep deprived. For me, that is another choice I have to make and place a high priority upon, knowing how much a of a difference it can make to my mental state.
As I mentioned at the beginning, learning to say no is a critical life skill. We teach that to our kids, then somehow forget that lesson applies to us, as well. Saying no to the overtime, to the over-commitments, to the social obligations, to the rat race in all its forms. Learn to say NO.
Then, say yes, but only when you’ve made a conscious choice that this is a good decision for you and your quiet mind. Will saying yes benefit my well-being or the well-being of my family unit? Will it promote peace in my life? Will it add stress, drama, or burdens I am not called to bear? Will it serve in the long-term to reinforce my habit of conscious living? Is it a direction I need to move in this process of becoming who I really want to be?
There are so many useful tools out there to help improve focus and keep your day on track. Day planners and schedule books and calendars have their own aisle at the office supply store, and God knows I love them. But they are of no value whatsoever if I fill them too full of unnecessary obligations. Some “good” things may not be good for me, or at least not good right now. Charity work, teaching Sunday school, volunteering for that school committee, sponsoring the foreign exchange student…. all great things in the right time and right place with the right conditions. In the wrong place, time, and conditions, the good gets lost in the chaos. I have to turn off the noise. I have to decide and prioritize and learn to say no.
The people in my life who have made the biggest positive impact have not been the frantic, stressed, busy ones. They have been the ones who are filled with grace, who are not burdened with drama and appointments, who haven’t tied themselves to an impossible schedule. They are the ones who take the time to really check in with how I’m doing and reflect on what really matters with me and who reinforce that this life is a marathon rather than a mad dash to the finish line. And conversely, they are the ones who get the most accomplished in the areas that really matter.
Having a quiet mind doesn’t equal an empty mind. Just the opposite. It is a mind filled with the things of value, focused on choices made for good that will impact eternity, and intentional in preserving a legacy worth remembering.
If I could choose the legacy I leave for my children and grandchildren, I hope they will say I was present. That I had time for them, that I had chosen people and relationships as my priorities, that I never stopped creating and giving and offering. That has to start today, with a mind settled and quiet. I’m thinking that would be a life worth living.