Silence and Reflection through saying “no”

I live a hectic lifestyle. I think it’s partly my nature. I seem to be constantly doing something for someone I promised them I would do sometime in the not-too-distant future and have put off as much as I possibly can till this very moment because I was too busy doing something else I promised I would do much earlier.

It’s so extreme that if I am early for something I will intentionally do something else for a bit (high priority in my mind, of course) so that I am no earlier than absolutely necessary. Preferably bang on time if not a few minutes late.

When people ask me how my week has been lately, my standard answer is “busy”. It seems like that answer is a little too generic, I will try elaborate.

Last month I was working up to 12 hours a day, working on a very exciting project (well, exciting to me) that if we manage to pull off, will represent a significant tangible contribution to the company, bigger than any I think I have made so far. I’m excited by it and it keeps me up at night. This month we put that project on ice and I have instead been working up to 12 hours a day on two rather unexciting, yet high priority projects that if I manage to pull off may rescue them from the pit of despair. In my other job (for the university), I’ve started meeting with students weekly now, because they’re coming to the end of semester and they need a lot more supervision to get over the final stages of their projects: actually delivering something. I also find myself heavily involved in church: everything from arranging social events to doing online surveys to collecting money.One Sunday, some weeks back, at around lunch time, Sam text messaged me inviting Sebastian & me to lunch. For lack of a better option I chose “degree” on the viaduct. Then I invited Sarah too. Sam had to take a shower so we waited about an hour for that and got around to starting lunch with Sam on the viaduct at 2:30pm.

Unfortunately, Sebastian had to go home by 3:30pm, so I rushed him home, leaving Sam at the restaurant to wait for Sarah to amuse him while I went away. I rushed back, literally sprinting down Customs Street to get to the restaurant in time. By about 4:30 we had started eating and I announced I had to leave by 5pm to get ready for a church event at 6pm I had (apparently) planned for new church members.

It was about 6:15pm, while being sociable with the new church members, when I realised I was supposed to do prayers and since I was a little tipsy from the three cocktails I’d had at Degree, I took a shot of espresso to give me my “edge” back.

Once at church, I stuck the CF card into the recording device which I use to record the service and it refused to work unless I formatted it, which I didn’t want to do because I hadn’t been able to copy last week’s service off it yet. I ended up racing back home to get my laptop and was still fighting with the card reader half-way into the service, dangerously close to prayers.

As I fought with the technology, I realised that my day was fast becoming a classic farce, a comedy of errors that winds itself tighter and tighter until the character unravels in a brilliant crescendo.

In the end, I made a desperate decision to destroy last week’s service so I could record this week’s service, because the speakers we had this time were unusually rare. I then raced up to the front of the church to deliver some of the most strange prayers I have ever done, trying to stand in one place while a combination of alcohol, caffeine and adrenaline fought for supremacy over my own brain chemistry.

Why is this entitled “silence & reflection”? Well, the subject of our service that evening was (ironically) “Silence and Reflection”. A rather rare liturgy. As I stood there, trying to decipher my obscure notes, trying to affect a convincingly grave and theological tone, trying to remember to address all the spoken and unspoken needs of my congregation while worrying about whether the recording device was working I mused at the irony of it all.

Silence and reflection.

It’s rare that I get a chance for silence and reflection anymore, even in church. Even when I am not working, or being social, I am here attached to my computer, either reading or writing something, creating, consuming or connecting.

I remember when I was a child (maybe 11 or so), my father made me and my sister stop and be quiet for a while. It was nearing Christmas in my grandparents’ house. At the time I didn’t quite understand what it was he was trying to teach us, but I tried to understand. We lay on the bed and stared at the ceiling, shifting uncomfortably as children will do when forced to contain all that energy. I miss that though. I miss forced time outs. I am going to have to reinstate silence & reflection in my life.

It’s over a week since I started writing this post and the situation hasn’t changed much. I got home at 5pm today (first time in a long time), after leaving work early to go to a meeting with my students. I had planned on going back in to work later on, but decided to just rest my eyes…

3 hours later I woke up, it was 8pm, I was in bed and I didn’t want to leave. I dragged myself out of bed to finish off some podcasting for church, as well as publishing the results for the survey I had painstakingly been collating entering over the last few weeks. Then, I received a text message:

“Hey, Steve, can u ring me please it is urgent please thank u”

So, I naturally called back immediately, hoping that he was applying pressure to the wound or that they found another donor in time.

Want to know what the urgent thing was? Really? Well, Briscoes is apparently having a sale on “club chairs” and my friend Jason wanted to know if I would take precious time off work tomorrow to give him a lift to Briscoes to buy the stupid things. Never mind the fact he shouldn’t be buying furniture on the income he’s on anyway. I refused to take time off work on Friday but agreed to do it Sunday morning.

Socially, I have difficulty saying “no”. The strange thing is I wasn’t always like this. During high school I was quite the opposite. I shied away from extra-mural activities as much as I could because I implicitly understood that if I committed to too many things I would end up having no time to myself. Nowadays, I can’t help myself and it gets me into trouble.

At work I am currently working to help resurrect a project to do with port simulation that requires my full attention, at the same time I am having trouble saying “no” to people who need a little help getting their own projects off the defibrillator.

I like being busy and it’s good to feel needed. I have decided though that I need to say “no” a lot more and make room for more silence and reflection in my life.