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Being the limiting resource in the rushing stream

Last weekend was our church's annual Men's Retreat, with the theme of "Living Intentionally." Though I was only able to attend a portion of the time due to work, some of the conversations crystallized long-percolating thoughts. To wit (gosh, I've always wanted to say that), living in a culture of seemingly near-infinite choice, I am usually the limiting resource. I have access to far more than I can possibly keep up with:
  • Millions of books can be delivered to my iPad instantly.
  • There are over forty types of salsa in the grocery aisle.
  • Almost any bit of trivia can be looked up in seconds.
  • Navigation is just a matter of letting the iPhone set a course.
  • The TiVo is full of more programming than I could ever watch.
  • I can connect with nearly anyone I can remember from my past and reach out to almost anyone else.
  • I'm available by voice or text anytime, anywhere, and can send and receive pictures and videos as well.
  • And so on…
Indeed, even as I wrote the above, a message flashed at the top of my screen that a friend I haven't seen in twenty years who lives thousands of miles away has sent me a movie via an app!

Now, plenty of folks have tried to decide whether all of this is good or bad and put forward their ideas on when and how often we should "unplug." Worth considering, to a point, but much of that thinking can come off as a bit fearful and desperate, trying to catch a cultural and technological tiger by the tail in the dark so that we can feel more settled. Fact is, whatever management approach we might opt to implement (and again, the sheer volume of choices we can make in this regard and the fact that we can make them at all is the very same type of phenomenon), this is the way my world is right now. Good, bad, or ugly is all about how I live in it.

The part that's not as changeable is me. Near-infinite access doesn't give me more hours in the day. I still need to eat and sleep, can still only be in one place at a time, age every day, forget, and can't dunk a basketball. As a creature with limits in this setting, how I'm living out who I am is a question that requires and deserves my attention and deliberate action.

Most of that wasn't new territory for me prior to thinking about it at the retreat. Here's the new part: the way I live, my cup is constantly full, my pie chart completely allocated. And I'm not sure how many of us ever really keep any space "empty," even if we can—the "emptiness" is still an allocation on the pie chart that is me. Given this condition, if I want more of something in my life, I have to have less of something else. A terribly obvious truth, but it's a concept I've been needing to better navigate the rushing stream of life in our time.

So I started two concurrent lists: what I want to consider having more of in my life, and what I'll need to have less of to make that possible. And for the latter list, most of the work isn't so much a force-of-will quitting (though will absolutely has to be engaged repeatedly) as it is releasing those things to be carried away by the rushing stream—just let them go. By and large, they're only in my life in the first place because I've been holding onto them, often way too tightly anyway.

Do I want to write more? Then I'm going to have to watch TV less. That's just how it works, because I'm the limiting resource.

My "more of this" list will require more direct effort, certainly. And as I plod along, I'm also discovering that things aren't so simple as the framework I've sketched above—the stream doesn't just have velocity; it also has currents and eddies, ways that it tends to go and places where its force is far stronger in a given direction. And there absolutely must be rest, but it's not going to come by pretending life isn't as it is. So I'm learning, and that's a start.

Comments

I love this.

One thing I've been dealing with over the last few years is feeling like I should be able to do more. I list the things I'm responsible for and when I put it down or say it out loud, it doesn't seem like much. And then I feel like I've failed because I know other people who do so much more and never seem to get tired. But over time, I am realizing that my personal resources and my priorities are different. Being the kind of person who needs time alone, or at least quiet time, means I can't be the kind of person who is busy every minute of the day being involved in everything I think is important.

So, all of this means I need to prioritize, and I'm getting better at it :)
I enjoyed this post.
I still rebel against the concept that doing more of the thing I want most means that I have to cut out other things.

As you say, it is obvious, but I still don't want to accept it.

I want to paint much more than I do, but I'm not sure what I can validly give up in order to facilitate this.
There are also those things that we are called to do as Christians, which require a sacrifice of things that I may want to do more. That's the part I've been wrestling with lately.