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Soul Searching

Tom Saretsky

06/08/2016

In perpetual motion, our souls need time to catch up

My first year at Holy Cross High School is nearly finished and I am shocked at how quickly the school year has passed by. When the year is complete, I will have finished 27 years of teaching! It seems like only yesterday that the school year began, and it seems like last week I began my teaching career.

Life passes by at an astonishingly quick pace. The older I get the more I realize it goes by too quickly. I’ve never been one to count down the days to the weekend or to the end of the school year. Looking forward to the weekend or the end of the school year is much different than saying, “I can’t wait until school’s out!” There have been some years when the passage of time could have gone a little more quickly due to the stresses of a particular class or the teaching assignment I was given. However, wishing away time in anticipation of another period of time simply means you can’t wait for your life to pass you by.

Henri Nouwen once wrote, “98 per cent of our lives are spent waiting for something else to happen to us.” There is wisdom and warning in this. Many times we wish our lives to pass us by because we can’t wait to get to the next activity, experience, time in life or destination. When we get to the place we “couldn’t wait for,” then we “can’t wait” until the next thing, and then suddenly we find ourselves longing to go back to the times that have just passed us by.

Some, especially youth, feel life is passing too slowly. Many want to be older than they are, and find it a compliment when told they look older than they are. And then, how many of us consider it a compliment when someone thinks we are younger than we are? Are we ever really content with where we are in life? Or are we perpetually restless? “You created us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Maybe St. Augustine was right.

What are the current societal issues that contribute to time and life passing by so quickly? Perhaps one of the main contributors is the “busy-ness” of life. The world loves a busy person. “I’m so busy” seems to be the catch excuse for everything. In our perpetually busy world we outrun everyone, including our own souls — they can’t even catch up to our bodies. There are many demands on our time, our energy and on our own personal resources. We run from one thing to the other, from one event to another, and from one demand to another.

Unfortunately, our busy-ness can prevent us from establishing or maintaining the very thing we need to concentrate on — relationships. I am “guilty as charged” when it comes to this. In my own life the busy-ness at home, at work, and the busy-ness of our kids and their activities can actually prevent us from even getting to know each other better. And to further complicate things, we submit to the demands of our own smart phones. This distraction can further build barriers to relationships. Tired from the day and its demands, we reach for our phone in order to “lose ourselves” in the mindless smorgasbord of posts and sites and memes and pictures and games that seek to satisfy our appetites and swallow our time. But we’re never satisfied. Meanwhile our kids need our attention, but I see they’re just as oblivious because they’re on their phones too.

When it comes to our own children, will their involvement in many activities make them better or more stable people, or can their activities become a barrier to strengthening the supportive relationship we need to have with them? I wonder if other parents feel the same way I do. There are many positives to having kids participate in activities, but those activities can also lead to their premature burnout.

The risk in doing too many good things is that there’s not much time or energy left to do the most important thing, and that is simply to be — to be present, to be mindful, to be here. Terry Hershey in his book The Power of Pause would have me pause and ask myself the question, “Who or what is suffering in your life because you’re so busy doing so many good things?” 

We don’t have to read psychological studies or read Facebook memes to know we need to slow down and retreat. The question, ultimately, is how do we do this? If we can’t accomplish this from outside sources, perhaps we need to create a place inside of ourselves where we can seek a safe sanctuary. A place that is uncluttered and simple. A place that allows life to slow down for even a few minutes, because it doesn’t demand to be distracted or complicated. It might be here that our soul can catch up with our body, providing us the place that allows us the space necessary to maintain and even deepen the relationships of those we love most deeply.

May we all develop the courage necessary to pursue a simple, more focused life in which we pursue the one thing God wants for us and where God waits for us — a life of simplicity wrapped in life’s complexity.

Saretsky is a teacher and chaplain at Holy Cross High School in Saskatoon. He and his wife, Norma, have two children, Nathan and Jenna.