For Which Generation? On Telos and Techne

 “Hurry is not of the devil; hurry is the devil.”  -Carl Jung

Six kids?!?  You must be SO BUSY!

It’s said with wonder, with a smile, and nodding knowingness.  Everyone’s busy, so I must be doubly, or triply, so with such a sizable family.  Despite every inclination to just leave it at that, I cannot seem to help my contradictory self.  “I’m really not.  We live an intentionally slower-paced life with few outside commitments.”  This does not compute generally with whomever I’m making small talk.  But, it’s okay, they have to run anyways; busy day ahead!

I learned a new word the other day as I read You Are What You Love by James Smith:  telos.  A Greek noun, it means an end, purpose, or goal; an ultimate aim.  He writes convincingly that our telos affects everything, even if it’s not what we think it is.  What do we really aim at? What do we really love?  We may think that we’d love to have a beautiful and healthy body, but our true telos may have more to do with the tasty pleasure of eating donuts and the comfort of sedentary habits.

I wondered; what do I love?  What am I aiming my life towards?  And what is my techne (another Greek word, meaning our rational method in accomplishing our aim) for getting there?  And why is the techne that is assumed to be universal a breathless and harried busyness?  What telos requires such haste and incessant activity?

A baby is born and the parents begin to dutifully schedule portrait sessions, play dates, and provide heaps of stimulating “educational” toys.  There’s childcare to arrange, and baby is bundled up and ready for the day before the sun rises.  Life is a series of being dropped off and picked up, shuttled about from car seat to stroller to car seat to bed.  As toddlerhood approaches the parents feel this unsettling pressure; will their child be ready for preschool?  Which preschool is best?  Maybe a parent will pick up another job to pay tuition at a promising one.  This is only the beginning, but the telos is in full swing, the techne chugging along doggedly.  The comforting thing is that everyone else looks just as frantic, just as hurried, just as worried.  Until one attempts to commiserate with an odd duck like me, that is.

As the child enters elementary school he will be shuttled from school to after school care, to music lessons, to sports practices, to youth events at church, to karate, to dance, etc.  I know many families who only eat dinner together about once a week due to various activities that keep them orbiting the home, landing at different intervals for a hurried snack and a change of uniform.  Saturdays and Sundays are not exempt from this quick, packed lifestyle.  The two most common words associated with this time of life when I speak with my peers are “busy” and “stress”.  What is the end, the telos, of all this hustle?

A well-rounded adolescent, with success in one or many specializations, be they academic, musical, or sports-related, and a promising list of accomplishments to be listed on college applications?  Perhaps.  I think the telos reaches further as soon as they get accepted to a college; that they’ll pick an impressive major (or double major preferably); that they’ll graduate with honors, that they’ll land a lucrative and fulfilling job, that they’ll meet an equally impressive mate, and that they then can start a family.  Having that baby, then the parents can bring their telos to bear on that child; schedule the portraits, buy the Baby Einstein books, get the ball rolling towards laudable success.

This telos demands an incredible amount of busyness.  Such investment in the success of our offspring has never before been seen in history.  Family life has become bewilderingly child-centric, parents giving up their own interests and pursuits as they struggle just to meet the demands of their childrens’ schedules.  Is the cost worth it?  If you’re not willing to pay the price, can your children still have a chance at a successful life?  And what of your own life?  Can it be enjoyed or is it too laid upon the altar of busyness?  Are we always to be simply enduring the present in order to achieve the future?

This brings me back to my techne:  slow, unhurried, thoroughly enjoyed life, each day, each hour, for its own sake, aiming towards holiness in the long run by faithfulness and growth in the everyday.  Though I cannot guarantee the future success of my children (however one may define that), I can give us the space and time to enjoy life right now; splashing in today’s rain puddles, examining this year’s butterflies and roses, going on long walks and feeling this day’s fresh air filling our lungs.  Savoring bites of food, starting the day slowly with cuddles, spending a good half hour staring at my newborn’s tiny pink face, and taking my older children out for one-on-one dates where we linger over ethnic foods and connect deeply; these are my techne for not missing the moments that can’t be put off until later, for not missing the now.

This is not to say that there isn’t a place for spurts of busyness; right before an opening night of a play, or a championship game, or helping with charitable events.  Feeling a bit breathless and harried is appropriate for such; it’s a special time given special energy; it can be exhilarating, but to live every single day that way?  I’d argue that such effort shoots right past its own aim, its own telos; it hurries right past the life it meant to live so well.

So I ask, for whom is this offering of hustling, bustling, hurry?  For which generation?  It seems we are rushed about all our lives so that we can raise children whom we rush about so that they can raise children whom they can rush about.  Is this life?  When are we allowed to actually enjoy it?  On a yearly vacation, packed with activity itself?  When we retire and our bodies which we’ve neglected through inattention to them are ailing and out of shape?

I do not claim to be a better parent than anyone; God knows and I know the limitations and deficiencies I bring to the table, and trust me when I say that I esteem the great love and care that undergird the frantic scheduling folks submit themselves to.  I seek only to sound a bit of an alarm, that we might miss life if we sprint through it.  We can’t go back and have these days again.

I’ll end with a poem that is of help to me in forming my telos, and thus also, my techne:

Song for a Fifth Child

Mother, O’ Mother, come shake out your cloth,
Empty the dustpan, poison the moth.
Hang out the washing, make up the bed,
Sew on a button and butter the bread.
 
Where is the mother whose house is so shocking?
She’s up in the nursery, blissfully rocking.
 
Oh, I’ve grown as shiftless as Little Boy Blue,
Lullaby, rockaby, lullaby loo.
Dishes are waiting and bills are past due,
Pat-a-cake, darling, and peek – peekaboo.
 
The shopping’s not done and there’s nothing for stew,
And out in the yard there’s a hullabaloo.
But I’m playing Kanga and this is my Roo.
Look! Aren’t his eyes the most wonderful hue?
Lullaby, rockaby, lullaby loo.
 
The cleaning and scrubbing can wait till tomorrow,
But children grow up, as I’ve learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down cobwebs; Dust go to sleep!
I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.
~ Ruth Hulbert Hamilton
img_0767img_441612091316_10153955522758352_3635461458792562873_o_MG_69191920534_10152247494038352_1265178566_n

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Beyond Hurry

Time moves plenty fast without our assistance.

I turn around and my son is two inches taller, the weeds I just picked have resurrected and are going to seed, and the pie I pulled out of the oven is polished off, only crumbs remaining.

I walked into a pharmacy on Halloween and found myself eyeball-to-eyeball with a  life-size Santa.  I’m sorry, has Thanksgiving passed?  Have we decided that Fall ends in October?  Before the leaves have completed their magnificent show?  Before the silly roses even quit blooming?

I can’t blame the shops, though.  They wouldn’t do it if this wasn’t what consumers responded to.  So my question is, why are we in such a hurry for the next thing?  In my previous post, The Looser Weave, I spoke of my own reticence to wrap up my childbearing in a tidy yesterday box, and apply my expectation towards the next thing.  I shared, “What am I saying…only this; I’m not eager to hurry away, to go on to the next thing.  I am in a garden and I haven’t exhausted my wonder at all the flowers.”

I am glad to both enjoy my daughter’s entry into her teens and my baby learning his first words, simultaneously.  I don’t mind our vehicles hosting both strollers and soccer balls.  There is something quite magical in seeing the delight and wonder in my oldest child’s eyes when she holds her littlest brothers, and I can point out the things they do that she also did as a babe.  It opens to her the wonder of her own yesterday.  She reads to them and I hear my own voice in hers, the way I read to her.

What is to be gained from hurry?  It seems the logic is that I’ll power through tons of work/things/activities so that I’ll have time…for….more…what, more work/things/activities?  Why not enjoy fully the time we have now?  Can we not resist the pull of cramming our days breathlessly full and aiming them at a mythically less-busy future?

“…if the devil can’t get you to sin, he’ll keep you busy.”

-Anne Lamott

“Busyness is not of the devil; busyness is the devil.”

John Wesley

“Busyness acts to repress our inner fears and perpetual anxieties, as we scramble to achieve an enviable image to display to others. We become ‘outward’ people, obsessed with how we appear, rather than ‘inward’ people, reflecting on the meaning of our lives.

Busyness also seems to be a determination not to ‘miss out on life.’ Behind much of the rat-race of modern life is the unexamined assumption that what I do determines who I am. In this way, we define ourselves by what we do, rather than by any quality of what we are inside. It is typical in a party for one stranger to approach another with the question, ‘What do you do?’ Perhaps we wouldn’t have a clue how to reply to the deeper question, ‘Who are you?’

– James Houston

If my life is too busy to…

  1. cook with my children
  2. take Sunday as a true Sabbath, a day of delightful rest
  3. create for the sheer pleasure of creating
  4. snuggle on the couch with my baby
  5. cook nourishing food for my family
  6. pray
  7. examine the eyelashes on my sleeping toddler, memorizing the way they lay on his cheek
  8. linger
  9. play
  10. respond to sudden needs of family and friends
  11. breathe
  12. read
  13. enjoy, while still hot, my morning cup of coffee
  14. have talks and dates with my children, one on one
  15. learn something new, like a language or a craft
  16. give of my time to others
  17. find a stream and sit beside it in thought
  18. care for the animals and plants under my stewardship
  19. talk with my husband in long meandering conversations
  20. respond to a gorgeous sunset with a walk to enjoy it

….then I am too busy, and something has to be reevaluated.  Emergencies excepted, of course, but I find many are living in emergency mode…all the time.  That is exhausting.  What is the cost of this?  What is the cost of a rest-less life?

I heard recently the story of a man who had filled his life with hurry and noise, constant distraction.  He was also deeply unhappy.  As an experiment, while driving, he shut off the phone and the radio and drove in silence.  It was uncomfortable, this silence.  Tears began to well in his eyes as raw emotion, that had been tamped-down by distraction, reverberated through him.  He pulled over his car and wept.  Hard.  When the weeping subsided he felt lighter and better, more human.  I can’t help but hope for the same sort of breakthrough for our harried culture.

Then, maybe, just maybe, we can celebrate the seasons in the actual seasons, and Santa can come flooding into our stores in December, when we are ready for him, when we have let time flow at its own pace; when we live less in tomorrow than in today.

 

Leave Margins

_MG_4804 It’s the afternoon margin, that slice of time after the lunch dishes have been cleared away, the next load is humming in the wash, the babies are laid down to nap, and supper has yet to begin gathering momentum.  Coffee, online reading, a bit of whole grain crisp bread spread with a heavy layer of butter.  The indecisive light outside, not full-blast noon nor soft late afternoon, just a bit static.

My daughter stands behind me, plaiting my hair into braids and twists and buns of all imaginings.  To look at her makes me yelp inside and sort of tremble; I can see a woman staring back at me from her luminous blue eyes, a woman where the child still is.  She reads my words and says, “Oh my word, Mommy”.

I watched a documentary about tiny houses; the whole movement of people shedding their excess and moving into homes that fit on a pull-behind trailer, downsizing their lives to the bare minimum.  It was both refreshing in regards to our culture’s rampant materialism and acquisitiveness, and at the same time rather narcissistic and selfish; when your home only fits you, well, there’s no room for others.  It has no give, no margin.  I’ve read of minimalists who only have enough plates, cups, chairs in their home as there are people who dwell within it.  Hard to have anyone over for dinner.

This reductionism isn’t just applied to space and possessions, but to time as well.  Day-timers with fifteen minute increments exist for a reason, for a particular type of busy person who really does run that tight of a life.  These people are not the ones to call if your sitter doesn’t show or you need someone to talk to; your need wasn’t scheduled and would create havoc in their slim-fitted schedule.

Why is it that when I ask how someone is doing, most of the time their answer is some variant of “crazy busy”?  Why is the first thing a new acquaintance says to me, when they’ve learned I have five children, “Wow, you must be busy!”?

People are born and married, and live and die, in the midst of an uproar so frantic that you would think they would go mad of it.  -William Howells, 1907

And I think they are going mad of it.  And the madness, I think, is only covered up by the filling and subjugating of the ordinary snatches of times of silence and introspection that used to be plentiful for us (standing in line at the grocery store, driving in the car, walking, sitting in waiting rooms, getting our hair cut).  These are now triggers to reach for a smartphone, to fill that void ever-yawning and scary with mini bits of information, with noise and distraction.

I, mother of five, small business owner, blog writer, and housewife, am not busy.  Now, I work throughout the hours of the day; I am far from lazy, but I am not flying about here and there, running this way and that, driving all over the place taking my kids to scads of activities.  My life is full, not frenzied.  

IMG_0624 IMG_0669 IMG_1923

I submit some possible helps, if you find living life breathless and harried and margin-less isn’t your cup of tea:

1.  Avoid time-stuffing.  When you have unexpected waiting times (doctor’s running behind, the grocery store lines are long, the boss is late for a meeting, etc), instead of reaching for your phone, breathe.  Really.  Take big whopping inhalations and exhalations and think.  Daydream.

2.  Leave margin in each day and each week and each month.  Have a line you draw in the proverbial sand, such as:  (day)  No more work after eight o’clock.  (week)  No more than three evenings a week for kids’ extracurricular activities.  (month)  At least one hike, ice cream date, or other family outing.  For a day, that avoids chronic overworking, and sets aside time for hobbies that would otherwise fall prey to The List.  For a week, that leaves four nights of unhurried dinners and plenty of margin for inviting a family over to eat or just enjoying one another.  For a month, that ensures that those good intentions to do things together won’t be lost in the shuffle and hustle.

3.  Give up the idols, whatever they may be, that demand the sacrifice of your family’s time and energy in gross disproportion.  It is not normal, nor healthy, to lack regular dinners together, sitting down.

4.  Say “no” when a optional activity demands the sacrifice of something that is more important.

5.  Let your kids be kids.  Don’t make their summer “productive” or be tempted to stuff it full.  Don’t even, gasp, entertain them.  That’s not your job, that’s the job of their imaginations, and today’s kids are suffering from major atrophy of that God-gifted resource.

Not a comprehensive list, to be sure, but a beginning place.  Leave margin, oh dear one, slow down.  Enjoy.