{Day 10} Single-tasking, Pt 1

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“I’m beginning to feel the drunkenness that this agitated, tumultuous life plunges you into. With such a multitude of objects passing before my eyes, I ‘m getting dizzy. Of all the things that strike me, there is none that holds my heart, yet all of them together distract my feelings, so that I forget where I am and who I belong to.” –The New Eloise, Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Many years ago, I read a book called Earthy Mysticism: Contemplation and the Life of Passionate Presence. The author, William McNamara, offered a basic rule of life for those seeking to live more contemplatively:

  • Live each day deliberately.
  • Do what you are doing.
  • Stop doing half the things you are doing in order to do the other half contemplatively, that is, with loving awareness.
  • Get up early in the morning.
  • Have a good read.
  • Enjoy as much beauty as you can.
  • Work as creatively as you can.

While each one of his points became important in my pursuit of living more attentively, the third on the list, “Stop doing half the things you are doing…,” has always struck me as both immensely desirable and completely impossible at the same time. There is so much to be done.

The more I reflect on it, however, the more I realize that contemplative attention is not in the perfection of single-pointed concentration, but lies in finding peace in the tension of both focusing on one thing at a time, and continued awareness of all the relationships, activities, and responsibilities which call for attention.

Finding that peace in the midst of life’s whirl (and some days, it doesn’t surprise me that the earth is spinning at 1000 mph) requires two practices: humility and trust.

To be able to let go of half the things we are doing, even one thing we are doing, requires something more than discipline or organization or boundaries, but a humble realization that we simply can’t do it all (no matter what our driven culture or internal voices tell us).

When we let go of whoever or whatever out of a realization that we cannot do everything, we can trust them to the God who has begun a good work and is faithful to complete it. We cultivate trust that we do not labor alone, and even more than us, God desires to bring all life to fullness in goodness, love, beauty, and truth.

Ultimately, this humility and trust leads us to acknowledge that God is God, and we are not. This isn’t a criticism or a failing. Receive it as God’s tender whispered love to you: You do not have to be God.

For your spouse.

For your children.

For your work.

For your family.

For your life.

The complex and mysterious structures of the universe flow and dance day after day, and we contribute in our tiny space and time to this larger tapestry. Our portion of responsibility, I believe, does have cosmic impact, but we trust that God is the One who will bring everything through to glorious completion.

So, to stop doing half the things we do may require a prioritizing of time, commitments, energy, and resources, and deciding that some things must be given to God.

It could also mean that we continue with the same schedule on the outside, but inside have released the drive to do it all or the worry about it all that can drive us in our commitments.  A day spinning too fast is a sign for me to pay attention, not so much to the number of tasks, but to the drain of drive and worry I add to the energy required to complete those tasks and see through commitments.

Practice: Consider your to-do list and schedule. No need to make any changes, no need to worry about prioritizing, just pay attention.

For each commitment, reflect on why you are doing it.

For each commitment, could you imagine life without it?

For each commitment, where is love moving?

For each commitment, how is God present?

As you reflect, if you find some questions or troubles rising to awareness, bring them to God.

31 Days


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  • Sarah Thomson

    Susan, This reminds me of something that was said in a eulogy for one of our core members in L’Arche who died last year. “In a world that worships the God of multitasking, she was the ultimate mono-tasker. And o how she loved each one of us in that single focus of her attention. And now don’t we all know what it means to be loved because of her?”

  • You often express just the wisdom I am seeking. Again today, this was true. Release that which we simply are not equipped to continue…”trust God to finish a good work that He started…” I greatly admire your photography and your message.

  • susan

    Thank you for visiting, Lisa!! Blessings and peace to you!

  • Leanne

    a year later, and I am slowly moving through this series for the first time. I really needed to read this. God’s been giving me the shove to reflect more and do less, and I find that hard in a culture that prides productivity above all else, but when I look back, when have I listened to God? So thank you — I am going to try the practice and see where it lands me.

  • contemplativecottage

    I am so glad you are finding the series helpful. May you have a blessed Christmas!