This for a magazine for Cornerstone University and also posted here; the theme was called “breathe.”
â??Breatheâ? as a Lifestyle
Cramming, after my sophomore year in college, was not an option. Ron Mayers, my philosophy professor, gave us a choice: You can either take a final comprehensive examination or you can write an outline to the history of philosophy. I chose the latter â?? and if I remember accurately, I finished my outline at 4:30am on the day it was due. The first half of it was solid; the rest began to get wobbly as the synapses in my brain became just as wobbly. I learned very early in my academic life â?? and it has lasted now for more than 35 years! â?? that the best way to learn was daily work, the deepest way to write something was steady preparation, and the healthiest way to live was to avoid cramming.
Some people â??breatheâ? or relax or refresh themselves the way many college students cram â?? instead of breathing on a routine basis, they hold their collective breath as they fill their schedule with meetings and phone calls to make and events to attend and places to go and e-mails to write and checkbooks to balance and movies to watch and games to play and services to attend and Bible passages to read â?¦ I could go on. Discovering that their pace is so breakneck, these same busy folk schedule a weekend off â?? but to pull it off, they must go out of town or take a whole week off. In other words, they â??cramâ? into their busy schedule some relaxation but have to get out of the house to breathe.
Ever try to cram in some relaxation? It helps, but it doesnâ??t solve the problem. Perhaps you feel in the expression â??cram in some relaxationâ? the tension that cramming creates.
Kris and I aim to live our lives and schedule our time in such a way that breathing is our custom rather than our cramming. We donâ??t want to have vacations where it takes three or four days just to unwind. We choose to breathe to begin the day, breathe in the middle of the day, and breathe in the evening. We learned years ago to begin the day and end the day with prayer â?? that prayer is not something we cram into an overloaded schedule but something that assumes a sacred rhythm. I even wrote a book that chronicled some of what we learned about praying at set times (called Praying with the Church [Paraclete, 2006]).
Breathing for us is the routine of a professor (me) and a psychologist (Kris). We aim to keep our lives simple by doing four things: keeping our evenings as free as possible, not taking on extra jobs at work unless they are something we discuss (and we have veto power with each other), realizing our commitments to one another and to our children are a high priority, and â?? and this might be the most important one â?? avoiding debt.
Financial decisions, so we think, often create a life where couples and families hold their collective breath until the next paycheck. Debt leads to working more. That means we have to jam more into less time â?? less time for the ones we love, for the God we worship, for the church in whose embrace we fellowship, for the neighbors we enjoy, for the hobbies that create living space, and for household responsibilities that give us pride.
My suggestion for most of us this: the graduated backdown. Many of us need to begin right now graduately backing down from too much debt, too much work, too little of time, and too little of breathing. If we find ourselves cramming breathing into our schedules, we can begin to find some sacred space by the principle of the graduated backdown. Maybe we could learn to tithe one tenth of our overloaded schedule to the Lord per year â?? and maybe in a few years weâ??ll wake one day and find that breathing is natural.