Modern life is a too-busy life. We are all driven to work faster and faster and more and more efficiently. Our kids are involved in multiple activities with demanding schedules. With all the demands of work and family, there is little time left for reflection and prayer. As a result we can become insensitive to the needs of others and feel the burden of stress. Such a fast-paced life makes us feel tense, inefficient, insecure and even superficial.
There are many ways you can slow down and simplify your life. To start the process, you can begin by getting up earlier. (which means you also need to go to bed earlier.) When you get up in the morning, your first activity should be prayer. At least thirty minutes is desirable (start with 15 minutes and work up to 30 minutes). This includes prayers of thanksgiving, repentance and intercession. You also should include the practice of the Jesus Prayer at this time. After you have prayed and you have taken care of all your personal hygiene needs, you should plan time for your other responsibilities such as getting the kids ready for school. You should allow time for a leisurely breakfast. Help others in your household get off to a peaceful start of the day. You do not want to start the day being pressured by time. Remember, harried people create harried people and calm people create calm people. If you don’t start the day with calmness there is not much chance that the rest of the day will be calm.
The easiest way to find this time is to examine the way you spend time with the different forms of media such as television, the Internet or the cell phone. Most likely, television is the biggest culprit. Give up just one of your programs and you will automatically have an extra hour to start the day off on the right foot. Media usage places a huge burden on all our lives. A recent survey by Nielsen Media Research shows that the average person spends more time than ever in front of the TV, over 133 hours a month. In addition, we spend on average another 26 hours using the Internet. Both of these have shown significant increases over the prior year. Now the phone is connected to the Internet and we can even spend another 3 hours watching video and TV on the phone. The mobile phone is becoming a significant use of our time as well as being an instrument that diverts and scatters our attention. So, this is the prime area to look to reallocate your use of time so you can make time to be with family and friends, to help others in need, or to make time for your daily prayer, attend worship services and most importantly to get a calm start each day. If you watch TV or surf the Internet to get relief from the tensions of the day or because of boredom, prayer will bring you even greater benefits.
To change the pace of your life, eliminate some activities from your “To Do” list. Identify those things that do not promote your spiritual growth and conflict with the Orthodox way of life. At work you carefully set priorities and make sure you are doing those things that are the most important. Do the same for your personal life. At the end of the work day you need to separate yourself from the work activities. If you leave work at work, then you can better enjoy your friends and family when you are off work. You will be able to take time to listen to your children and your spouse. The end of the day should be one of slowing down until it is time for your regular period for prayer, to read some Scripture, or to read from the works of the Church Fathers. Have your conversation with God, and then go to bed focused on His love and great mercy. Organize your life so this period after work is a leisure time detached from all work activities.
Do not confuse slowing down with being lazy or slothful. These are quite different things. Laziness leads to procrastination and inefficiency. A lazy person will not make the effort to organize time for prayer. As you slow down you will find you pay more attention to the details. Concentrate on even the smallest things you are doing. The quality of your actions will improve in everything you do.
Jesus constantly warns against having anxiety about material things, even food and clothing. God knows and provides everything you need, but most likely you have taken your needs and exaggerated them beyond what are your basic necessities. To follow Jesus, He asks you to abandon your attachment to possessions and the priority you are placing on things of this created world, and to take on a simpler lifestyle focused on God where you are not encumbered with excessive demands to accumulate material things for your happiness. The key is a balance. Plato and Aristotle taught mankind, hundreds of years before Christ, that the ideal is a golden mean, which implies a path through life that is neither burdened with excess nor with deprivation. By slowing down or simplifying our lives we are not talking about being less productive or rejecting the whole of this material world. We are simply being more effective, balanced, and doing what we do with much greater care, which includes the exercise of the moral imperatives that God has laid down for us.
There is no magic formula to slowing down and simplifying your life. The possibilities are endless. Start by clarifying your priority values. Then make a list of all your activities. Record them over a week’s time. Take time to reflect on what you have recorded and determine which ones fit with your priorities. Think about what you can eliminate to put a different priority in place in your life. Begin to consciously reengineer your pattern of life. Experiment with ways to slow down and simplify and you will find yourself coming closer to God in your daily activities. Through your prayers, seek God’s help in this task.