This post was originally published on February 26, 2008, a few weeks into my experiment of structuring my days around set prayer times. You can read all the posts on that subject here. Lately I’ve been thinking about how smoothly everything goes when I structure my days around prayer, and how I’d like to recommit to that habit soon.
Last night my husband and I were sitting in the living room after the kids went to bed, chatting about our days over little bowls of chocolate ice cream, and I caught a glimpse of the half-folded basket of laundry I’d set aside in the laundry room. Then I thought of those last three bills I needed to pay, and remembered that I never did get around to replying to that one email. My instinct was to get up and meander over to my desk or to the laundry basket, but I sunk back into the couch and kept chatting with my husband instead. And I thought, “So this is what balance is like.”
When I used to make my semi-monthly proclamations that I desperately needed balance in my life, what I was really saying was, “I want to do all the same stuff I’m doing now, but just not be stressed about it!” Yet another huge lesson I’ve learned from this experiment of scheduling life around prayer (instead of vice versa) is this:
Balance requires sacrifice.
I know, to a lot of people that’s as insightful as saying breathing requires inhaling, but it was actually a revelation to me. Before my commitment to make the workday end with Vespers, I would have spent that time after the kids went to bed shuffling around to try to finish the laundry, pay those last few bills, reply to that email, and undoubtedly get sidetracked with all sorts of other things along the way. It would have felt too indulgent or wasteful to just put my feet up and spend a whole hour chatting with my husband! Especially because of my tendency to procrastinate, I would have felt like I “had to” forgo relaxation time in the evening to make up for not getting enough done during the day.
The realization that a natural life is a life with hard stops — that it is only in recent years through modern technology that we have even been able to throw our lives so far out of balance by extending our working hours at will — changed everything. These days, leisurely breakfast time ends and high-energy activity time begins with Lauds (Morning Prayer) at 9:30; high-energy activity time ends and naptime/desk work begins with the Office of Readings at 2:00; and I do one final sweep to get any lingering projects to a stopping point before the whole workday comes to a close with Vespers (Evening Prayer) at 6:00. Do I always have everything done by the time prayer time rolls around? Nope. Am I often tempted to keep working into the evening to make up for not getting enough done during the day? Absolutely. But, I have realized, such is a life of balance.
Back in that post where I talked about my “hard stops” epiphany, I speculated that the reason that pre-electricity generations spoke of a life of peaceful rhythm and natural balance is because, for example, a housewife living in 1890 couldn’t do laundry at 10:00 at night if she didn’t get to it during the day; by virtue of having built-in hard stops like sunset and community-centered activities, they were forced to sacrifice a lot of the things they wanted to get done and simply rest. Mimicking this life as best I can, by allowing my day to be broken into times of work and times of rest by forces larger than myself, has indeed forced me to sacrifice a lot of the things I’d like to get done. And it has given me a life of balance.
I suppose it might technically be possible to achieve such a nice rhythm by using something other than prayer to provide hard stops; but, for me, I doubt that anything else would work. Here in our 24/7 world, there’s so much pressure let your life slide out of balance, to sign up for “just one more” activity, to get “just one more” thing done each day, that with my notorious lack of willpower I’m sure I would have backslid into my old ways long before now with any other type of routine. But by anchoring my days around God by joining in with the universal prayer of the Church, by letting the rhythm of the Liturgy of the Hours be the guiding rhythm of my life, three times a day I am reminded that I only have one real to-do list, and it is short; that the little sacrifices I make to achieve balance are minuscule in the grand scheme of things; that my time is not my own anyway.
I don’t mean to imply that my life is now stress-free or that I don’t ever struggle with challenging days anymore (anyone who read this post or this post knows that that’s certainly not the case). But I will say that it all feels more “natural” than before. Letting go of the temptation to make every hour a working hour, structuring my days around prayer instead of around the frantic pace of the world, might not have made all the stress in my life go away, but it has brought me times of guilt-free rest to act as a counterweight to the challenging times. Life has a gentle rhythm that wasn’t there before. Even though there are days when it’s painful to sacrifice a couple items from my to-do list that I wanted to get done, even though I have more responsibilities now than ever before in my life, I feel that after all these years, I have finally found balance.
- The Rhythm of Prayer (In the Heart of My Home)
- Purpose and Routine: They Key Ingredients of Homemaking (Apple Cider Mill)
- It’s Never Too Late to Start Your Day (Domestic Felicity)