Training in the skill of being busy begins early. Three-year-old children start dance lessons, gymnastics, piano classes, or sports leagues, only to have these activities quickly accelerate into full-time commitments. The problem only gets worse as the children get older. Commitments to sports, volunteering, and school activities become essential, piled on as you achieve the best grades possible in as many classes as you can possibly take, to boost young students into elite universities.
We’re barely permitted to pause for breath before we’re pushed to overload our college schedules to craft the perfect resume, increasing our chances to get the very best jobs. Filling each minute of the day with activity becomes such a habit we hardly notice it taking over, and once we enter the “real world” it manifests itself in the all-too-present workaholic mindset.
Skilled at Distraction
In a world with endless ways to spend our time and talents, we who want to achieve something have become skilled at distracting ourselves from contemplation. Silence seems to be the ultimate enemy, something to drown out or avoid with numerous tasks. It doesn’t advance our future careers. It doesn’t seem to get anything done. Even when we have a moment of quiet—walking between classes or driving to the supermarket—we rush to fill the silence by putting on headphones or switching on the car radio.
Making time for silence and contemplation can be a way to find rest for our hurried souls. St. Francis de Sales has a number of insights on reducing the rush in our lives, many of which focus on the importance of prayer. My personal favorite is this: “Every one of us needs half an hour of prayer each day, except when we are busy,” he writes. “Then a full hour is needed.” A glance at my to-do list immediately reveals that this advice won’t be easy to follow, but then, maybe that’s the point.
This attitude toward prayer should inform our daily life and push us to adopt small practices that slow us down and foster peace of heart. For me, as a student, this means leaving my headphones behind and enjoying a quiet walk from my dorm to class, which gives me time to pray or think, makes me aware of my surroundings, and encourages me to smile at those I pass.
As a friend noted recently, waking up early can be an intentional way to plan peaceful moments into your day. When I manage to rise earlier than I strictly need to for my classes, it gives me a chance to take stock of my day before the rush begins, read a daily meditation, and sometimes even eat breakfast. The quiet mornings at Notre Dame are when the campus truly comes alive, and I would never notice things like the fog lingering on the quad or the way the sunrise reflects off of the Golden Dome if I slept until the last possible moment.
I’ve even gotten into the habit of occasionally going for nature walks in which a friend and I visit the two lakes on campus. So far, we’ve seen swans gliding together, ducks bathing, geese searching for food on the banks, and even a beaver watching intently from a grove of trees.
Finding silence also means carving out a place in my day and week for daily prayer, weekly Adoration, and spiritual reading—activities that should be primary but can be neglected when so many things we’re also supposed to do have to be done. This Advent, changing my schedule to make room for these practices—even when I feel way too busy to set everything else aside—has made me less anxious, despite final exams, because prayer reminds me where my real priorities lie. Though the Christmas season brings with it a seemingly constant rush, it is in moments of quiet that I can put in perspective the busyness of work, activities, and responsibilities, deepening my prayer life in a way that will help me overcome the challenges found in the rest of life.
With these actions, rather than inwardly seething when stuck behind a slow-walker or fixating on my mental to-do list while at lunch with a friend, I remember to practice patience and kindness so often that they might even become habits. While an active prayer life doesn’t itself transform us into kind and patient people, it allows the time and space for determining spiritual goals and cultivates a relationship with God that will help us reach them.
In the Book of Kings, when Elijah sought God on a mountain, he found the Lord not in the strong wind, nor in a tremendous earthquake, nor in a raging fire. Instead, God came to Elijah in a “still, small voice,” a voice that we can best hear, this Advent and onward, when we make time for silence.