I recently heard of a young theology student who was told, upon entering class, that everyone would sit quietly for ten minutes at the beginning. This was unnerving to him, as it would be to so many of us who are hot-wired to multi-task, to move.
This story hit home because I realized lately that I live my life in ten-minute intervals. One day a co-worker paused outside my office. Confusedly she said, “Am I hearing chimes?” I had to admit that my phone timer is set to chimes. I then had to confess that I actually set timers for myself all day long. She left my office undoubtedly questioning my sanity.
She’s not wrong. My life is so programmed, my to-do list so long that in order to keep up, the timers are a coping mechanism. My daily life goes something like this: Linger over coffee with morning news: 12 minutes. Brush teeth and hair; apply makeup: 8 minutes. Recently I wanted to have a phone conversation with a friend and I set a timer so I wouldn’t get off track. I allocate minutes to almost every aspect of my day and, because time and I have become co-dependent partners, I have started setting the stopwatch to see how long a certain work task takes me. And, yes, the next time I perform that task, I see if I can beat my own record.
Don’t call the white coats on me. Time management and multi-tasking are just parts of my DNA.
Each year at Christmas, there is the danger of the to-dos of the season swallowing up the inherent joy. Spend too much time decorating and you’ll miss out on the opportunities of basking in the dancing lights of a Christmas tree, even one with no ornaments. My friend lamented that her tree is yet undecorated and she has not put out any of her manger collection. She has over 10 gorgeous nativities, each distinctively special. Yet baby Jesus remains tucked away in the tub. Perhaps next Christmas. I told her at least Jesus is with his family at Christmas.
It occurs to me that there is a generational divide when it comes to females and Christmas decorating. The younger generation is still in the accruing phase of life, and are eager to show you their holiday décor, none of it yet faded by wear. All of their Rudolphs still have all their antlers, all the nutcrackers their arms. So many of my peers and I, however, define ourselves more by what’s left in the attic than what’s put out. When it comes right down to it and time is limited, how do you decide what makes the cut? Perhaps the most authentic Christmas tiding might be, “Yeah my tree is not decorated but I’ve got three tubs of ornaments in the attic. But sit down, have a glass of wine.”
Back to my chimes. Lately I’ve been so exhausted (thanks to genetically inferior sinuses) that sometimes I set a timer at work for five minutes, and lean my head back, eyes shut. There is a beautiful symphony in the silence that ensues. Does capturing the beauty of the season, the true meaning of Christmas, lie partially in our ability to embrace silence? Maybe our heads become too crowded with lists and saccrine carols; perhaps we are too busy hearing to listen. In the silence that befalls a winter evening, we can hear our own hearts beating. In the shadows of a lighted tree, we can hear our own memories singing in our heads.
Christmas is here, ready or not. The question is, what does ready mean? Does readiness mean bringing baby Jesus out of the tub in the attic or building into our day moments of silence when we can imagine a little baby swaddled in a manger, thousands of years and miles away.
My chimes are going off (yes I even set a timer to write this blog). I’m off to the next item on my list. But I will build in moments to sit silently and reflect on Christmases and people who have passed. To sit in the glow of my imperfect tree, many branches still unfluffed, and listen for the silence that brings us peace.
Merry Christmas to all!