Only One Thing Is Needed
This post first appeared at Taming the Wilds. Republished with permission.
Back when I was working fulltime as an attorney, I used to daydream about what it would be like to be a homemaker. I thought of all the gardening I would do, the new recipes I would dazzle my husband with, the DIY projects I would accomplish around the house, the happy faces of our well-rested and ever-obedient children beaming as they showed off our latest liturgical living crafts. I would have so much free time, I thought (veteran homemakers feel free to chuckle at me here). I finally would be able to get off the “hamster wheel” of life – dashing from home to daycare to office to meetings to conference calls and back again, only to wake up and do it again the next day.
Once I finally became a full-time homemaker, however, my schedule still seemed to mushroom somehow. Now instead of juggling conference calls, I was juggling all the gardening, gourmet recipes, DIY projects, and crafts I formerly fantasized about. On top of that, I stacked up playdates, began writing like I was running out of time (to quote Hamilton), developed a robust homeschool curriculum, and doggedly pursued seemingly endless household chores (who did all these when I was working?!). I loved everything I was doing (chores excepted), but that old feeling of being on the hamster wheel had crept back into my life. Only this time, I realized it wasn’t my boss or a client who put me there, it was myself.
I began to wonder at the reasons why I felt the need to do all these things. A large part, of course, was pure enjoyment. No longer tethered to a desk, I was able to pursue all the things I formerly put on the back burner. I’ve also never been one to do anything by half measures – in fact, my dad and I have a running joke that our personal mottos are “anything worth doing is worth overdoing.” And therein lay my problem. It was not just enjoyment that drove me, but a desire to make the most out of every single activity, to squeeze every ounce of efficiency and productivity out of each moment, and to do all things not just well, but to perfection.
As it turns out, you can’t just “retire” from your sins. Overdoing it – whatever the “it” is in your life – is often a symptom of some underlying problem, usually a combination of the need for control (a variant of pride) and acedia (or gluttony if we’re talking about food or drink). If you remove one “it,” the mere symptom of the underlying disease, another “it” will simply take its place.
This incessant drive within me to prove myself is not from God. By taking on more and more tasks and filling up my days in the name of productivity, even when pursuing tasks that were each inherently good or enjoyable, I began to lose the joy and peace that God so desperately wanted me to experience. Instead, things began to feel a bit mechanical, and I began to feel like “butter scraped over too much bread.” (J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring).
You may be surprised that I attribute “overdoing it” to the sin of acedia, commonly referred to as sloth. Typically, when we think of sloth, we think of laziness or apathy. Sloth is more than laziness, however. In its essence it is a failure of charity, a refusal in some way to love God and others as we are called to do, either by laziness or, as in my case, unnecessary busyness or even distractedness.
Sloth, we must remember, is not a “sin against the clock,” as Leon J. Suprenant once wrote. It’s a sin against God. The true value of our time is not measured by our productivity (or lack thereof) but instead is measured by the quality of each “yes” we say to God in our daily fiats.
At the moment of our baptisms, the Trinity takes up dwelling within us, and we are invited on a lifelong process of divinization. The reality of this divine indwelling means every moment is sanctified. Every word, thought, and action brims with eternal significance. Every choice moves us either closer or further away to that which is True, Good, and Beautiful (cf. Luke 16:10). There are no neutral choices when it comes to how we spend our limited time on this side of the veil.
Sometimes the choices are obvious, like those involving clearly defined moral issues. Other times, however, the choice is between one or more things that are each True, Good, and Beautiful in some way. In these cases, using our time wisely and avoiding the sins of pride and acedia, then, requires us to discern the willed Good amongst the Goods.
Amidst my endless whirl of activities, I heard Him say, “Lauren, Lauren, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.” (cf. Luke 10:41-42). And what is that one thing? To sit quietly as His feet, listening to what He says. When we spend time contemplating His Holy Face with Mary of Bethany, it often becomes much clearer which Good amongst the Goods He is calling us to pursue whenever the time comes for us to rejoin Martha in the kitchen.
At the beginning of a new year, many of us look forward with hope at the blank calendar pages stretching before us. We have endless plans, dreams, and desires we would like to write on those pages. The quality of fruit these months will bear, however, depends entirely on whether we choose to align our plans, dreams, and desires with His. And our ability to sincerely say, “fiat voluntas tua,” will be determined by our decision to put the “one thing” first, each and every day of the coming year.