COMMENTARY: Time for a timeout

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(RNS) Do you find yourself adding more to your to-do list, even though you already feel overwhelmed?

Are your weekends just as jampacked as your workdays? When you try to pray, is your mind swimming with yesterday’s worries?

If you, like me, answered yes to all of the above, you may be in need of a pause.

A spiritual timeout.

Last week, I took an online quiz called the “The Power of Pause Online Assessment.” I scored a 38 out of 50. And that’s nothing to brag about.

“Push Pause Now!” was the cautionary message I received along with my assessment score. “You are constantly overtired and overcommitted. You rarely take time to pause and recharge — which makes you feel even more overwhelmed. You need to learn to pause on a regular basis — not only will this help you to work more effectively, it will also ensure that you are not losing sight of what is truly important to you.”

It’s a great idea, this pausing thing.

Most of the time — well, all of the time lately — I’m trying to do too much and too many things at once. I end up feeling exhausted, sick, and frayed.

In fact, when I sat down to write this column, I was on a 20-minute lunch break; I thought I could squeeze the writing in between bites of a chicken quesadilla, a call from home to tell me my son came home sick from school, making dinner reservations for four and answering about 50 e-mails.

I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t find the time to even write about taking the time to pause, tune out, slow down, just be.

“We are wired to be present. We are built to honor the senses. We are created to be attentive, or literally just to be. But somewhere along the way, life chokes the music and poetry out of us,” author Terry Hershey writes in his new book, “The Power of Pause: Becoming More by Doing Less,” a sort of how-to book for taking a spiritual recess.

There’s a good reason why the Abrahamic faiths — Judaism, Islam and Christianity — believe in a Sabbath. A day of rest. A day to recharge, to worship the Creator, to stop and … just … be.

In Hebrew, Shabbat — the word for Sabbath — means to cease. Observing the Sabbath, keeping it holy by slowing down and resting, is one of the Ten Commandments. Right up there with “Thou shalt not kill” and “Thou shalt not bear false witness.”

“Cool it for a day,” God says. “I did.”

Slowing down for a few minutes a day, and, more importantly, for one day a week, is a healthy idea physically, emotionally and spiritually. It’s also a radical countercultural idea in a society that moves at warp speed and where self-worth is measured by the amount of white space on our calendars.

But adding to the list sometimes becomes untenable. One more task, one more demand, one more hurried moment of multi-tasking and superwoman-izing and this ship is going to become unmoored and drift into whatever comes next. A storm. A sandbar. Hostile waters. Who knows?

“Too easily and too quickly we dismiss our creases and shadows — places of reluctance, uncertainty, ambiguity, confusion, angst, grief, loss, fear, shame, or passion,” Hershey writes. “We see them only as darkness. And hope becomes a sort of lottery ticket, something that might just click this time and make everything change.

“But what if hope is really about the Incarnation — God (literally) with us? In the midst? In the middle of? … What if this shadow — the long night with no destination in sight, and with only a stone for a pillow — is where we encounter the truth?”


I want to think about that, ponder it, turn it over in my psychic hands. But in order to do that, I have to do nothing. I have to stop.

Hershey suggests buying an old bench or chair and setting it aside in your home (or, better yet, outside) just for sitting. I have a chair I call the grace chair. It’s an old, caned straight-back seat that someone painted red and recovered with faux zebra pelt.

It’s on my patio. As soon as I hit send on this, I’m going to go sit in it.

And for a few minutes, just … be.

(Cathleen Falsani is the author of “Sin Boldly: A Field Guide for Grace” and the new book, “The Dude Abides: The Gospel According to the Coen Brothers.”)

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