These days, I’m trying to walk the thin line between personal rights and being hospitable, that verge that separates personal space from people who need me. Oddly enough, I’ve found that as the years have piled on, two divergent attitudes have developed inside me. I have a strong desire to be left alone in whichever place I choose to settle, free from outside entanglements. At the same time, I find myself more emotionally attached to family and friends, with reminders of family interactions or old pictures that elicit fond memories being enough to bring tears at times. How can these two very strong and presumably opposing mindsets coexist inside one person?
Once more, I’m reminded that most of life is like that. We want to do one thing and find ourselves doing the other. Paul the Apostle had the problem, although arguably in an area which is a bit more weighty than my shallow issue. He said, “Those things I want to do, I don’t do. Those things I hate, I find myself doing.” Like Paul, all our lives, we struggle to do the right thing. The difficulty in my current dilemma is that it’s not about right and wrong, just about two different things that both seem really important.
I remember a conversation with my father years ago. Some of his friends were angry to find out that he often turned off the phone at home, making it impossible to reach him. His reaction? “I put that phone in for my convenience, not theirs. I can certainly turn it off anytime I want.” Now, I don’t want you to think my Dad is an insensitive jerk, because he is definitely not that. At eighty-plus years old, he still pastors a church and unselfishly keeps a daily schedule that puts me to shame, rising long before the sun to study, so that he can be available to anyone who needs him later in the morning, afternoon, and evening. I do have to laugh, because his phone is never turned off now. When he leaves his office, he is careful to forward all his calls to his cell phone, never out of touch with those who need to find their pastor.
I think of that conversation frequently now, though. I am never away from contact, either by phone, or email, or text. I have to keep a card in the Rolodex at the store so I can give the correct answer to the question, “How do I contact you?” Cell, business, home, toll-free, and fax numbers all are near at hand, with the devices functioning continuously. Daily all around me, phones ring, buzz, and play popular tunes, with customers holding up a hand to stop our conversation and turning their attention to the people in their life with whom they cannot break contact. While I’m describing products, texts are being sent back and forth, my sales pitch only a small part of the information flow these folks are experiencing simultaneously.
Is it any wonder I want to yell, “Stop the merry-go-round! I want off!” frequently? The source of my need for solitude is the incessant barrage of communication, the constant stimulation of my brain with no let up. The need for separation from the “madding crowd” becomes absolute. We are not made for constant activity and conversation, not suited for the frenzied pace that modern life demands.
Balance is a good thing. We need people, both family and friends. We also need time away. I’ve always loved that the Bible tells us to be still. There are also plenty of instructions in there for actions, but we need time to detox as well. The poisons of frenzy and urgency need to be cleansed away with the clear, cool water of re-creation, being refreshed and put back together. Just as we have ministry to perform, we have the need to be ministered to. But, not for too long. If the being still becomes a way of life, the balance gets off that direction too and we’re of little use to those who need us.
I’ll keep heeding the two dichotomies, being there for the people who need me, but swerving out of the fast lane frequently to the side roads where I can putter along. Both are amazingly rewarding when the proportion is right. Who knows? I may even start turning off all the phones once in awhile, too!
“You who seek an end of love, love will yield to business: be busy, and you will be safe.”
(Ovid~Ancient Roman poet)