Time for school. Time for work. Time for practice. Time for homework. Time for class. Time for club. Time for church. Time for supper. Time for bed.
From the time we get up in the morning to the time we lay our weary heads on the pillow at night, we are bound by time. It is always time for something; we spend every waking moment either getting ready for, participating in, or getting back home from some sort of scheduled activity. We repeat phrases like, “Time is of the essence. Time is money. Time is short.” And we believe what we say. We are obsessed with time.
And yet, we never seem to have enough. We are not masters of time, we are enslaved to it. We fill our days with clutter, rushing here and there to accomplish the next urgency. Is all this rushing really necessary? What are we actually accomplishing?
Recently, I was watching a documentary about Christian missionaries to a stone-age tribe in South America. In the documentary, one American missionary mentioned that the tribe they were serving did not mark time. It was a passing comment, but it captivated me. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. A whole civilization of people who did not mark time. They didn’t have appointments, milestones, or obligations. They just lived. They worked together, lived together and died together. They focused on what they needed for themselves, their families and their communities. I envied the rhythm of their lives, and dreaded the ticking of mine.
I longed to apply this stone-age principal of rhythm to my clock-driven life, and I began by purposefully unplanning. By really living in each moment. I unplan my time whenever possible, to make myself more available to my husband, my children and my friends. Unplanning was much easier when our kids were small and we could take our days as they came. But now, the kids are old enough to have plans of their own: school, karate, play practice, clubs, sports and time with friends. These things are all important. Our kids love to participate, and activities help develop them as whole people.
But honestly, planned activities are overrated. They keep us from spending real time together, time that we will always remember: reading books, playing games, taking walks (long ones, preferably through the woods), and jumping on the trampoline. These things don’t fit neatly into over-packed schedules. They require time.
I rarely hear adults reminisce about the times they spent in the car downing fast food suppers while speeding off to the next scheduled activity. What I do hear is fond rememberings of the funny happenstances of everyday life. Remember when…? Fill in your own blanks. I want our children to remember when our family was together, laughing, loving and living. That won’t happen if our evenings and weekends are jammed with the “divide-and-conquer” approach to family life that so easily overtakes the school-age years.
This commitment to unplanning doesn’t mean that individual activities are banned. We just take time to evaluate the benefit of each activity for the individual against the strain that activity will put on our family. Sometimes we say yes, and sometimes we say no. Scheduled activities involve creative planning and flexibility. We try to maintain a calm balance in our home that makes us want to be here. Home is our safe place, our resting place. If we are never here, it will never be the true hub of our family. It will just be a place to go at the end of the day. But the unplanned moments of home are the ones that we treasure most, and although they may not know it yet, someday our kids will too.