Thursday, January 12, 2006

A Time for No

An April 2002 New York Times Magazine questioned a number of executives on their desire for luxuries. Specifically, do female executives yearn for exotic cars as much as their male counterparts? The response from Andrea Jung, CEO of Avon, surprised me because it took the question in a whole new direction:
“Time. Right now, time is the only luxury I covet.”

Time—Every human being has 168 hours each week, but the way we use those precious hours varies greatly. And sadly most of us haven’t learned the secret of luxuriating in time. Here it is:
Take time every day and one day every week where you say No to obligations and Yes to rest and renewal.

In other words, let’s find a time for No. In this, we’ll realize the power of one simple sentence: “No, I don’t have to do anything.” We’ll learn to rest from what obligates us and become rich with time.

Put another way, we discover the secret of sabbath. Rabbi Michael Lerner has written that sabbath is the time we focus not on what we haven’t yet attained (like most of the week), but “on what is already there.” Through sabbath, we cultivate gratitude, that beautiful secret of a happy life. Gratitude… One day I found a message in my inbox with unusual wisdom for an email: “We call this moment the present because it’s a gift.” I know of no better way than sabbath to free us from the tyranny of time and to free us for the goodness of the gift of the present.

Ecclesiastes 3:1 reminds us that “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)”—times beyond our control, like birth and death, and times that we choose, like speaking and keeping silent. Through all these, we find the rhythm of life, a rhythm of activity and rest. In order to hear these times, we cannot attend to the mechanized hum of our technology, but ultimately to God’s heart.

For that reason, I’ve added to those fourteen “times” two more: “a time for No, and a time for Yes.” Why? Because I know too many people who do not let our great Yes to God find a boundary of No’s. A world that is frenetically busy longs to see an alternative pace of life, one that has rhythm and health. In the magazine of Jewish spirituality, Olam, Shimon Peres has written that ancient Jewish sages noted “the correlation between the Hebrew spelling of the word rest [nofesh] and the word soul [nefesh].” What a difference it’ll make for our souls and for our world, when we simply say to ourselves once a week and some time each day, “Relax and renew.”

Sabbath creates space in our schedules, space to breathe, space to return to human rhythms, space to return to your true center, and space to find God. Abraham Heschel, wrote that it takes only three things to create a sense of significant being: God, a soul and a moment. The three, he reminded us, are always present. And so we return to this potent little word No and its power to bring the three together.

What exactly do you do with sabbath time? The basics of Scripture, prayer, and worship are critical. Wayne Muller, who authored Sabbath (the best book I know on the topic) has added sabbath walks, lounging in bed late on Saturdays, and sabbath meals with friends. If you’re sedentary all day, maybe it’s reserving your lunch hour for Rollerblading or tennis. If you work in a noisy office cube, maybe it’s silence in the park. For busy parents of young children, it may mean “adult time.” It could be sitting on a bench with no other thought than the beauty of the sun dappled by redwood trees or the taste of mint chip ice cream. The variety is endless because sabbath is ultimately about freedom.

Making time for No is the secret of the good life. So let us remember to set aside time each day and a day each week to say No to what we “have to do.” There we’ll enjoy the luxurious gift of time.

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