I go to the shops as I do every second day. At the checkout, the girl asks, ‘And how has your day been?’
‘Busy,’ I say.
‘That’s good,’ the girl says with a sage nod as if involved in some conspiracy to keep me on the hamster wheel of busyness.
In the Twenty-first century world “busyness” is good. Not being busy, then, is undesirable. Our Western Protestant work ethic touts, ‘Idleness is the devil’s workshop’. The state of “idleness” is to be avoided at all costs. These days, we equate idleness with boredom.
‘I’m bored,’ say your children (so did mine, when they were children many years ago, back in the good ol’ 1990’s), and terror strikes at the heart of each mother when they hear these words. Bored? We can’t have our children bored—idle—just imagine what devils will come to play if we allow boredom to fester. First, the grizzling, then, the niggling at each other, and before long, World War Three amongst the siblings and the house ends up looking like the Apocalypse.
No, we can’t have boredom.
So, in my quieter times now, I reminisce the days as a young mother, structuring each day, every hour—especially during the holidays, to avoid boredom—any strategy to avoid my tribe from becoming restless.
‘What’s wrong with a bit of boredom,’ my mother would say. ‘They need to learn to entertain themselves, you know, use their imagination. Nothing wrong with being still for a while, I say.’
Mum should know, she grew up in the Centre of Australia on a mission in the 1940’s and ‘50’s. Those were the really good ol’ days with no shopping centres, no electronic games, nor television. They did have radio, but her minister father only allowed the news to be heard from it. Heaven forbid they listen to modern music. During the War, even the radio was confiscated by the allies. So all my mum as a girl had to entertain herself were books. Even so, the Protestant work ethic was a major value in mum’s family as her mother, when she found her daughter reading would say, ‘Isn’t there some housework you should be doing?’
As expected, then, I grow up in a world that values industry, productivity and filling each day to the full. The schools I attend are hot on producing good grades, projects and students who go on to university and become wealth-producing citizens.
Then, at sixteen, I have a revelation. We sing a chorus at church, “Be Still and know I am God”.
Being still…forget the homework…forget the housework…put aside my racing head of worries…centre my thoughts on God and his greatness. Pause for a moment and remember, God is God and He’s in control.
So at sixteen, I do just as the chorus bids. I hop on my deadly treadly (bike), and pedal down to the beach. I figure that’s the best place to be still; the waves lapping the sand, the sun on my back as I comb the shore for shells. Or on a sunny afternoon, I lie in the backyard and sunbake, think and ponder.
The result? Wow! Those mountains? School and pedantic teachers going on about uniform—my socks, my hair? Boyfriends or lack of them? Life and my future? …All my concerns become molehills.
December 1979, I write a poem “Be Still”. Perhaps not the greatest work of literature, but the values stick with me…until I embark on university, work, and then a family. The poem hides in a book of my teenage missives. Ten years ago, I pull it out for a devotion. I preach being still, but I fail to apply the principles. I must keep busy. If I stop, even for a few minutes, what will others think? There’s just too much to do. Everyone’s depending on me as wife, mother, bible study leader, committee member …to produce the goods. I can’t let them down.
The culture to keep moving is ingrained. Go to meet people for the first time and they ask, ‘What do you do?’ The doing has to have a dollar sign attached to it. Not enough to do all the above as a mother. Must produce money to have status in the group. Without status, I am not heard. Ironic how the under-valued creative arts of writing and painting, though, afford status. I am creating. I am producing.
Even so, in this creative phase of my life, if I stand still, I feel guilty. Now, there are novels to write and art to produce. My “work”. I’m on the hamster wheel, but I can’t get off.
However, in all the busyness expected of me, the cogs of my life are unravelling. I drive to a cafe to meet a friend. She’s not there. I’d forgotten my mobile phone. I drive the thirty-minute return home and check my phone and then ring her. I’d gone to the wrong place. A misunderstanding. If I had taken the time to listen and ask the right questions…
The voice of my sixteen-year-old self still convicts me. ‘Be Still’.
For over forty years, I’d not been following my own advice. After the misunderstanding of the other day, I give myself permission to have time each day to rest…Time to be still…time to know God.
So in the voice of my sixteen-year-old self, the poem:
Exhausted, yet restless to advance
Ever onward in a trance,
A weary traveller
Refused to look around
So lost the intimate beauties which could be found.
And know God the eternal creator.
Furtive, frustrated, fraught we flee,
When confusion bears down on thee,
A weary traveller.
Failure looms, chaos glooms,
In life, this lonely room.
And wing your eyes
To soar above the clutter.
Marvel at the vastness of creation
Where God lies.
If what we infinitely fear
Will produce a lonely tear,
Of a weary traveller,
We blind ourselves with sorrows
Clinging to illusions of good morrows.
Capture destiny in your heart,
For God said, “Let it be”.
See the beauty of it’s part.
Learn from what it has to offer
Ignore the scoffer.
A weary traveller did relent,
When Jesus was sent.
Our hungry souls will fill.
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling (nee Trudinger) 1979
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2016; updated 2022
*Feature Photo: Cradle Mountain, Tasmania © L.M. Kling 2009
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