The end of the year offers us the opportunity for some downtime with family and friends, to reflect and take stock of the blessings we have within and around us.
The festive season provides many people with a rare chance to unplug from their world of work, encouraging at least a couple of days outside the hamster wheel of checking e-mail and other messages.
Of course, taking time out can be much easier said than done for some of us – we’re so used to being tied to our various devices and constantly being “on” that it can be difficult or even feel wrong to take time for ourselves and loved ones. There always appears to be something to do.
When I went home to Scotland earlier this year, it was great to meet up with one of my dear friends and mentors, Reverend Neil Urquhart, who has been a local minister in my hometown for nearly 30 years.
Urquhart is the kind of person who, when he’s working, never sits still. He’s a veritable whirlwind, forever coming up with new ways and ideas to bring people together and serve the community.
Despite having a schedule packed tighter than a mamak stall on a Friday, Urquhart makes it a priority to schedule regular time for himself, his family and friends. He explained to me the value of setting boundaries and protecting blocks of time outside of work commitments. Without such boundaries we risk burning ourselves out and “losing our sense of identity” if we don’t take the time to recharge and renew.
So important is this time, said Urquhart, it even appears in the Bible as a command to rest on one day of the week and to use that time for reflection, contemplation and communion with others. It’s fascinating just how much we can lose sight of the importance to give more time to what truly matters, so caught up are we in our day-to-day commitments. That’s not to say commitments aren’t important – they are. However, if we compare the amount of time we devote to the important parts of our lives, the chances are that some parts receive less time than they should.
A former palliative nurse spent several years caring for numerous people in the final weeks of their lives. In her famous article, “Top Five Regrets of the Dying”, Bronnie Ware recorded common regrets of those she cared for – a project which brought her to tears.
“I wish I hadn’t worked so hard” featured as number two on the list.
She writes, “This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.”
We all know how easy it is to get caught up in our work. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve said to myself, “OK, I’ll do one more task and then stop,” before finding myself doing one more, and then another, and another.
The sense of accomplishment that comes with getting things done can be almost addictive, along with the feeling that we’re left with one less thing to do.
But there’s always work to be done – if we don’t stop, we can easily carry on.
A Buddhist monk once advised, “When you stop, everything is finished.” Our commitments will always be there – it’s important to realise that when we stop with work, for that moment it is finished: we can pick up where we left off later on.
With that in mind, perhaps we can join in a festive challenge.
To avoid checking e-mail and social media during the holiday season might be too difficult for some, but maybe we can come to a compromise and commit to putting the gadgets aside whenever we’re in the company of others.
Whether it’s a family meal or a catch-up lunch with a friend or relaxing at a gathering, we can give our devices a well-earned rest while giving our undivided attention to whoever we’re with in the moment.
This is a time of year most associated with coming together in gratitude, love and care. Who says we can’t extend those gifts to the technology that serves us so well (mostly) throughout the rest of the year?
Our phones, laptops and tablets are worked so hard that they deserve a chance to cool down and recharge.
In the meantime, we can connect with each other and share some proper face time, which will no doubt serve as a wonderful reminder of our greatest blessings for which we should be truly thankful.