The beauty of autumn in Maine rivals that of anywhere I’ve been, and this year has been especially breathtaking. My wife and I moved in to our current home this last summer, so we’re experiencing each season anew. I wondered how each tree would manifest its foliage, and I have not been disappointed by the bursting of color into my window each morning. Our dirt road is lined with brilliant yellows and reds that both soothe and inspire. With the changing of each season I consistently experience a churning of my own inner life, a shifting of perspective, if you will, which leads me to a place of reevaluation. One of the questions that emerged for me this season is “Am I spending my time doing the right things?”
“Am I spending my time doing the right things?”
Answering that question in the affirmative has become an essential task of my personal development. It’s a question that seems harder and harder to answer as I age; as new responsibilities begin to take hold of seemingly every free minute of time. Now, this is largely my own doing, and it’s largely fueled by the desire to answer that question with a “Yes”. I love my God, and I want others to experience him in a way that is transformative, so I take on extra responsibilities at my church, because I believe that to be the “right thing”. I care deeply about other people and want to be the best psychiatrist possible to help relieve suffering, so I attend conferences and explore further training, because I believe that to be the “right thing”. I love my family beyond description and want to be present with them all the time, because I believe that to be the “right thing”. I could go on to describe other “right things”, but I’m sure you have a list of your own. One thinker warns against these “right things” turning into what she calls the “tyranny of the shoulds” - a process that easily develops into deep self-hate when you realize you can never live up to all these expectations, and worse, that they aren’t really your expectations to begin with!
Most of you have probably read or heard the first few verses of Ecclesiastes 3, where the author writes about a “Time for Everything”. After the poetic opening of the chapter, the author writes:
11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.
I find this passage especially comforting when I’m anxious about how I am spending my time. It says to me that maybe I worry too much about doing the “right things” and spend too little time appreciating the gifts God has already given me. With this changing of the seasons I’d encourage you to reevaluate how much time you’re spending under the “tyranny of the shoulds” and how fulfilling it would be to instead discover the path God already has in place for you.