Today I’m delighted to welcome Rev. MaryAnn McKibben Dana to the How We Spend Our Time series!
MaryAnn is pastor of Idylwood Presbyterian Church in Falls Church, VA, and the author of Sabbath in the Suburbs: A Family’s Experiment with Holy Time.
If you’ve ever wondered how to reclaim space for rest and relaxation into the chaos of your calendar, MaryAnn’s book is the perfect place to start. She tells the story of how her family of five decided to spend a year practicing Sabbath every week, and her writing is so honest and hopeful (and even hilarious) that it made me think this radical experiment might actually be possible.
MaryAnn’s book got me thinking about the place of Sabbath in our lives – not just whether we choose to go to church on Sunday, but how we set the rhythm of our family life to focus on what’s most important. I keep feeling this nudge towards a simpler, slower way of life, so I love the idea that the choices we make to spend our time well include time for resting.
Enjoy MaryAnn’s insights on parenting and practicing time for rest!
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1) What is one truth about time you have learned since becoming a parent?
That there is not enough time.
I’ve often heard (and preached) a theology of abundance, of radical “enough-ness”: the idea that God provides sufficient resources for what we truly need. I know that works for some people, but it doesn’t work for me, especially when it comes to time. It sets an impossible bar for me to reach. If there is enough time, and I didn’t get important things done (a daily occurrence), then I must have done it “wrong.” I find it much more faithful to say that there is not enough time, but there is enough grace. I call this “holy scarcity.”
But! you may argue back. God does provide! And maybe that thing you left undone, didn’t need doing. Perhaps…but often not. What parent hasn’t had the experience of letting someone down, of dropping a huge ball? It happens. But grace abounds.
I am drawn to the image of parkour, the combined sport/art form that involves running and tumbling through an urban area. (Google it if you’re not familiar!) Practitioners of parkour will encounter obstacles (a wall, a stairwell), and the trick is to move creatively and fluidly through these obstacles. There is great beauty in that process. I strive to be a practitioner of spiritual parkour.
Well, my book is about Sabbath so I suppose I should say that! There’s something very freeing about knowing that each week, you will have a time to rest, play, relax and recharge. It gives the busyness of our days a much more grounded perspective.
But here’s something else that’s really tactical: I am a huge believer in the Pomodoro Technique. The idea is very simple: spend a short, fixed amount of time on whatever task needs doing, take a short break of a specific length, and repeat as long as necessary. I like to work for 12 minutes and take a 3-minute break, then restart the process. I wrote the whole book this way! It gave me a way to tend to the distractions and monkey mind (Facebook, ahem) but not let them take over my life.
This is a good technique for anyone, but I find it especially helpful when I only have a short amount of time and a lot of stuff to get through. I get paralyzed by the choice of what to focus on—Pomodoro helps me get started somewhere, anywhere.
3) What new insight about faith did you gain from writing this book?
That children can be wonderful teachers for us.
As adults, we help them learn the language of faith, but they are not empty containers for us to fill. They already come to us with a sense of the spirit, of eternity, of the Holy. In our case, our children understood both the need for Sabbath and the joy of it.
Children are great Sabbath-keepers. Now that the year-long Sabbath experiment is over, we are still committed to the practice, although we’re not as regular as we were. But our kids will let us know if it’s been too long since we’ve had a Sabbath. They call it a lot of different names in addition to Sabbath: a pajama day, a stay-at-home day, etc. Sabbath is a day to remember that we are not God, that the world goes on without us. That’s a vulnerable but ultimately freeing realization. Children inherently get this since that’s their default state of being!
4) What is your favorite way to spend time with your family?
We have a state park about 20 minutes from our home called Mason Neck. In fact, if you watch the PBS segment about the book, you can catch a glimpse of it! We love going there every few months to walk around the woods and visit the small beach. There aren’t a lot of bells and whistles there–a playground, an occasional program about eagles or other wildlife–but mostly we walk the trail along Belmont Bay, listen for bullfrogs, and draw designs in the sand using shells and old pieces of driftwood.
Having a regular place where we go often means it’s become a great “growth chart” for our kids’ development. Children who used to get tiiiiiiiiired halfway through the trail can make it all the way easily. We can go farther on our bikes as they get older. They are starting to prefer to the woods to the playground. But no matter how old they get, they all still love to play in the sand.
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Your chance to read! MaryAnn and Chalice Press have generously offered a copy of Sabbath in the Suburbs to one lucky reader of Mothering Spirit. Leave a comment below before midnight CST on Saturday, June 8th, to enter the giveaway.
And be sure to connect with MaryAnn at her blog, The Blue Room!