Making changes

Genuine change is difficult. We can envision how we want things to be, but making them happen requires effort, dedication, and persistence. From the perspective of sabbatical, I could see some ways in which I had been managing my time and work life that were inefficient and in need of change. My old pattern of short-changing myself on sleep was inefficient. My tendency to over schedule my time sometimes meant that there was less time for contemplation and thinking. When my schedule was being driven by the events that occurred around me, I sometimes failed to follow my own priorities. The most pressing task isn’t always the most important.

I could see these things and I could see that there are some things I can do to make things better. But when I return to the actual work environment, it is very easy to slip back into old patterns. I can easily justify such behavior by telling myself that it takes time to make changes and I’ll do some tasks later, after I’ve caught up with some the backlog of work that accumulated in my absence.

Right now, there is a crush of people who want to see me. Visits that I might make once a month or less now all want attention within the first couple of weeks back in the office. This is natural and it is good for the church for me to be out and meeting with people. The tasks of the office, while important, are not as high a priority as being with the people I serve.

My approach has been to keep the awareness of planned changes high. I have a few small tasks that fit between other activities and when I turn to those particular tasks, I am reminded of the changes I want to make. One of those tasks is sorting books in my library. The entire job is huge, but it can be broken down into small segments. I can sort a few books whenever I have an extra ten minutes. Doing that task reminds me of how I want to transform the office space from what it has been - a cluttered study for me, filled with objects that give me inspiration - into a more useful space for the whole church - a conference room and a place for small meetings.

I’m not the only one working at making changes. Yesterday, after my afternoon meeting I visited briefly with one of our office administrators and other members of her family. She and her husband are in the process of serious downsizing. Their new home is about half the size of the one they are selling. In preparation for the move they have been sorting through their possessions and over the last weekend they held a garage sale to get rid of excess items. The sale was successful but they were tired from all of the extra work. As they returned tables to the church last evening, you could tell that they were looking forward to the night’s rest.

It is hard work to make changes.

That work, however, is also refreshing. When I succeed in making a change, even a small one, I am energized by my success and that helps to give energy to the next task. Since part of the changes I need to make at this point in my life is to decrease the inventory of possessions, just giving away an object or figuring out how to get rid of some items can give me energy for more sorting.

Different cultures have different attitudes towards possessions. A custom that was part of some of the plains tribes had to do with the belief that possessions dragged down the soul of a person. When a person died, his or her possessions were quickly given away, sometimes within the first day. It was believed that the person’s soul couldn’t make it to the afterlife if it was encumbered with possessions. To be free of possessions was to be free to ascend to a joyful afterlife. I’m not doing justice to the complex religious beliefs of a highly-developed culture here, but the general point makes a lot of sense. Because we judge others by their possessions - where they live, what kind of car they have, what clothes they wear, etc. - we often fail to see the true identity of a person.

Shedding some of our possessions can have a liberating effect. It is a good idea. And it is also hard work, because we need to sort. It isn’t as simple as making a big pile of things and hauling them to the thrift store. We need to sift and sort.

For me the books are symbolic. I have a huge collection of books. Shelves at home and in my office at the church are crammed with volumes. The vast majority of those books have little or no cash value. Although I paid good money to obtain them, they have no resale value. Many of the books I have read once and perhaps referred to occasionally, but now have no need to own. I have access to good libraries and to the Internet for the content of the books. There are, of course, a few books that have sentimental value - books written by friends, books that have had a deep and lasting impact on my life, and even a couple to which I have made contributions. And there are a few that should probably be sold. I have some rare and collectable volumes that I no longer need to possess and which have no value to my children as books, but which could be passed on to another person and the funds of the sale would at least pay for the shipping of the book to the new owner. So the books have to be sorted. I can’t just box them all up as if they all were headed to the same place.

It is a symbol for one of the tasks of my life. I need to sort more than books, more than possessions. I need to sort ideas and thoughts and pare down the inventory so that the things that are most important can have the most of my attention.

The process will continue.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!