Multi-tasking is a dangerous thing to do; chronic multi-tasking leads to professional burnout, personal blowout and spiritual knockout. Doing it too long makes us automatons with crossed wires, unable to prioritize. Just keep moving becomes what we tell ourselves, since moving is evidence we are still alive. We become uncomfortable with stillness and silence, because in those things we lose our sense of aliveness.
There are seasons of life in which multi-tasking is a necessary evil. Multi-tasking at home is hard enough: mouths to feed, calendars to keep, relationships to nourish, discipline to establish, drawers to declutter, housework to do. Add to that the pressure of professional multi-tasking: deadlines to meet, budgets to make, goals to exceed, colleagues to get along with, bosses to please, prospects to impress, clients to appease, magic to make–and it’s no wonder we fall apart.
Being my own boss
I could never go back to working for another human being again. I have had the very finest boss in the world and the world’s worst boss, but even for the best boss in the world, I could not work again, even if my very life depended on it. As I undertook to start examining, articulating and, more important actually living my Ideal Life, I realized that I had been given a gift by having one of each: best and worst.
By choosing to extricate myself from the eventuality of conventional employment, I am, to borrow a circus metaphor, swinging without a net. There is no certainty, there is no guarantee of success. But if I am going to burn myself out by staying up all night working, I would rather do it in pursuit of my own Ideal Life than to appease an unappeasable leader or to please a boss I adore.
Even without the pressure of a boss to please, I still multi-task to survive. I think I do this so that my thoughts stay muted. My thought life is overwhelming to me: if left to its own devices, it is a constant round of whack-o-mole of random ideas, impenetrable theories, lyrics to songs I wish I had forgotten years ago and the constant repetition of phone numbers of the kids who were my friends in grade school and worries about what my children are going to get into next. Keeping dozens of balls in the air at the same time keeps my thought life busy. Usually, it keeps me out of trouble. A good balance of several dozen projects percolating at the same time, making steady, measurable progress on each one of them is how I thrive.
Shut it down
On Friday night, I was at a rehearsal. It was an excellent rehearsal, although I would be hard pressed to know exactly why. Maybe because the sound tech had put some reverb on my voice and it sounded nice, in the way the shower makes us all sound like Rufus Wainwright, or maybe because I was singing with François, with whom I haven’t gotten to sing in more than a year because of border closures during the pandemic, and the joy of being in his quiet, calm presence hit all the right notes.
Getting lost in beautiful voices singing beautiful harmonies, especially ones with whom there is so much familiarity that we can sing brand new music and still know exactly what the other is going to do–that is my happy place. It is a gateway to another world.
Those dozens of spinning plates my brain constantly cultivates crashed to the ground. We were singing on a stage in Mulhouse, France, but my heart was standing in the throne room of God. In the space of one verse and two choruses, there was only one thing that mattered, and it was what God was saying to me.
Exactly what God had to say to me when he invited me into his presence is an intimate, convicting, painful truth. But it was something I needed to hear, and I needed to hear it from him. A reminder of a promise he had made to me some eighteen years ago. A reminder that where sin abounds, grace over-abounds, but a gentle warning that I need not test this, either.
And then it was just him and me, looking over my life and all the spinning plates and balls being juggled, the way you look out over a landscape when you are at the top of a roller coaster: you see everything and nothing seems to matter anymore. The exhilaration of the ride is enough. Knowing that you are about to fly is enough.
It couldn’t last forever. Pretty soon, I was back on Earth. The parabolas of light in the back of the room refocused in front of my eyes.
“Something’s wrong?” François asked as the musicians experienced a train wreck at a key change, forcing an emergency stop in the music. I nodded. François is sensitive to spiritual things. He seemed to know that I had just been jolted back from a meeting with God and this made him smile.
“I’ve got to stop juggling,” I told him. “…so I can start flying.”
Figuring out what it means
So the takeaway from my little meeting with God was clear; the implementation was going to be a challenge. Remember, I keep my brain busy so that I don’t have to play whack-o-mole with my thoughts. To stop juggling would mean letting some things crash. I didn’t want to fail at anything: that would be antithetical to what I want for my Ideal Life.
Oddly enough, when I woke up on Saturday, one of the spinning plates was missing: I was not dreading the moment my boys would wake up. When they were finally up, and I had to take the little one to the store at 7:00AM to get maple syrup, I wasn’t internally panicking that he was going to touch everything in the store.
Maybe the coffee was stronger this morning? I wondered. Maybe I am just too tired to worry?
But the strange feeling of peacefulness lasted all day. I took the boys to the park and we played (American) football together and never once did I wish I was sitting quietly on a bench. My boys and I played together and they played with their friends and I chatted with a park mom and I never once wished everyone would just leave me alone.
I don’t want to get out over my skis, but I think, on Friday night, during that verse and two choruses, God took away my resentment about being a parent.
That one, ever-present mole in this giant game of whack-o-mole of my life. Poof. Gone.
The Ideal Life Exercise
Today, this Sunday, as I consider what is working in my Ideal Life, I am cautiously optimistic that I have entered a new season of my parenting. I am so grateful, and so grateful that it happened how it did. I’m glad it happened while singing.
All our Ideal Life themes are interconnected. My parenting and spiritual life were recombobulated while I pursued my Ideal Life in music. Progress is progress. Sometimes it happens in leaps, sometimes it happens in tiny steps. But it always feels like magic.