Life By the Bells

Many years ago, after taking a course called 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, I started planning out my week using an agenda. Over the years I have adapted a shorthand that helps keep me on track throughout the week. My agenda looks like this.

It’s pretty simple really and covers everything from sleep to daily exercise and even prayer.

I found that just writing down what I planned to do in a weekly agenda did not help me to do the things I planned. The agenda helped me to keep track of my meetings ( which as a pastor is important, you don’t want to be missing funerals or weddings), but as far as the big rocks went (the disciplines of everyday living I valued like prayer or exercise) just writing them on a weekly to do calendar did not help me prioritize them. I found it too easy to let the work of ministry supplant the everyday disciplines because the work seemed so much more urgent than the time spent in the things I valued for my personal life.

Then I got a smart phone and I discovered two things: the Bible App and the timer/stopwatch app. I had heard how monks lived by a series of bells telling them when to go to certain activities and when to move on from that activity to the next one. Of course we all did that in school didn’t we? I personally loved when the lunch bell rang.

I tried it where my personal disciplines were concerned. When it came time for prayer, I would set my timer for twenty minutes and when it rang I could go on to the next activity…or I could set it for another twenty minutes, if I had nothing pressing me, and pray some more. But while the clock was counting down precious few things were allowed to interrupt me from my timed task.

Soon I was using the timer to time my exercise sessions, my reading sessions my writing sessions and even my housework. I found living by the bells had two advantages: For some reason the idea of doing a timed task made me more committed to the task and less likely to allow myself to be interrupted. Also, if I found myself not wanting to do a task, telling myself I only had to do it until the bell rang made the task more palatable somehow.

It still took work and time, trial and failure, but life by the bells has worked for me. As we have shut ourselves in during this time of quarantine, life by the bells has helped me organize and structure my days even while I do not have the big events like church services or worship practices or community events to attend to.

How do you structure you daily life?

Use It

I have always believed that the journey of life is as important as the destination. In fact, when it comes to self discovery I believe that the journey is even more important than the destination. It’s in the journey that we discover our God given roles. It’s in the course of the journey that we discover where we belong in this vast family we call humanity.

The art of self discovery becomes possible only when we stop rushing headlong towards what we see as the goal…the destination, and when we take time to look around at what the journey means to us. What we understand about the journey, how we look at the part of the journey we are on now, helps us understand many things about who we were made to be. There is no right or wrong in this process of discovery just more and less honest.

I have a friend, for instance, who is being driven by the current situation, of social distancing, to begin managing our church food pantry to meet the needs of elderly people in crisis.

My own reaction to COVID-19 is the understanding that I was made for the secret place. Each day finds me driven deeper and deeper into the place of prayer, the place God and I have dubbed “the sage’s cave”.

As I said before there is no right or wrong in the process of self discovery, there is only more and less honest. I could wish to be more like my friend and start laying out plans to create social reforms that will help in the Covid crisis, but that would be me being dishonest about what is really in me, because I am afraid of the reaction of people when they hear I am being led to pray (because lets face it our culture loves social activists while it sort of scoffs at monks).

I will undoubtedly explore the idea of being honest in the process of self discovery in the future, but for now I simply want to encourage you, my readers, to use this current situation to discover something about yourself you did not know before.