The Importance of White Space [Scheduling it in, if necessary.]

Yesterday, a friend with whom I have great respect shared an article on his Facebook page that discussed the topic of “community,” and it resonated with me on so many levels. [CLICK HERE TO READ].  

The author, Matthew Hansen, states:

The idea of community is being in and on pilgrimage together with a diverse group of people.  The question is, do we truly believe in doing community, or do we simply believe in the picturesque idea of doing community?  Do we settle for the idea, so that we don’t have to slow down and actually do it?  Do we settle for the idea so we don’t have to enter into healthy dependent and transparent relationships with others?  Do we settle for the idea because it doesn’t cost us the idols we have found our identity in?  I think, yes… I think we, me specifically, believe in the idea of living the lives of those who truly live in community, but we don’t believe in actually doing it, because it would simply demand we slow down.

As the writer shares about himself, I am also a “type-A person,” who loves my work, networking, and getting things done. And I’ve learned, it’s so easy to become entrapped on the “hamster wheel,” and moving at such an intense pace that we lose sight of what is most important: people and relationships, not performance and productivity.  Sure, our jobs require our time and attention. And, of course, we need to be good stewards of the responsibilities in which we have been entrusted, but not at the sacrifice of family, friends or even our own health (body, mind, soul and spirit).

My husband and I have learned that it’s takes quality time AND quantity time to develop any relationship, and to deepen the level of intimacy. Several years ago, when faced with the reality that our lives were too busy, we made some significant changes.  We realized something had to give, and life must slow down a bit. Priorities were checked and decisions were made, in order that we might be more intentional in developing community and investing in relationships in our sphere of influence.

As a result, in the last few years, we have begun scheduling in white space on our calendars*. At first, it felt odd scheduling white space (along with Sabbath and Date Nights). But if we didn’t do this, we knew it wouldn’t happen because there is always something else to be done. We both have jobs we love, along with sharing in the responsibilities of home schooling our children. So, life is full. Yet, we realize that aside from those commitments, we are responsible for how we  allot our time.

Not only do we desire to be good stewards of our time, we desire to be good stewards of our relationships.  For us, it’s became a question of good versus best. We’ve discovered that intentionally choosing to spend time with God, each other, our family, and close friends is always the better choice. Life just feels out-of-whack when these relationships are not properly nurtured. Yet, our society, even our Christian sub-culture, condones busy-ness, oftentimes at the cost of deepening relationships with those in our closest spheres of influence.

Truthfully, this transition hasn’t been easy. We’ve realized in order to say, “Yes,” we have to say “No”. “No” to more than one extra-curricular activity for our kids. “No” to missing family dinner, except on rare occasions (Often, this is how we connect with our community.) “No” to extraneous meetings with acquaintances which take time away from developing deeper relationships with those already in our sphere of influence.

In no way are we saying that developing new friendships is not worthwhile, or that we don’t make time to develop new friendships. However, we strongly desire depth to breadth.  In the last few years, we’ve learned:

source: Pinterest @amandamcrae

source: Pinterest @amandamcrae

When we schedule this intentional down time, in order to invest in our community and to deepen relationships, our calendars do appear overly full. This might unintentionally give the false impression that we are too busy and, perhaps, don’t have time for others. But this is only when folks don’t know our scheduling scheme.

A while back, an acquaintance saw my calendar and commented, “Oh, my word, I could never keep up with your life.” Then, I let her in on our little family secret: “My calendar looks crazy, but it’s because we purposefully schedule ‘down time’ to spend with family, friends, or have an evening out (i.e. Date Night, Poker Night, Book Club).”  My husband likes to call it planned spontaneity.

Along with embracing intentional white space, we are really leaning into the ministry of availability, which we’ve found is so easily taken for granted. Being available means having margin in our lives for those unexpected occurrences. Allowing for those God-ordained moments to drop everything and just show up when someone has a need or crisis. Or having time to connect with a friend over a cup of coffee for a long, detail-laden update on life.

In doing so, we’ve discovered  freedom. Freedom to say, “No,” to those opportunities which might be good, but are not the best use of our time.  Along with freedom to give a whole-hearted “Yes” to life-giving opportunities, which develop community and restore our spirits.

Trust me, we haven’t figured it all out. At times, we still find ourselves on the “hamster wheel,” needing to re-evaluate our commitments and priorities. Still, we are experiencing life-giving community in a new way. Simply by making an effort to turn off the noise of busy-ness and investing in the lives of others, even when it requires us to be vulnerable and without masks. [Which is the topic of another post to come.]

As Matthew Hansen stated in his article:

Learning to become faithful pilgrims amid the brokenness of this world is about becoming more Christian.  A Rwandan proverb says, ‘To go fast, walk alone.  To go far, walk together.’ When we learn how to slow down to make room for walking together across divides, we become more Christian.” from Reconciling All Things 

**By the way, we use Cozi, an online calendar for families.



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