I had a brief conversation with a parent the other day about how she and her family spent half-term. Amid the various activities they did – museums, parks and the like – she told me that she thought it was important that kids didn’t fill their school holidays with endless activity. “They need time to rest, as well”, she said.
What a wise person she is. Most of us spend our time doing more and more with less time for the quality things that we know most matter to us. Socrates famously wrote “The unexamined life is not worth living…for a human. “ How are we supposed to live, to examine, to be, to become, to be fully human when we are so busy?
Of course, we can blame technology. I was challenged on Sunday last by two people in St Mary’s congregation for spending too much time in company with my head in my smartphone. It would be very easy to blame Apple for that. But I – and the countless people we now see walking around London gazing at their phones – we are the ones who have, however well-encouraged by amazing technology, chosen to focus on a screen than the people we are with. What will that do to human flourishing over time? Feel free to challenge me if I do it in your presence – it will do me good!
But busyness can take many forms. Many of us struggle with an avalanche of email as we copy the whole world into our emails and so fill up one another’s lives. But for others, working in two jobs is now the norm to survive and keep the family afloat.
Apparently in some Muslim cultures people will often greet one another with the Arabic phrase, Kayf haal-ik, which literally means, “how is your heart?” That’s not a question about what we’re doing, or how much we’re achieving. It’s certainly not a question about how busy we are. It’s a question about how we face the world. Are we joyous, fearful, anxious, in need of affirmation? Kayf haal-ik.
Lent, for Christians, is time to give this question some real attention. There may be practical things we can do – taking something on or giving something up. All well and good. But perhaps most of all, in busy London life, we can give ourselves the gift of time, time to examine our own hearts, time to spend attending to the hearts of those we love, time to connect – with God, family, friends and ourselves.
And here’s a great question to help you do that. When you ask someone in this season of Lent how they are, and they respond “I’m busy,” how about following up with, “I know. We all are. But I want to know how your heart is doing.”
Have a holy Lent.
Canon Simon Butler
Please remember: Simon is setting time aside in Lent to have 1-2-1 conversations with any who would like one. If you want to talk about your heart, why not book a slot with him.