Balance. Focus. Two things I need.

Today I asked one of the seminary professors about some of the classes that will be offered in the 2010/2011 school year.  In the course of our conversation, he said that he encourages his students to be more concerned about getting an education than getting a degree.  This is good advice.  A person can get a degree without really getting educated.

An education (*and* a degree) has been precisely what I’m after–I want to immerse myself in the subject matter, absorb it, make it my own.  I don’t want to just put out a product and be compensated for it.  I got my university degree mostly by putting out a product: the professors were the consumers, and I put out a product that met their demand.  Quite often, very little thought went into those papers–they are created for someone else’s benefit, not mine.  That is precisely not what I want to do here and now.  But I’m finding it difficult, when faced with a heavy workload, to not simply put out a product.

This semester is already overwhelming me in many ways, even though looking at my syllabi, the assignment demands aren’t all that high.  It’s the day-to-day work, the stuff that needs to be done between classes in order to understand and participate in class.  It’s the reading I have to do each week, it’s the translating and vocabulary I need to memorize (I’m way behind on my vocab–in fact, I should be doing vocab instead of writing this), it’s the daily journaling, etc.  I enjoy all of these things; all of my classes are interesting and engaging. But when I combine all the class preparation with the assignments that are due, I’m overwhelmed.  I’m trying to schedule a certain amount of time each day for the things that need doing, but I still seem to plod along and never get as much done as I had hoped and planned.

For my Theology and Practice of Christian Spirituality and Formation class I’m reading a book called Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.  The next chapter in the book is about letting go of things.  I imagine this will be “things that hinder”.  And I recognize that there are some things I could cut back on.  I rarely watch TV anymore, but the internet–Oh! The wasted hours!  I need to give up being current and up-to-date on blogs and Facebook statuses.

Dixie would never think of me as a person in a hurry, but it has become apparent to me that my mind is always on the go (although I do have the knack for shutting it off when my head hits the pillow).  It’s always on something: something I want to say here, the assignments I have due, the reading I need to do, the reading I want to do, this thing, that thing.  My mind is a cluttered mess preventing me from focusing on anything, whether it’s school or prayer (or any other spiritual discipline). And I’m wondering if underneath that mess there are some things I may need to deal with, things that I am blocking out or ignoring precisely by fillin my mind with time-wasters and distractions.  These things, I suspect, can tell me things about my personality, my work ethic, how I interact with people, who I think I am, etc. etc.  How do I get through that clutter and find that…thing?

That professor I was talking to this morning said that he tells students to do whatever it takes to get an education (as opposed to just getting a degree.  We didn’t finish our conversation, but I think he meant, Take this class not that class, simply audit this class, take less classes each semester, take your time completing your degree, worry less about your grades and more about what you’re learning, etc.

In connection with this Emotionally Healthy Spirituality book , I think one thing I may have to give up is achieving.  I may have to give up (or severely restrict) my internet usage (it’s more of an addiction than an interest these days anyway).  I may have to give up some socializing, just when I actually am getting to know people with whom to socialize.

But I have a wife and children to consider.  I have a life other than me and school.  And I’m at a stage in my life where losing sleep is no longer worth handing a paper in on time.

Balance. Focus. Two things I need.

And, perhaps ironically, I think I need to start practicing Sabbath in some way or other.  I need to take time to stop and give up control and just be, whether that’s by stopping for an hour in the middle of the day just to be silent (a separate discipline, I suppose, but still a way of stopping) or actually taking a day (Saturdays, probably) to not work.

8 thoughts on “Balance. Focus. Two things I need.

  1. Simon

    You’re talking about things I can relate to here, Marc. Not so much the theological education part, of course, but balance and focus. Right there with you, buddy. The sultry siren song of the internet sometimes requires the fortitude of Odysseus to resist. And I only have that of Simon. Over-matched I am, at times!

  2. Terry

    x2 what Simon says. Something about going to school later in life makes you want to take it on full force. I know you’ve blogged on this before, I had the same feelings when I went back to school for Business in 03.

    I really am starting to become more passive on the education side. Usually get a tinge of guilt when I think about it, but I have absolutely no desire to go back to school right now. Even though it says on my resume that I’m ‘pursuing an accounting designation’. I keep telling myself that I can focus on that when the kids are older, but in reality, it’ll probably be when they move out! 🙂

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  4. Toni

    Yup, the net will suck away all your time.

    I took a conscious decision to detach everyone that I had some other form of contact with from facebook so that I only used it to connect with people of significance who I didn’t meet elsewhere. Saves time and energy.

    I don’t know how prolific a twitterer you are, but every tweek will break your train of thought, distract you from being productive.

    Could be worth treating the net as a treat for your sabbath days rest.

  5. rilla

    Hey Marc,

    I read this this morning and then took the day to think about it. I find a lot of my time is lost on the internet and on computer playing and in moments of very high stress I like to tell myself that if I just quit playing computer or reading blogs or (insert time suckage here) I’d get so much more work done. To an extent, this is probably true, but I just want to warn you away from cutting out these activities completely. These things are there for our entertainment, and in times of high stress, you will need that entertainment as a reward or as a means of keeping you, personally, healthier.

    So, yes, it’s totally about balance.

  6. Randall

    Sounds like you are doing very well with only one semester behind you. Being an adult student is so much better I suspect.

    By the way, how’d you do on that paper last week?

  7. Marc


    I’ll put it this way: my grades this year have been inversely proportional to how uncertain I feel about the assignment. I haven’t felt worse about an assignment than the one you are asking about.


  8. Marc


    You are right. Entertainment is sometimes necessary. The problem is that often I’m not even entertained by the internet, but merely occupied by it. That’s not a good thing.

    I just used up a good 45 minutes reading reviews of a book I’m not likely to read. Entertaining? Sort of. Valuable? Not really.

    But I certainly don’t need to cut myself off completely.

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