It is said that men and women process things differently, that their energies are utilized in differentiated modalities, and that that is why the sexes don’t always understand each other. Conventional wisdom has it that women tend to see the harmonious whole of life and that men tend to keep things like emotions, spirituality, sexuality, intellect separate and distinct. I don’t really think this is true, but I’m not a woman so I can’t say for sure. As a man, however, I do see myself as someone who can very easily keep things distinct and separate in my mind and in my life. When I am in “Father Michel mode” I am not the same person as when I am in “Dad mode.” When I’m talking to my father in “son mode” I don’t even speak the same vocabulary I use when I’m in “teacher mode.” I don’t usually feel a need to integrate all these roles and ways of interacting with the world, until, of course, I suddenly find myself tapped out.
My crazy life brings me a glut of information (much of it useless) and innumerable opportunities to serve others—which sometimes leads to feeling torn between a variety of ideas and projects. Life is exciting to me and I don’t want to miss a moment of it, so my excitement sometimes leads to diffusing my energy because I’m trying to do everything. I’m like the fuse box in the basement of my parents’ house, with too many electrical appliances running on the same circuit: there’s always the possibility of overheating and burning out. So, how do I keep doing what needs to be done without experiencing burnout?
My attention is easily pulled in many directions, not only in my personal life, but also by the larger culture: the media, the ads, and the frenetic pace of the workplace. It is at this intersection of productivity and insanity that Benedict’s words pierce the fog: “Listen, my son…” They are the opening words to his Rule, written in the 6th century C.E., in a time that he considered frantic, distracting and energy-diffusing. Benedict reminds me to take the time to listen to inner guidance, to take time to hear the soul’s sighing for fulfillment, and allow the rest of the world to fade into the background. His goal is not to escape from the world, but to engage authentically with the world. This always necessitates a shifting of priorities along with an openness to the new. Life is about finding worthy avenues and projects for our expenditure of our life’s energy, but if I’m not fully present to all that I am and all that I have, I will not find the most fulfilling choices and I will burn out.
Male or female, we are each multi-faceted people with a destiny that is completely ours to choose and to build. We are called to specific ministries or ways of serving others and my ways may not be your ways. The key, I think, is to be able to focus on the “best” things for our individual calling in Christ and not allow ourselves to be overloaded doing a host of really good things that are not ours to accomplish. With my spiritual father, Benedict, I am learning that my work in the world is necessary for attending to my physical needs, just as my relationships are critical for my emotional needs. It is when I can fully engage my spirit as well that I find those things that nurture body, mind and soul together. I may be a man who tends to keep things neatly pigeon-holed and who sometimes misses the larger picture, but listening to my soul helps me stay focused in each moment, allowing me to move within the rhythmic flow of God’s dream for me, harmonizing—if only briefly–all the aspects of my being into one balanced whole.
May the rest of your week be focused and balanced!