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A New Year’s resolution: Making the most of precious time

As we turn over a leaf in our calendars and begin a new year, it’s a good time to turn over a new leaf in our lives — not to add more items to our calendars and more stress to our lives, but to subtract, to pare down, to simplify. This New Year’s resolution will enrich our lives with something that seems in short supply in America in 2008 — serenity.
Most of us know the feeling of having to squeeze more tasks into less time — working moms, victims of corporate restructurings, people struggling to raise their children or launch a new business. The pressure builds, and we don’t know how to get it all done. It’s so bad that one insurance company is offering a discount to drivers who wait to get out of traffic before shaving, putting on makeup or computer-mapping directions to the next appointment.
Christian publishers have responded with a flurry of how-to books on time, stress and clutter management. Here are four recent releases I recommend on the basis of their practicality, variety, biblical foundation and inspirational value:

“From Clutter to Clarity: Simplifying Life from the Inside Out” begins by expanding our definition of clutter to include “any possession, habit, thought pattern, attitude or activity that 1. you don’t need or use anymore, 2. doesn’t fit or work for you like it used to, or 3. doesn’t add value and meaning to your life as it once did.” Then Twigg simplifies that to “anything that complicates your life and prevents you from living in peace as you live out your purpose.”
As her title implies, she moves from the inside out, with major divisions on “From Cluttered Thoughts and Attitudes to Inner Clarity,” “From Cluttered Lifestyle to Outer Clarity” and “From Cluttered Money Matters to Financial Clarity.” Particularly relevant to life today are chapters called “Making Peace with Our Possessions” and “Escaping the Technology Trap.”
Twigg makes the Scriptural argument for contentment, a principle taught and modeled by Jesus and Paul, urging us to “look to an eternal God rather than fluctuating life conditions to find contentment.” She discusses the American dream of success and materialism and the fact that it can “complicate our lives by keeping us spiritually undernourished.” She finds worry a hindrance, pointing out that “choosing not to worry is simply turning over any pretense of being in control to the one who truly is.”
“Living well is not about how much you have, but about how much you appreciate and enjoy what you have,” she says. She quotes Ben Franklin that it’s better to go to sleep hungry than to wake up in debt.
Twigg goes on to ask, “Do the appointments on your calendar reflect your priorities, or do they reflect your inability to say no?”
As a means to evaluate ourselves, Twigg provides at the end of each chapter a section called “Clutter Busters,” which helps us examine the spiritual as well as the practical implications of our lifestyles. For example, “What keeps you from seeing yourself as God sees you?” A section titled “Coming into Clarity” tells the story of women across the country who have applied the principles of that chapter and found them life-changing.

“Crossing the Desert” may be a new approach for many of us. Far from a how-to book, it is a book of wisdom that draws on Wicks’ experience as a psychologist specializing in world religions and secondary stress (the pressures encountered in reaching out to others).
His background of counseling world relief workers serving in Rwanda and Cambodia and health-care professionals working with soldiers injured in Iraq gives him special insight into secondary stress.
Wicks leads us to ask four “desert questions” that guide us in self-examination: “What am I filled with now?” “What prevents me from letting go?” “How do I empty myself?” “What will satisfy me yet leave me open to more?”
In sections titled “To Embrace the Freedom that Humility Offers” and “Letting Go,” he applies the lessons of the desert fathers and mothers of the fourth century as well as those of later spiritual teachers from around the globe to the desert times of our own lives — and the lives of those we seek to serve.
He urges us to passion, which he defines as “a sense of commitment, faithfulness and appreciation of the gift of life.” He nudges us toward knowledge, which “can shield us from unnecessary mistakes in nurturing our inner life, as well as that of our family, friends, and others who seek our help.” He encourages humility, which allows us to be transparent, to empty ourselves and to let go.

At first, I didn’t want to review “Take Back Your Life! 10 Choices to Give You More Time, More Energy and Better Relationships.” It sounded like one of those oversimplified how-to books that never satisfies. But that was before I read the chapter titles, which are amazingly scriptural and just as challenging to apply.
Everything about them goes against our human nature — and our current way of life in 21st century America. Examples include “Stop Climbing: Start Down the Ladder to Success,” “Let God Be God: Build the Ultimate Alliance,” “Serve Your Way to Success: Nurture a Servant Spirit,” and “Chase a Better Dream: Capture God’s Vision for Life.”
These paradoxical choices go beyond simple steps to the heart of biblical teaching and values. They can help us take back our lives and make us more like Jesus.
And for the person who simply wants a good-time management book, “Simplify Your Time” is an easy book to read that’s full of practical ideas and wise advice.

Organized as a 30-day program divided into four weeks, it can be read in brief daily sessions over a month. Weekly themes include “Time-Saving Habits to Simplify Your Daily Life,” “Time-Saving Tools to Simplify Managing Your Time,” “Time-Saving Skills to Simplify Your Lifestyle” and “Time-Saving Strategies to Simplify Your Future.”
Each chapter includes relevant quotes, several time-saving tips and a checklist for applying themes ranging from “Power Through Your Paperwork to Spruce Up Your Support Tools” to “Master the Secrets of Successful Multitasking” to “Do Less to Accomplish More.”
So turn that calendar leaf, and that leaf in your life, and settle down with a good book and a nice, warm cup of serenity.
BILLIE SILVEY, a member of the Culver Palms church in Los Angeles, has been a Christian for half a century and a journalist for 45 years. Silvey co-authored “Time Management for Christian Women” with Helen Young. She maintains a personal Web site at www.billiesilvey.com.

Filed under: Reviews Staff Reports

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