If you were to go far a walk in the forest with four-year-old Ava, you’d be in for an experience. She doesn’t care about reaching a destination or walking for exercise. She’s never in a hurry to return home. She is immersed in all the delights of her surroundings: a colorful pebble, different leaf designs, sticks of unusual shapes—and oh, watching a bug can entertain her for a long time. In spite of efforts by others, there is absolutely no hurrying or distracting Ava when she is on a walk. She wanders along singing a little song to herself in total bliss.
If you are accompanying Ava, you better take along a bucket for her to fill with wildflowers, twigs, stones, and other nature treasures, or you will end up carrying it all in your arms, hands, and pockets. Ava has opened the eyes of our family to much more than we usually experience on a family walk. Who knew there were such treasures right underfoot?
What Else are We Missing?
Perhaps you’ve read quotations written, no doubt, by elderly folks who look back over their lives and wish they had lived differently. Things they would do if offered the opportunity to go back in time: “relaxing more, taking fewer things seriously, laughing more, eating more ice cream and fewer beans, walking barefoot in the grass, riding more merry-go-rounds, enjoying more sunsets, climbing more mountains and swimming more rivers, going to more places not previously visited, playing more with children.”1 In other words, embracing more of the joys of life.
Time seems to move at a faster pace the older we get. In spite of the technological advantages designed to save us time, we find our daily schedules fast-paced and hectic. Our lives leave little or no time to play, to explore, to experience, to feed our spirits. Everyone in our circles is as focused, driven, and involved as we are. As a result, stress, anxiety, exhaustion, discouragement, and even depression are often our close companions. Do you ever want to escape to a less complicated existence?
How can I tell if I'm too busy?
Sometimes we don’t even realize how busy we are. Answering the following questions may provide some clues:
- Have I been skipping my quiet time with God, intending to catch up later?
- Do I rush through meals? Or perhaps multi-task while eating? Do I sometimes even forget to pray before eating?
- Do I become impatient while sitting at a red traffic light or while stuck behind a slow driver?
- Am I losing touch with loved ones and friends?
- Do I constantly feel tired, even after a good night’s sleep?
- Have I been skipping church in order to get some extra rest?
- Do I often feel overwhelmed with work, home, and church duties?
- Can I remember when I last took the time to read a book just for enjoyment?
- Am I constantly checking my Blackberry, smart phone, or laptop computer for important messages?
- Do I find myself easily irritated, short on patience, or frustrated?
LESSONS AVA CAN TEACH US
It’s true that we should be responsible, accountable, and productive adults. Those are all admirable qualities. At the same time, guarding our joy in living is equally important and has a profound effect on our satisfaction with life. So let’s see what principles we can learn from four-year-old Ava:
1. Slow down. Instead of rushing about from one thing to another, choose to do less. Do each task with mindfulness. Take time to look for the obvious and not-so-obvious uniqueness in everything.
2. Be in the moment. Truly focus on whatever it is you are doing.
a. When at work, concentrate on work. When you leave work, leave work!
b. When outside, listen to the birds, feel the breeze, marvel at the clouds, smell the flowers—and, yes, hum or whistle a little song of thankfulness.
c. When talking with friends, family, and colleagues, give them 100 percent of your attention. Look them in the eyes, listen with your ears and with your heart. You will be surprised at what you learn.
3. Disconnect. Let there be times when you are free of technology, free of electronic interruptions, and free of constant demands for attention from others.
4. Embrace new experiences. Go places and do things which are not ordinary. Visit a secondhand bookstore just to see what treasure you can find. Go on a picnic. Put a bouquet of freshly picked flowers on the kitchen table. Play catch with the neighbor’s child. Go star-gazing. Bake something and share it with someone special. Contact an old friend. Start a new hobby. Make a list of goals and then enjoy accomplishing them. Volunteer. The possibilities are endless!
5. Care for yourself. Besides feeding your spirit and senses with engaging, positive experiences, take care of your mental and physical health too.
a. Eat more slowly, being mindful of each bite and appreciating flavors and textures.
b. Engage in exercise to keep all systems functioning well—but do so in an enjoyable variety of ways.
c. Schedule enough rest and relaxation to recharge your energy.
d. Feed your soul with inspiration. Find restoration in peaceful reflection, worship, inspirational reading, and heartfelt conversations with your Heavenly Father.
Life can be full of challenges. But when we make simple choices along the way to add variety, zest, and joy to the spirit, then our journey has the potential to become more balanced, interesting, and pleasurable with, perhaps, fewer regrets in the end.