When Linda Bieze is not trying to manage and edit at Eerdmans, she plays with her rescued greyhound Patches and sings in the Sanctuary Choir at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Grand Rapids.
One recent workday, it took me all afternoon to write an email to an author. It really did take all afternoon, not because I was doing multiple drafts about a sensitive topic. No, I was just sending run-of-the-mill editor’s queries that I needed to get out that afternoon. But I kept getting interrupted.
One of the editors wanted to give me her status report. Another editor had a question about working with his author. The phone rang, and it was an author calling with questions about preparing his manuscript. The editor in chief (my boss) stopped by to discuss a book in development. The publisher himself dropped in to give me some first-hand information about new books coming down the pipeline.
I finally finished and sent the email the next morning. Good thing, too, because for nearly the rest of that day, I was in back-to-back meetings. Sometimes, I feel like the jugglers on the old Ed Sullivan Show (I know, I’m dating myself) who scurried across the stage to keep a score of china plates spinning on slender poles while the frenzied orchestra played Aram Khachaturian’s “Sabre Dance.”
Can you tell I’m a managing editor? With the emphasis on “managing.” But once in a great while, I “manage” to edit a book myself. One that I edited last year, about which I am particularly enthusiastic, is R. Paul Stevens and Alvin Ung’s Taking Your Soul to Work: Overcoming the Nine Deadly Sins of the Workplace. Stevens and Ung apply the classic Seven Deadly Sins — Pride, Greed, Lust, Gluttony, Anger, Sloth, and Envy — plus two more — Restlessness and Boredom — to the workplace. They show readers how to counter these workplace sins with the fruit of the Spirit — joy, goodness, love, self-control, gentleness, faithfulness, kindness, patience, and peace. The outcomes of a Spirit-led work life can be quite amazing.
When I find myself in “plate-spinning” mode at work, Stevens and Ung tell me, I’m actually giving in to the sin of Sloth — in the form of pathological busyness. In some ways I’m like the modern-day “sluggard” Extreme Evelyn (p. 47), not because I’m a road warrior like her, but because I get my adrenaline rush from completing projects, bringing closure to things, and seeing prompt results — keeping all the plates spinning without dropping one. Interruptions just get in the way of my goals, I think.
Rereading Stevens and Ung’s chapters on Sloth and Life-Giving Rhythms, I learned some spiritual practices that are helping me become less like Extreme Evelyn.
First, I was reminded by the authors that “We are hewing at the roots of sloth when we resolve to be faithful to both great and small tasks” (p. 48). As Francis de Sales has taught, I am learning to look for the small, frequent opportunities at work to serve God — the things I had considered to be interruptions. I’m looking for fewer adrenaline rushes from projects completed and more simple satisfactions from serving God through the little things.
Also, I’ve discovered a spiritual practice to help me more intentionally develop a life-giving rhythm between work and Sabbath rest. “Sabbath” certainly means taking a day off from work, email, cell phones, and the Internet, but it can also be daily reflection, like the kind taught by Ignatius of Loyola. Now I am trying to ask myself at the end of each day
1. For what moment today am I most grateful?
2. For what moment today am I least grateful?
3. For what am thankful and what do I regret throughout the day?
4. What patterns do I see developing over the past week, month, and year?
5. What do these patterns tell me about my relationship with God? (see p. 152)
Quaker singer-song writer Carrie Newcomer has a song about finding the life-giving rhythm of work-rest-work and appreciating the rest, as well as the work. It’s entitled “I Meant to Do My Work Today,” and you can find the lyrics here (scroll down to page 10). Newcomer sings, “I meant to do my work today / . . . But I got waylaid by the morning sun, / And I got absolutely nothing done.”
We all need to find this rhythm of work-rest-work, of being faithful to the small tasks as well as the large, and of intentionally taking daily or weekly moments to get “absolutely nothing done,” even Extreme Evelyn and me.