To an unforgettable and
never forgotten friend
« How can a week pass so quickly? », both disillusioned and fascinated by the foolproof mechanism of the seven brothers Day, I kept repeating this observation to myself at every stealthy encounter with their elder, which left me with this unpleasant and ironic impression that, in the end, everything was working against me, even the Sun.
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and… Sunday. I had tried everything: checklists, schedules, reminders on my phone, books helping to manage time better, even by way of the coward accusation of my girlfriend at that time who, according to my in-depth analysis, was the only culprit, the crux of the problem because she was overloading our schedule – it’s already a bit strong, but wait, I did much worse than that. In short, so many poor attempts without success that left me every end of the week with this feeling of helplessness faced with the time that was flying, always faster.
Yes, of course there were holidays, anyhow holidays are always good. With two weeks, or even three for the most ambitious ones, I was embarking in the crazy project to cut myself off from time (well rather « we » than « I » , since the culprit was also of the adventure), to let go the maddening heptad of days wherever it suits them as long as they leaved us in peace for a given period. Through a great deal of stays in nice places, or trips into the country combining sport and discovery, or just breaks at home in order to finish everything we promised ourselves to do last year, it actually worked pretty well – it’s just as well, considering the heavy means implemented. But for how long does it work? Because, as for time, he did have the merit to respect his part of the contract, letting us swagger without worries while he continues to operate his well-oiled seven days machine at full pace, and that’s where it hurts. He worked in our absence, and he didn’t fake it: the pile of mail pouring out on us at the opening of the mailbox, the endless list of emails and the phone harassing us as early as Monday morning starts, the heavy loaded bills which apparently were just waiting on our tanned faces and empty pockets to assault us. Finally, the comeback after vacation, the coming back to reality, was soon reviving my end of the week’s observation, my desperate question, even if there it was about almost an entire month. « So what? Does that mean someone must spend his life on holidays without ever coming back, seriously is that a solution?”
Between becoming a billionaire in order to take it easy all life long, and living as a recluse away from the world in order to free oneself from its frantic pace, this solution that I was envisioning for an instant turned out to be more like a dead end. So far it may seem banal and even funny. But looking back at it today, I realize that I stayed in this dead end for an exceedingly long time, too long. In fact, long enough to gradually give up everything out of my work, my family/couple, and my church. Long enough, to start feeling the frustration of someone who sees other people, apparently, living their life while I was dreaming mine. Long enough, to finally reach the breaking point of my couple, and for sure there were many other important reasons for this, but my misunderstanding and my denial of my ex’s legitimate need to merely spend time with me played a role in my sudden decision to break up with her, in spite of the fact that we had been together for more than five years and that it was on her birthday – I warned you…
Reading all this, one can wonder how today I have been able to get out of this dead-end where time flying for my eyes was also flying away with my life. Well, even myself, I sometimes find it hard to believe. Yet, there has been an emergency exit that presented itself to me, or rather two: truth and love.
Indeed, it happened in two stages, and with two different sources of motivation.
As for truth, it is what I found when I got closer to God. With a common expression that annoys me a little, and according to the words of those around me, I was already « very religious », but that didn’t prevent me from missing quite a few essential things of the Christian faith that I had not yet understood, and things that I didn’t practice.
In the Bible, there are many references to the fact that God is mastering time, unlike us who are subjected to it. So far it is apparently simple and common, given the rather general notion of an omnipotent, GodAlmighty, widespread at least in most monotheistic religions. However, there are also many references to a notion that is a little more difficult to grasp: the Sabbath, or Shabbat. Even if it is not always by this word meaning ceasing in Hebrew that it is referred to in the Bible, we often find this concept of intentional rest in which one makes the choice to stop working, producing, doing, in accordance with the will of God.
As far as I was concerned, in addition to not applying it, I have long wondered why this Sabbath should have me stopping any activity for a whole day, even on Sundays. Indeed, one of the problems I encountered during my restless weeks, was that even on weekends I found myself overwhelmed, not by work certainly, but by everything I didn’t do during the week: shopping, cleaning, cooking, entertainment, meeting friends or relatives and church, among others. Unfortunately, it was very easy to fill up those two little days, where even the entertainment — which I didn’t add to the list by mistake, was becoming a duty since in the midst of all these relatively constraining activities, having fun was becoming a must at least to justify the name weekend. So how could one afford to lose a whole day when there was so much to do. That’s where it gets interesting.
Above, I mentioned the coming back to reality when talking about the end of holidays. Well in those days, my reality was that I couldn’t do everything I had to during the week, even worse, it was literally impossible, and the to-do list was growing inexorably. In fact, by refocusing on my Christian faith I understood that the Sabbath, and more generally the intentional rest desired by God, was a truth that I could embrace to let it come into my life and break this negative reality.
This truth consists in a bond of trust. For our part, we are committed to doing what we have to as best possible, and in the way God asks it, except during a specific period when we choose to rest and trust God for all that we didn’t have time to do until then. For his part, God is committed to shielding us from any negative effect eventually resulting from what we don’t do during our resting period, trusting us to do things like he asks during the rest of the time.
In practice, I chose Saturday for my Sabbath. Not according to tradition at all — the Sabbath is indeed on Saturdays and not Sundays unlike what I thought, but rather by force of habit. A habit taken during a year and a half of expatriation to Qatar. Paradoxically, this country in the Arabian Peninsula, like the emirate of Dubai, is mainly associated with luxury and leisure, while people work TREMENDOUSLY there (and I weigh my words). I cannot compare my experience to the one of the poorest workers there, whose strength and zeal for living impressed me much more than the luxury cars and lavish malls. But still, there I worked every day except Friday. It was weird, yet over time I got used to it. And when I was finally given my Saturday off because of a drop in my project’s activity, believe me or not, but at first I did not know what to do with an extra day off. Imagine, after more than a year of intense work while managing to do my personal activities during the week and during a weekend of one day, this grace of a Saturday off seemed almost too much to me. But it didn’t last.
Motivated by the Bible and my own body crying out for rest, I finally tested the Sabbath experience. And the first Saturday I started at full throttle: sleeping in, swimming pool, spa, and dinner in a restaurant. A small detail but that has its importance, being single before and during my stay there, I was able to enjoyer these activities Me, Myself, and I. It might sound gloomy, but you will see a little further why it was beneficial to me. So, it was a first Saturday of a king or rather of an Emirati, but as not everyone who wants to be a Qatari has the money to do so, I quickly calmed down to return to a normal lifestyle and simpler pleasures. Over the course of my resting Saturdays, I rediscovered the enjoyment of reading for leisure, cooking for pleasure, and lazing around… for lazing around, or as Italians say, for the farniente (far–niente meaning not–doing–anything).
Before this application of the Sabbath I was already doing my best trying to follow the commandments of God (which are more like good advices on life, it is when you apply them that you get to realize it), but surprisingly the list of tasks, which I would normally desperately try to reduce during my new day off, began to shrink on its own. For me there are two explanations for this.
The first, probably difficult to conceive but which I believe, is that God has indeed complied with his part of the bond: for example by having a person spontaneously and regularly preparing me a big dish avoiding me to cook for the week, or by suddenly solving a complicated issue with my bank sparing me the long queue before an interview with my advisor. Some call those happy coincidences… And the second, more tangible, is that by embracing this mindset of intentional rest, quite quickly I found myself putting my life and my little problems into perspective. Subsequently I started to realize that at the end of the day such and such appointments or given tasks were not that important, or even not necessary at all.
All in all, the bond of trust proposed by God was working well, my insurmountable to-do list was shrinking while I was enjoying a life-saving rest, what more could anybody ask?
At first glance nothing. I was proudly applying my magic solution and telling anyone who would listen about its positive effects on my pace, my life, which had caught its breath a little. However, without admitting it, I was feeling deep inside that something was missing, out of fear that my emergency exit would not really be one, or out of superstitious religion which was concealing an even greater discovery. That second emergency exit, which in fact complements the first one, this time has not been found through my reading of the Bible. And yet it could have been, it should have been! Yes, today I feel stupid not to have seen this essential point earlier. Like the nose on the face, or more like the elephant in the living room: harmless and resolutely good when one take care of it, it can turn into a problem and a big one when no attention is paid to it.
The Christian faith is based on love, God’s love first and the love for others. It’s what Jesus himself has relentlessly called to mind through his kind teaching to his disciples and his accusing reproaches to the priests of his time, in particular with this powerful allocution: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” It is both beautiful and full of meaning, but still it’s necessary to detect in those words a key that I haven’t realized by then, at least not by myself.
I said I was single before and during my expatriation, but I didn’t talk about the end of it. I had the chance to experience a beautiful relationship with the one who, initially as a friend, has occupied an important place in my life, and was behind my second emergency exit. A story too short unfortunately but that was worth living and that taught me a lot. Sadly, I think it is partly because she felt some kind of fault in my love towards her, that she quickly understood my problem. Indeed, loving one’s neighbor as yourself requires necessarily to start with loving yourself. But despite all my attentions, my will to be there for her — intensified by my disastrous experience with my ex, despite the beginning of a (I presume) love affair; it’s with a comparison between what I was doing for myself and what I was doing (or would like to do) for my neighbors, for her among others, that she saw right through me.
« You don’t love yourself!”. As brutal as it can sound, she said those words to me in a very calm way while we were discussing on how I was managing my time, and the multitude of things I was giving myself to do while painfully achieving only a part of them and not even with the expected results. I had surely already heard that, perhaps with other words, I had already glimpsed it during personal review exercises, but this was the first time I really understood it. Like all truth that comes to question us, I felt in me she had put her finger on something, on a fault I had let become an abyss. All things I had lost before because of my problematic apprehension of time, all this frustration from feeling my life flowing out of me like a hemorrhage, ironically started from a wound in me, small, but with disastrous consequences. Self-love, unlike self-esteem or pride, is not what you look for in the eyes of others, in mirrors, this is what you find in yourself and that others can detect as they look at you. And she, rightfully, had not detected it in me.
Despite the difficulty of admitting such a lack, I have managed to rebuild step by step that love for Me. I didn’t go to the extent to which I would seek the origin of this lack that could probably enlighten me and for which psychology or other means would surely be useful. But I simply started to love myself with little attentions, the way you act towards someone you love, with gifts, positive and encouraging words, primacy over other lower-ranked things, and mostly with time. Where my loneliness in the restaurants or in spas could pass for a sad relational situation — although I was in a relationship, it was actually all about a beautiful reawakening love story between me and myself. As this autarkic idyll was going by, I was able to discover a lot about myself and, above all, to finally erase this frustration of a life drifting away because left negligently at the mercy of a flying time.
In fact what I have had the chance to discover in Sabbath, was that by relying on God I could decide to say “BREAK” to time, to the unstoppable train of the week, even if only one day out of seven. But the limit to this power was that if I contented myself with that, I was just left with some mini-holidays scattered over each of my weeks and still with the same observation, the same helplessness for the six other days onwards. With truth I had won a victory on reality, I had conquered one day. But with love, with her appeal, my friend helped me to become aware of the fact I deserved something more than that, something that God himself already wanted me to understand behind his Sabbath and all the reference to love in his word.
Learning to love myself, accepting to love myself, I could finally look at time and tell him, first, that at defined moments I had the power to interrupt his frustrating grip thanks to God’s omnipotence and bond of trust, and mostly that I – and God also, loved me too much to continue to suffer his negative effects on my life. More than a battle for a simple day of sacred rest, I had won a war for my entire life.
I will ruin the happy ending a bit, but I want to be honest. I still have a long way to go, whether in terms of time management, or in terms of love life and self-love/love-for-others balance. But what I am sure of, is that with truth and love that God gives me to read in his word and to experience day after day, as the words of the Apostle Paul put it rightly, I am able today to redeem time and one day, hopefully, to love my wife as my own body because he who loves his own wife loves himself.