The end of the year is often seen as a time to take stock and review what we’ve achieved in the past year, and maybe make some resolutions for the next year. It’s a time when we’re likely to ask ourselves questions like: What have I achieved? What more should I have done? What can I aim to do next year?
These were the questions I was hoping to answer when I decided to do a personal retreat recently. Booking a room at a local residential theological school, I thought I’d spend four quiet days reading God’s Word, praying, reflecting on the past year, and planning for the year ahead.
To my surprise, however, God showed me that I would probably not get the answers I was seeking. In fact, I might have even been asking the wrong questions.
As I spent unhurried time with God, chatted with staff and students at the school, wandered around its tranquil compound, and simply savoured the opportunity to get away from my usual routine, I began to see life as a matter of being, rather than doing.
No doubt, most of us have many duties and responsibilities that take up much of our days. Work, studies, family, caregiving can take up every bit of our waking time, so much so that it crowds out time for God, rest, and self.
Yet, over those four wonderful days, as I took my time to do what I wanted, I discovered two simple insights into how I could learn to slow down and appreciate this life that God has given me:
1. I Need to Stop Trying to “Achieve”
Living in Singapore, it’s so easy to get caught up in the constant striving for productivity and efficiency. Everything can become an item on the to-do list—even Quiet Time and prayer—that needs to be done quickly and efficiently, so that we can move on to the next item.
But, I realised that I needed to take a second look at these tasks and reflect on their intrinsic value. Instead of trying to get them out of the way as quickly as possible, I could ask myself: Why am I doing this? What is it worth? Can I spend more time and effort on it? How can I make it really count?
During my retreat, I began to see the value of some things that I often rushed through or treated as “luxuries”, forgetting how essential they really were to life as a believer.
Taking time to read the Bible and pray, knowing that it is a privilege and joy to do so as a child of God.
Taking time to chat with people around me, remembering that it is part of meaningful fellowship and sharing God’s love.
Taking time to rest, knowing that the body which God gave me needs it as a necessary break (and not a time-waster).
Taking time to read, remembering that it is part of learning and exposing myself to wider knowledge and understanding.
2. I Need to Start Enjoying the “Doing”
Ecclesiastes 3:1 describes “a time for everything, and a season for every activity”. Everything, the Teacher reminds us, is a gift from God. That includes every duty and task—as well as the time to do it.
“There is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live,” observes the Teacher in verses 12–13. “That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.”
Instead of always wondering, What do I need to do next?, I realised that I should ask this question instead: Can I learn to enjoy everything I do?
Can I see each task as something of value in itself, and not just as a means to a greater end?
Instead of rushing to clear up after dinner, can I learn to focus on washing the plates and cleaning the table well?
Instead of rushing to the supermarket or MRT, can I learn to enjoy the walk itself?
Instead of rushing to finish a writing assignment, can I just soak myself in working on the words?
I’d highly recommend a short, personal retreat for anyone who’s stressed, exhausted, worn out, or simply tired of the daily routine. The unhurried time of reflection and rest—even if it’s just half a day—is refreshing, for it gives an opportunity to take stock and spend time with our Creator.
But even more importantly, I believe we can learn to see our routines and lead our lives a little differently. Not just to slow down, but also to appreciate and to enjoy the tasks and time that we have been given—and to find satisfaction in all our toil, for all this is the gift of God.