In their book, “Overwhelmed: How to Quiet the Chaos and Restore Your Sanity,” authors Kathi Lipp and Cheri Gregory, evangelical Christians, offer readers a plan for reordering their lives away from a constant state of feeling overwhelmed. I have not read the book but spent a half hour of “mom time” (waiting in a parking lot for the carpool shuttle to arrive) listening to Kathi Lipp speak on a local Christian radio station. It was odd as I usually pray the Rosary or listen to our Catholic station, but I had a nudge to turn the dial that day. The Lord knew I needed to hear this message. Speaking about having too many commitments, Kathi shared that “you have to be willing to say a thousand little ‘no’s’ to get to that one emphatic, ‘YES!’ that God has for you.”
A thought then occurred to my Catholic mind regarding chastity, not regarding our sexuality, but chastity of time. I say “a thought occurred to me” but in reality this thought blew me away. It went off like a bomb in my brain: Chastity of Time! Of course! We are called to keep chastity with all of our gifts, not just sexuality, but every good gift the Father gives us! But what in the world does this strange thought mean? What, to begin with, is chastity?
Virtue: The Firm Habit of Doing Good
As we all likely know from our old Baltimore Catechism or from the mouth of a wise friend, a virtue is the firm habit of doing good. It is something that we have to practice continually throughout our lives in order to hopefully, prayerfully, make our way along the road to heaven. The virtue of chastity is described at length in our current Catechism of the Catholic Church beginning at paragraph 2335. In this paragraph, a simple definition of chastity is given as:
…the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being. The virtue of chastity therefore involves the integrity of the person and the integrality of the gift.
Unity and integrity, which speak of wholeness, are guarded by chastity.
The Catechism continues:
Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom. The alternative is clear: either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy. The virtue of chastity comes under the cardinal virtue of temperance, which seeks to permeate the passions and appetites of the senses with reason.
Our freedom and happiness depend on our keeping of chastity!
So what does this have to do with our use of our time? Everything, I would posit. We live in a world of choices. Although we all live within a framework that restricts much of our time (i.e. jobs, care of families, sleep, etc.) each of us has ultimate control over the architecture of that framework as well as the building blocks of each hour we live. What we choose to do with our time is ultimately up to us. Our Lord gives each of us a certain number of years, months, days, hours, moments. He also gives us our vocation, our related duties and our gifts and talents. In accord with that vocation and those duties, gifts and talents, we are to use the gift of time to give serve him fruitfully.
There is so much to do. Our families, our jobs, our parishes, our schools, our communities all offer us a thousand different good ways to spend our time and energy. Committees need to be run, funds need to be raised, and ministries need to keep moving. We are all asked to get more involved in every aspect of our lives continually. We often say “yes” simply because we agree that the task at hand needs to be done and we have the skills necessary to do it. We often say “yes” without thinking about, or praying about, whether or not this new task is something that we should be doing or that we are called to do. We often say “yes” for all of the wrong reasons.
Of course there are times when we need to jump in and help out without much thought or prayer. A friend is suddenly ill and her children need dinner. A schoolroom is flooded out and it’s “all hands on deck.” There are many such occasions where Christian charity requires us to chip in and do what we can. But the current epidemic of overscheduled lives goes well beyond these instances.
A Thousand Little No’s
With chastity of the body we have to say “no” to many temptations in our dress, deportment, thoughts, words, and actions. The same is true with the temptations against chastity of time. We have to learn and practice saying “no” to many temptations to give our time to things that are not prayerfully in line with our vocation and our specific circumstances. We have to get in the habit of saying, and meaning, “I will pray about it” when asked to use our time in any way outside the basic framework of our family’s life. Then we actually have to pray about it and listen to what the Lord speaks to our heart.
“But it needs to be done.” Perhaps you are thinking of something you have an inkling you should say “no” to, but you also know that this something truly does need to be done by someone. If it truly does need to be done by someone, it will be done. God knows what needs to be done. Ask him if you are the one who is supposed to do it. Just because you are capable of doing something does not mean that you should. Pray about it.
Some things you do not need to pray about; you just know to say “no.” So do it: say “no.” Give yourself permission to say, “no.” Christian charity does not require you to do everything everyone asks you to do. Christian charity does not require you to martyr yourself for good causes while your family gets your leftover time and quite possibly your grumpy, overwrought moods. Once you get in the habit of saying, “no” to the wrong things (even good, wrong things), you will begin to feel the freedom God intended you to have and you will open yourself up to the fruitfulness that is inherent in chastity.
The Catechism continues its discussion of Chastity turning to the fecundity, or fruitfulness, that is a result of the “YES” that comes after all of those little “no’s.” It speaks of the unitive and procreative significance of marriage. Our time and talents are also meant to be fruitful, to have fecundity. When we keep the integrity, the wholeness, the unity of our lives through our chastity over our time, we allow God’s fecundity to come forth in those things to which we are now able to say “YES.”
I recently had a conversation with a dear friend who has spent the last year gracefully bowing out of a few very good activities. She and her husband had prayerfully discerned that their family life was losing its integrity, wholeness, and unity because of their involvement in the wrong (but good) things. This friend was still feeling the sting of guilt at having made these hard choices and was even being tempted by new wrong (but good) things, but she was persisting prayerfully in guarding her time. The subject of our conversation changed to an idea she had about something truly wonderful she wants to do which makes perfect use of her gifts and talents and works well within the framework of her vocation, her family, and her specific circumstances. Suddenly her posture, her complexion, her whole being ignited with this inspiration of the Holy Spirit as she described what the Lord had been speaking to her heart, now that she finally had given herself the time to let him! After all of those many little “no’s” she finally had her big “YES!” Through practicing chastity with her time, my friend is now experiencing the conception of the fruitfulness the Lord intends.
How about you? Do you feel overwhelmed? Do your life and your family’s life have integrity, wholeness and unity? Do many of your activities feel, well, fruitless? Even if they don’t feel fruitless, do you have the feeling that you are not bearing the fruit God intends you to bear? Are you trying to be an apple tree when really you are a rose bush? Why are you forcing yourself to squeeze out a few wormy, hard, sour apples at great cost to your integrity when you know in fact you are meant to be a blooming rose bush? Could it be that you are falling prey to the vice that opposes the virtue of chastity?
Lust: The Vice Opposing the Virtue of Chastity
Let’s go back to our Catechism and look at our virtue of chastity and its opposing vice. St. Thomas Aquinas taught that every virtue has an opposing vice. The vice opposing chastity is lust which can be simply stated as impure desire. It may seem a stretch on this analogy of chastity of time to call ways we sin against it “lust,” but perhaps it isn’t. All virtue, taken to its root, goes to purity of desire, purity of intention, purity of heart. As all sin is first conceived in the mind and heart, so to, all virtue. To keep chastity over our time, we need to prayerfully discern our own intentions when we say “yes” to things to which we perhaps should be saying “no.”
What is it that you are saying “yes” to when you say “yes” to a committee for which you have no time? Is it people pleasing? Are you trying to usurp Divine Providence by doing what “somebody’s gotta do” even if that somebody doesn’t have to be you? Are you trying to earn God’s love? Do you think you have to be super busy in order to have value? Somehow, even though the Nazi’s lost the war, their idea of “Work Makes Free” (Arbeit Macht Frei – as on the gates to the concentration camps) has won the day. It has somehow become ingrained in us that we are only as good as we are busy. Say “no” to this and choose God’s freedom!
We all have gifts God wants us to develop. We all have calls within our vocations. If we do not say “no” to many things which are not ours to do, we will never say “YES!” to what God does intend for us to do. If we lust after people’s favor or the thought that if we didn’t show up, the whole system would shut down, we endanger the fertility of our time. If we are not chaste with our time, energy, and talents and we do not have purity of intention of heart, then we will say “yes” to that which we should say “no.”
This little thought, chastity of time, that blew me away in the parking lot that day is truly a virtue for the times the Lord has planted us in. We are constantly tempted to do more. We are constantly tempted to spend less time being still and knowing that He is God. To quote a certain cultural icon, “How’s that working out for you?” I know for me, it’s not working out so well. Doing more leads to a dis-integration of life, especially family life. Our Lady taught the seers at Fatima that the final confrontation between good and evil would be over marriage and the family. We see that playing out in a thousand ways in our culture today. It seems to me that the virtue of chastity of time, prayerfully practiced, could do much to re-integrate our families, our marriages, and our souls.