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Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Overcommitment Is a Sin
distributed 6/21/02 - ©2002

I wasn't at all surprised by the responses to my request. After all, I know the feeling all too well.

In last week's Notes, and a few other places, I put out an appeal for letters to the editor on climate change. I've heard back from a few people who have written, or will soon write, to their local paper. (Thank you!) I also received a number of replies from folk who have not written. They all have a similar tone:

  • I don't have a moment to stop and think right now to draft a letter. Work demands high.

  • Presently swamped with deadlines.

  • I am swamped with work projects

  • I only have time to sign on to a group letter.
These comments are from committed activists, folk who are passionate about the need for immediate and dramatic action to minimize global warming. With great regret, they tell me that they appreciate what is being done to coordinate a campaign, but that they don't have time to write a letter.

I fully understand. Writing that sort of public statement is difficult and time-consuming for me, too. It is not something that can be shoehorned into an already tight schedule.

I respect their honest and responsible choices about not making another commitment.

What troubles me is the regret that I hear, the sense that the pervasive deadlines and work projects are getting in the way of what they feel is really important. The routine obligations of life are demanding precious time and attention that many people would rather be giving to projects which are closer to their hearts.

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A decade ago, I preached a sermon titled, "Overcommitment Is a Sin." It was a message that I directed as much to myself as to the other members of the congregation. Unlike many of my old sermons, it still rings very true.

The sin in our frazzled lifestyles crops up when overcommitment fills us with anxiety, damages our relationships with God and with those close to us, and hinders us in living out our appropriate discipleship.

Since none of us can add more hours to the day, the solution to overcommitment is to say "no" to those things that are least important to our real goals in life. That is the only way we can fully say "yes" to the areas of our deepest passion.

Making those decisions, and following through on them, is tough. We're faced with conflicting priorities. Earn a living. Be involved in relationships with family and friends. Claim time for recreation. Participate in the community. Do the laundry and the dishes. Be active in church. Work for peace, justice and the integrity of creation. They're all important and legitimate. And all too often, they don't all fit into the week.

It is a difficult struggle to decide among the competing priorities, and to make the choices about what we will and will not do with our limited time.

There is a growing movement that calls us to adopt "voluntary simplicity." That movement challenges us to clean the clutter out of our lives -- the physical clutter that piles up in our materialistic world, and the scheduling clutter that eats away at our lives.

The advocates of simplicity help us to see creative choices for the tough decisions. They help us to see which of the "must do" obligations of life are really unnecessary overhead and frustrating distractions. Maybe life will be simpler with a job that pays less, or without a car. Maybe homemade is simpler than convenience food, or eating out.

There is a deep joy in voluntary simplicity. It allows us to claim what is really important by cutting out the unnecessary and the unwanted. It is not about "giving up" but about affirming.

Adopting that sort of chosen simplicity makes for a more centered spirit, and a more serene life. That is a good thing on a personal level. But there is more to it than the personal.

The e-mails that I received this week remind me that claiming simplicity in our schedules can also make us more effective and more fulfilled in our engagement with the larger world. When we are not "swamped" by the daily demands of life, we can choose to engage in the prophetic work that is close to our souls.

May we all find the courage to turn away from the sin of overcommitment. May we all discern how to live centered, spiritual and engaged lives of faith and action.

Shalom!

Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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