Thinning yields life's choicest fruits

Knowing When to Say 'No'

by Phyllis Edgerly Ring

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Just Say No

I chuckled the first time I noticed the empty gallon jug my husband had placed under a leaky faucet before we had time to repair it. That tap only dribbled about a drop every 15 to 20 seconds.

Yet when I needed cooking water a short time later, a full jug of that water was waiting nearby. Those drops had really added up, and it felt good to put them to use at least once before they went down the drain. (Depending on what gets cooked in those pots, my husband sometimes even captures that water for double-duty on flowerbeds or houseplants.)

For years now, he has also brought home pounds of paper and cardboard from his workplace, where generating mountains of them is an occupational hazard. One or two evenings a week, he takes an hour or two in front of the TV to sort, flatten, and bundle these up for recycling.

Initially, those quantities of waste paper looked pretty small. It was easy to think, why bother? Yet over time, as those resources were channeled toward reuse, they didn't simply disappear into dumpsters to later occupy an estimated 2,000 cubic feet of landfill space.

Watching even simple attempts at stewardship reminds me that a lot of things, whether material goods or individual acts of human behavior, may not look like much in the moment, but they add up over time. And as they do, life is either enhanced, or time itself begins to feel choked off as a sea of activity, and stuff, begins to swallow our life.

When a friend gave me a batch of beautiful vegetables from her garden, I realized that there was one factor in their healthy growth that I'd never been savvy enough, or disciplined enough, to grasp. I had avoided thinning the plants in my garden and, as a result, I'd had weaker plants and poorer yields. Since I hadn't practiced the discernment and choice that thinning requires, none of my plants had done very well.

Things add up, and while that can sometimes be a useful concept in the conservation of even minute bits of important resources, it can dwarf our lives and our time, when we don't make choices. The cultural suggestion that "you can have it all" produced a lot of folks like me who are finally having to learn how to thin our gardens and our lives.

I had a rather timely epiphany about this a few months back when I visited a friend in Europe. I was surprised to see that as she made her to-do list, she customarily planned no more than half of her waking hours (two-thirds on the absolutely busiest days, which she keeps to a minimum).

When I asked why she didn't plan more, she said, "How else can I leave room for the unexpected, or spontaneity, or even the chance to change my mind?"

"But what about all the things you need to do?" I protested.

"Well, who decides that?" she asked, reasonably enough. "Of course, this means that I have to say no to some things as well as yes to others," she qualified. "But I try to think of it as deciding what my yes's will be, first, then seeing what time and room are left over after that."

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By pruning her day through this disciplined budgeting of time, she gets the very most out of her "yes's," she said, and seldom feels as though she's doing something she doesn't want to.

Like that jug under our faucet, she's found the design for capturing back a resource and using it in a useful or meaningful way, rather than watching it drain away. Now, that's my kind of stewardship

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