In our achievement-oriented culture, how do we make time to just be? For Stephanie Crumley-Effinger, our Quaker foremothers and forefathers have the answer.
There’s a quotation, I don’t know the source, but I’ve seen it on posters: “Don’t just do something, sit there.” It’s really hard to feel permission in our achievement-oriented culture not to be doing something every moment, not to be filling every day to the brink with activities that have some kind of tangible result. But one of the gifts of my later life is learning that stopping and being and listening and silencing the thoughts is foundational to faithful being and doing.
Making Space for Faith
I’m Stephanie Crumley-Effinger and I live in Richmond, Indiana. I’m a member at West Richmond Friends Meeting and have been most of my adult life, and I also serve as director of supervised ministry on the faculty of the Earlham School of Religion.
Our culture is very focused on accomplishment and busy-ness, achievement and doing. One of the gifts of the Religious Society of Friends, of Quakers, when we can remember it, is the invitation to be and not solely to do, and to have our doing arise from faithful being rather than just from our really good ideas.
A Discipline of Being Present
A discipline that I began some time ago is taking 20 minutes in the morning. I set the timer on my phone for 21 minutes to give myself some time to center into the 20 minutes, and just seek to focus on presence with God and try to let go of the thoughts that come—because they always do, thousands of them, I can’t believe how many thoughts can come in 20 minutes—and just to seek to be.
It feels so unproductive. I haven’t gotten anything done! I could use that 20 minutes to fold laundry, send email, work on the next project, grade the next paper, et cetera, et cetera, and to feel that big permission from my Quaker foremothers and forefathers and brothers and sisters that: no, being present with our teacher and guide is really important.
Renewing the Foundation
It’s not that I am there experiencing these great revelations and such. I’m trying to empty my mind of things. Sometimes there will be some kind of nudging toward something, but mostly it is like getting one’s balance after one has tripped a little bit or something like that. It’s not some big, wonderful, “Wow I spent this time with God and these are all the great things that happened.” It’s more a renewing the foundation for the rest.
Seeking to Be Available
Trying to value things that aren’t just accomplishment is another piece of pushing back against the American obsession with accomplishment and doing. It’s like spending time with a little kid, and not needing to be on my phone and sending email at the same time and such, but walking down the street and collecting the sticks, and noticing the pinecones and yeah.
But to be faithfully a Quaker means to take seriously that stopping, that “Don’t just do something, sit there,” and seek to be available. Not distracted with all the really good things that I can being doing and aim to do, and even sometimes do.
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.
- Subscribe to QuakerSpeak so you never miss a video
- See a list of all the videos we’ve produced.
- Read Friends Journal to see how other Friends describe the substance of Quaker spirituality
- Stephanie says that when she sits in the morning for 20 minutes, she experiences a rush of thoughts about how unproductive she is being. What are some of the thoughts that enter your mind when you are trying to be still?
- Stephanie uses the example of spending time with a little kid for when she feels completely present. What are some examples of when you are able to lose track of your achievement orientation and just be?