I found myself sitting in a restaurant with a spinach and goat cheese salad and an unexpected hour lying ahead of me.
It was noon during a particularly busy few months at work and I’d normally be eating at my desk, one hand mindlessly shoveling the contents of my packed lunch into my mouth while the other dutifully cranked out emails. Time was of the essence, after all.
Yet there I was, my lunch order having arrived while my lunch date simultaneously canceled.
It was a long overdue meeting, finally being confirmed after weeks of playing schedule tetris. When the day arrived, heck, when the hour arrived, we were still on. I was stressed and had a overflowing schedule, but I didn’t want to be the one to cancel, knowing it would be next to impossible to coordinate again. That’s when the wheels started to come off of her day.
A series of unfortunate events lead to the phone calls telling me she was going to be five minutes late. Then ten. Then fifteen. “You should go ahead and order,” she cautioned, knowing I only had a small window of time. So I did. And then she called, on the verge of tears, saying she was going to be half an hour late and couldn’t find parking, so make that 40 minutes, and could we just reschedule?
I was frustrated, I’m not gonna lie. I made a conscious effort to keep my tone from betraying my feelings over the phone, knowing her day had been chaos, but I was not pleased. I could’ve kept working, I thought, a little bitterly. I could’ve saved time and money by bringing my lunch, like I always do, and powering through the ever increasing pile of emails, like I always do. But now I had bought this lunch and spent the last half hour waiting for someone who ended up canceling on me.
As I was about to get up from the table and ask the woman behind the counter to wrap up my meal so I could take it back to the office, I felt a nudge. A nudge to just sit still.
And that’s when the thought flickered through my mind, one so incongruous with the thoughts running through my head mere moments ago that it caught me off guard.
You don’t have the time to not sit still.
I had been busy running, busy trying to check things off my list and meet deadlines and expectations. I’d been frazzled with the onslaught of emails and projects and the pressure to perform that I hadn’t taken a moment for myself. At least not a moment to rest and be still.
In that particular moment, left with a salad and broken plans, I realized I’d been given a gift. This unexpected bit of time was something I needed more than I could articulate. It was a gift to sit still in the midst of a busy season and ask God, what do you want to teach me? It was a question I had planned to ask my friend over aforementioned salads but now, in the quiet, the question was turned on me.
This small snippet of time in a restaurant revealed some things God was working in me that I wasn’t aware of. Clear as day, God spoke to me. Why hadn’t I heard it before?
Because I hadn’t made the time to listen.
We’re more effective leaders, employees and friends if we take the time, but often this means we have to make the time. It’s there, but may not easily reveal itself. We have to find it, set it aside and fiercely protect it.
On that particular day I left with the sweet treat of a quiet half hour and a gooey chocolate chip cookie. I wish I could tell you the experience forever changed how I manage stress and from that day forward I never ate lunch at my desk again. But I can’t. In fact, three out of the five days last week I ate while I worked. So I’m not perfect. Surprise! But what I can tell you is that this experience was a small but significant part of a journey toward self-care and boundary setting.
Life is about balance and this balance shifts and is often shaken up. But the need for solitude and rest and time to listen to the Lord is a necessary constant. It may look like two hours of quiet time every morning for some (I’m jealous), or it may look like 20 minutes on the way to work for others. For me that day it was an unexpected lunch break. Regardless, time is a finite resource and if we use it wisely it can be a kind gift to our soul.