A time to diarise, a time to freak out (Ecclesiastes 3)

Andreanna Moya Photography, Creative commonsSeptember has been completely overwhelming. Tell me I’m not the only one…? This month, organising my diary has been like trying to solve a Rubik’s cube.

Here’s a glimpse into the life of a person with severe/moderate ME. At the moment, I am in a period of remission (yay!), which means I feel quite well, but I need still to spend most of the day lying down, and ration my time carefully. (Relapse means lying down and no people contact: not so fun).
I have self-imposed rules in order to manage my illness and conserve my energy, and for me at the moment this means:
– 3 rest times per day
– one hour blogging per week
– 3 ‘people things’ a week
A ‘people thing’ can mean a friend round in the evening for a chat, or a Skype conversation or a phone call. I am allowed three of those per week. Last week, I made a list of important people in my life, whom I love and want to make sure I see or hear from on a regular basis- and there were 24 people on the list.
I did the maths: 24 people into three slots per week = 8 weeks fully booked.
That means I can only see or speak to the people who are most important in my life once every two months. Assuming I don’t have another relapse (which is not a safe assumption), I can only see or speak to my closest friends and family six times a year. What about those I want to speak to more often than once every 2 months? And what about the other people who weren’t on the ‘regular’ list, but who it would be nice to see once every year?
I stared at my lists and my diary, and quietly freaked out.
I just couldn’t find a way of making it work. I know that Jesus said that entering the kingdom of God was like a camel trying to go through the eye of a needle, but I’m pretty sure that if he’d seen the list of people I wanted to see and the slots available in my diary, he would have used that as an illustration instead.
I did what all rational people do in such situations: I pretended it wasn’t a problem and lay on my sofa and watched Gilmore Girls repeats. For three days.
Finally, I chatted with my spiritual director about it, and these were the things I realised:

  1. Everyone has this problem. If we are the kind of person who wants to do many things, there are never enough hours in the day to do all the things we want to. Even if I were healthy, that would still be true of me. It has always been true of me. Life gets in the way of our dreams – eating, sleeping, washing, working. Pretty much everyone has the problem of too many things, not enough time.
  2. It is a spiritual discipline to say no, as well as yes. In The Artist’s Rule, Christine Valters Paintner talks about your ‘sacred yes’ and your ‘sacred no’. The loudest demands are not always the most important demands. We have to use our ‘sacred no’ in order to do what is best. Or, as my friend Tara says, “say no to things so you can find your ‘hell, yeah!’” Over many years, we forget we can say no occasionally to the people who need us, or who ask for us, or even the people who we’d really like to be with. Jesus said no: he often took himself off to a lonely place, ignoring the pleas of the crowds, and even separated himself occasionally from the disciples he loved.
  3. We need to listen to God for what is most important depending on the season we’re in. Depending on the season, our priorities will be different at different times, and wherever possible, our diaries should serve to our priorities, not the other way around. One of my friends has a very limited social life, because she chooses to home-school her children. She finds it hard, but reminds herself it is a season, and she wants to appreciate her children while they are young.
  4.  Voxer and social media can be life-savers or time-drainers. They are a great way of touching base with a lot of people. They can also be a massive waste of time (after you’ve spent half an hour discovering how much you can remember about Friends, and what kind of Disney princess you would be, you probably don’t need to do an additional questionnaire to find out whether you would be better suited to Brad Pitt or George Clooney*). We need to use these tools wisely.


There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens. Ecclesiastes 3:1, NIV

I am compromising, and I am cancelling, and I am diary-juggling (the latter should be recognised as a bona fide circus skill).
I am picking up the list and my diary again, and teetering forward slowly, but trying to do it consciously, prayerfully, saying no to some wonderful people in order that I can be a better friend to some other wonderful people.
I am trying to remind myself that saying no now doesn’t mean saying no forever, and saying yes now doesn’t mean saying yes forever. I also remind myself that in saying no, I am saying yes to unseen things, like time for healing, time for creative space.
I am praying through Ecclesiastes and asking myself questions like,
‘which things need to be torn down in my life at the moment, and which things need to be built up?’
what in my life needs to be uprooted, before I can plant?
I have stumbled into October without really knowing where September went, but I am holding my diary and lists together with pleas for God’s Spirit for guidance, and I am trusting that there is a time for everything.

To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven” Ecclesiastes 3:1, NKJV

Read the whole chapter at Bible Gateway. 
*Tricky, but probably GC, on balance.
[tweetit]”It is a spiritual discipline to say no, as well as yes.” – @Tanya_Marlow – A time to diarise,  a time to freak out: [/tweetit]
[tweetit]“This month, organising my diary has been like trying to solve a Rubik’s cube.” – @Tanya_Marlow on Ecclesiastes 3 [/tweetit]
[tweetit]”I did what all rational ppl do in such situations: I pretended it wasn’t a problem & watched Gilmore Girls repeats” [/tweetit]
[tweetit]“Say no to things so you can find your ‘hell, yeah!’” @t_owens in @tanya_Marlow’s new post on Ecclesiastes 3: [/tweetit]
Over to you: 

  • What and who do you need to say no to, in order that you can find your ‘hell, yeah!’ (- Tara Owens)?
  • How do you use social media to keep in touch with people? How could you use it more effectively?


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17 Responses to A time to diarise, a time to freak out (Ecclesiastes 3)

  1. Shona 4th October, 2014 at 8:33 pm #

    Tanya this was a brave post to write. It’s hard to accept our limits. I’m right there with you. Much to think about. ( And I can’t quite believe we skyped !!!) xxx

    • Tanya 15th October, 2014 at 1:46 pm #

      Thanks, lovely Shona. I really hope we can Skype again!

  2. Amy Boucher Pye 3rd October, 2014 at 9:51 pm #

    Thank you for a thought-provoking post. I seem to be in a season where God is trying to get my attention on what to say yes to – and what to say no to. I reviewed The Best Yes by Lysa TerKeurst recently, on the topic, and have just read Essentialism by Greg McKeown. Both so powerful. In the latter, he has two circles. One has small arrows all the way around it, and the other has one long arrow. We spread ourselves thin, or we concentrate our energy.

    But your winnowing down of your list is heart-rending. I take so much for granted. Thank you for reminding me to give thanks, and to open my eyes to the amazing gifts around me.

    • Tanya 15th October, 2014 at 1:46 pm #

      Thanks so much for this, Amy. (I’m constantly impressed by how much you read and absorb – thanks for the nugget from Greg McKeown.

      I’m glad I’m not the only one struggling with this. and thank you for your validation of my struggle with the ‘winnowing down’ (love that phrase). It does feel like that so often, and it is helpful to have that struggle acknowledged.

      Praying for you, for wisdom on where to focus your many talents and energy. x

  3. Mark Allman 2nd October, 2014 at 7:48 pm #


    I do believe we have to go for the “Hell yeahs” because there are so many wonderful things we could say yes too. I think it helps to know that when we say no to something good it gives someone else a chance to be part of that good thing. Your no opens the door for someone else’s yes. While they never can bring what you bring to the table they will bring their own uniqueness.

    Whoever those 24 are I know they are blessed by whatever time you are able to spend with them and blessed to be one of the 24.

    How does one “quietly freak out.” 🙂

    So maybe the verse should have read….. For Jesus said it is easier for a rich man to go to heaven than to get a time slot in Tanya’s diary.

    Life is not about balance…. it’s about making wise choices with the hand you are dealt.

    • Tanya 3rd October, 2014 at 10:51 am #

      ” I think it helps to know that when we say no to something good it gives someone else a chance to be part of that good thing. Your no opens the door for someone else’s yes.” – this is an excellent point, and an encouraging one. So often it’s easy to think that we are the centre of the universe, and it will collapse if we don’t do it.

      “For Jesus said it is easier for a rich man to go to heaven than to get a time slot in Tanya’s diary.” – Ha! Yup! I should have written that. Thanks for making me smile.

  4. Cathy Fischer 2nd October, 2014 at 3:59 pm #

    Thank you, as always, for sharing your challenges–and lessons learned!–so candidly. (And Gilmore Girls is near and dear to my family’s heart, as I as the single mom with two daughters, one especially Rory-like.) Your last two posts, last several actually, have hit me hard, and I am still digesting. I hope you do know how universal these struggles are, and how much you minister to others, whether with ME or not. Most of my closest friends are those whose seasons of unfulfilled dreams are long-lasting; they are the wisest and most humble people I know. John Stott, in The Cross of Christ, says “There is always an indefinable something about people who have suffered. They have a fragrance that others lack.”

    The things that I say yes or no to have varied with the season. Facebook was a unexpected lifeline during an especially isolated time; now I am rarely on it. In the past several years, my job (and keeping it) has been a focus (but exhausting), so recently I have said no to everything but the short list of must do’s on the weekend (laundry, bills, housecleaning), trying to do them at a leisurely pace, and it has been healing. Having sent my younger daughter away to college, I am having to address house maintenance issues that were ignored during the child-rearing years, as well as purging items from our home and unnecessary emails from my inbox. Trying to see friends more often, as my life can be quite lonely. But I am an introvert, so the challenge tends to be not sacrificing “alone” time for “others” time. This morning, I woke up unable to move my head and neck without pain; guess I blew any semblance of balance this week. Starting over. Looking for the grace in this. Sad about something I was trying to ignore. Today is a day of mourning. Gilmore Girls, anyone?

    • Tanya 3rd October, 2014 at 10:50 am #

      Thank you so much for these words of encouragement. I love that quote from John Stott, thank you. And it’s really interesting to hear how your priorities have changed with the seasons. When I was pretty bad with ME, I remember lying in bed, just refreshing Facebook multiple times a day, just to have some sense of people contact. Those days are hard. Waking up in pain is also scary and hard – thinking of you, and hoping you find grace in this. And Gilmore Girls – definitely Gilmore Girls.

  5. Rebecka 1st October, 2014 at 7:39 pm #

    I’ve been told my grandfather used to say “Those who can do everything they want to do don’t want to do much.” I think he was right.

    • Tanya 3rd October, 2014 at 10:47 am #

      Ha! A wise man, your grandfather.

  6. Stephanie 1st October, 2014 at 7:38 pm #

    This was incredibly helpful. I’m in a relapse, severe and mostly in bed, and trying to do more than you listed is safe for you people-wise – no wonder I’ve been getting worse rather than better! I don’t like the stark reality of doing ‘the maths’ but yes, pretending it isn’t a problem never, ever works.

    September was difficult. My Dad was in the hospital with a life-threatening condition and although he’s home now, he’s not doing well. My sister is moving halfway around the world in a few weeks. It is hard enough to live with this illness under normal circumstances, but not being able to help, be there, or even communicate much with loved ones during this time has been horrible. I’ve pushed myself for far more interaction and communication than is safe, but that small amount has felt insulting.

    Nothing is ever going to make this ‘okay’. But the things you listed, the verses mentioned, are such helpful reminders. They help shift focus, change priorities, accept what is, let go of what isn’t, love and give how I can, look to God for wisdom and strength, and hold everything with very loose hands.

    Thank you, Tanya.

    • Tanya 3rd October, 2014 at 10:46 am #

      Oh gosh, Stephanie – I really feel for you, living with the severe limitations of this illness, and not being able to help your family as much as you’d like. I think this illness is particularly hard on those who were always caregivers, because it deprives you of caring, and even deprives you of relationships, depending on the severity of the illness and the understanding nature of those friends and family. I really hope that your family understand that it is not your lack of compassion but your physical limitations that means you are so limited. You are ill. That is not your fault. Severe ME can be as incapacitating as late-stage AIDS or cancer.

      I’m so sorry to hear you’re in a relapse and mostly in bed. I know the panic of relapses (do read my post ‘on relapses and mountain climbing’ if you haven’t already…) It is frightening, and all too tempting to continue with life as before as much as possible, because it is just too horrible to think that yet another thing has been taken from you. I’m praying that you have the wisdom to know how much to do (and praying that you will know how to personalise your own ‘ME Maths’). Much love to you.

      • Stephanie 3rd October, 2014 at 7:22 pm #

        Thank you, Tanya. Your deep understanding and compassion never fails to move me.

        I have it better than most and not as well as some. It is a rare person that can understand this without having gone through it themselves. I’m fortunate to have my mother, who got ME in 1987, six months after I did. She has recovered to mild status for years now, but she knows every bit of this illness and its challenges.

        Thank you for the reminder of your ‘relapses and mountain climbing’ post. I just went back and re-read it and it’s even more relevant than the first time. You’ve captured it all so well.

        Wherever we are with this illness, it all comes back to acceptance and pacing, doesn’t it?

        • Tanya 15th October, 2014 at 1:55 pm #

          thanks so much for taking the time and energy to write this comment.
          Acceptance and pacing – yes, that’s it.
          and possibly grieving as well, always grieving.
          I’m thinking of you x

          • Stephanie 16th October, 2014 at 7:07 pm #

            “and possibly grieving as well, always grieving.”

            sigh…yes. Always grieving.

            Thinking of you, too.

  7. Newell Hendricks 1st October, 2014 at 3:50 pm #

    I used to love Ecclesiates, not for the third chapter, but for the rest of the book: “Vanit of vanity, saith the preacher, all is vanity.” I read the third chapter with a big “It seems like” in front of every line, and a big “but we won’t know it” at the end of every line. For me, the message of the book is that we will never have assurance that we understand what is going on, but the comfort for me was that I didn’t have to be intimidated by those who claimed to know the specifics of God’s plan.

    I think listening to God on a daily basis is how we get through. You seem to have done this, and continue to do this.

    I hate to write more because I don’t want to take your valuable time. Bless you for living a faithful life.

    • Tanya 3rd October, 2014 at 10:41 am #

      Yes! There is so much mystery in Ecclesiastes – you sum that up so well. And I definitely need to do more listening to God – I find it hard! Thank you for this comment.

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