Juggling and Other Spiritual Practices for a Workaholic

June 4th, 2013
Flickr Creative Commons by MetalRiot

Throw, throw, catch, catch. That's the sound of a spiritual practice of mine...juggling. Seriously, real juggling. Sound ridiculous? Sound not spiritual enough? Exactly, that's what I thought, too.

I am a spiritual director and I'm also a recovering workaholic. That I'm the former no longer surprises me given I'm the latter. God knew I needed a kind of work that would transform my view of work and me. Being a workaholic is a culturally acceptable and even desirable addiction for most people, especially those in the church. I saw no problem with it until I burned-out and my body, mind, and soul suffered the effects. After that I began with a simplistic view of workaholism, thinking it was spending too many hours at a paid job. Now after having been a seminary student, stay-at-home mom, and spiritual director I still find myself struggling at times with compulsive doing and compulsive thinking of things that need to be done, figured out, or thought through before I can rest or play.

Even so God has continued to pursue me with rest and play as spiritual practices and up until this year, I have continued to not trust that they are “real” spiritual disciplines (because spiritual disciplines are supposed to be hard work, don't you know?!). Never-mind that it is harder for me to rest and play and easier for me to work hard! Never-mind that play may be “derived from the German word pflegen: 'to care for'” and spiritual direction is the work of caring for souls. Never-mind that we are commanded to rest and play in Exodus 20.

As a spiritual director I have seen an array of practices God calls people to according to that which will build and deepen their trust in God. As they care for their souls in such a way, I have seen them experience greater freedom to love God, themselves, and others. The word spiritual refers to “that which affects the spirit or soul of a person and/or is related to sacred matters.” I find cultivating practices that tend to the soul of a person to be a sacred matter! These practices develop rhythms of life that teach us to discern, follow, keep following and even enjoy the path of and toward Life.

Familiar spiritual practices include Scripture-reading and Bible study, prayer, worship, silence, solitude, and fasting, for instance. A lot of people come to me hearing somewhere along their spiritual journey that if they are serious about their faith, it must involve daily time and words (aka, a quiet-time in “The Word” followed by spoken or written words of prayer). I am not knocking quiet-times or words, I am a fan of both until they become compulsive and the thought of not doing them exposes our distrust of, or superstitions when it comes to, God and life.

My struggle with compulsive working, whether it be internal or external, certainly speaks of my view of life and God at a given moment. Am I able to love God and others as myself (or allow them to love me) when these are the guiding sentences of my day?:
“I don't have time to rest and play.”
“It's all up to me.”
“God and others expect me to, so I should.”
“Try harder.”
“I must strive to do more, do things better, and do them right.”
“I must strive to learn more so I know more (and I must be right).”

These sentences affect my spirit and the way I relate to God and others. They do not encourage trust. Authentic love and living do not grow as a result (even though I may get other kinds of positive results). What I need are practices that will transform what these underlying sentences are revealing about the way I can view life and God (and everything related to them). That being said, is it any wonder that God would invite a workaholic to rest and play (and even to be a spiritual director!)? For me cultivating the spiritual practices of rest and play have most recently come in the forms of poetry, centering prayer, and juggling.


Sitting at a stoplight, a poem about Saint Paul came to me from out-of-the-blue. I was shocked having never written poetry and having not thought of Saint Paul for a long while. Intrigued I wrote it down and was further amazed when poetry started coming to me daily over the next six months. What was this, where was it coming from, how was it happening? It was thrilling! I could hardly believe it but knew this gracious creative gift was from God, freely given as a surprise. Now fifteen months later, three to four poems do not pour out of me daily but poetry continues to have a place in my life.

Poetry offers me space to rest and play. I do not have to strain to write a long article. Raising little kids, I barely have enough brain cells to write emails at times! Yet I love writing and I love theology and I love my kids. What a gift to have a poem about Jesus' sacrifice come to me when I am feeding my son macaroni-and-cheese amazing. Poetry also invites me to play with words and gives me words to play with about life and theology in the midst of raising kids. It is as though God has said, “If you must have words at least play with them!”

Poetry also warns me when I am lacking space to rest and play. When my calendar is getting too crowded or my brain is overloaded, I find the flow of poetry stops. There is no space in my mind for it to bubble up. After a few days or sometimes weeks I notice and stop to see what I am being invited to, or perhaps how I'm being invited to, create space. The art of creating space is a good practice for a recovering workaholic.

Centering Prayer

On Tuesdays I meet with a group of folks to sit in a silent prayer of consent called Centering Prayer. This is a kind of prayer that echoes Mary's words, “Let it be done unto me according to Thy word,” and her son Jesus' words, “Not my will but Thy will be done” and all of my talking and doing ceases. I stop praying to God and trust God to pray through me! During the prayer, I am invited to “be still and know” that the Holy Spirit is doing the speaking and working. And no, more often than not my mind is not still during that twenty minutes, but that's okay, centering prayer gives me permission and practice in calling my wandering mind home.

When it comes to intercession, it has taken me a while to trust that, yes, it counts. Even though I am not putting my requests into words or reading through a prayer list, I am trusting that the Spirit is interceding not only on behalf of me, but the whole world as well. Really? It's really not all up to me to say the right things with the right amount of emotion the right number of times a day? Through centering prayer, God is teaching me that yes, it's true. Resting from striving, even in prayer, is a good practice for a recovering workaholic.


Months ago I had a dream about giving someone permission to join the circus, I woke up and thought it was a fun metaphor of what I do as a spiritual director on behalf of others. Last month I read a novel that unbeknownst to me one of the main characters turned out to be a juggler and I thought what a fun thing that would be to try! A week ago as I was cleaning out my bookshelves I happened to open, Way to Live: Christian Practices for Teens, and found this in bold on the page, “Learn to juggle. What you learn to do with your hands, you can learn to do with ideas and new concepts, too.” Seriously! I exploded in laughter as I realized then and there that God was inviting me to juggle as a spiritual practice. Not only was I being invited but my rule-following self was being given permission, “Yes, Kasey, it is a spiritual practice, it counts.”

The next day I checked out two books on juggling from the library and have been practicing ever since, first beanbags now tennis balls. Know what? It's a blast! Know what? I can tell when I'm trying too hard (I drop the balls or my neck starts hurting...wait this has some crazy parallels to my life!). Having fun and realizing when I'm trying too hard are good practices for a recovering workaholic.

Are you someone like me who not only needs permission but affirmation that rest and play are legitimate spiritual practices? Perhaps a spiritual director can be of help as you discern what practices you are being invited to during this season of your life. And no, you do not have to cultivate these practices in addition to the ones that really count. These count. Trust that, or allow God to lead you there through them.

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