“I am only one, but still I am one.
I cannot do everything, but still I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something I can do.”

Edward Everett Hale

Friday, 17 June 2011

Living a full life

One thing I am learning is that living a full life is not the same as living a busy life. Living a busy life may be stressful and draining, as pressure piles upon pressure, and we wonder how on earth we are going to meet the next deadline. Living a full life is not the same (although a busy life well-lived may be full as well). I think that living a full life is about the quality rather than the quantity of our activities, and about the perspectives we have on those activities.

I derive a great deal of inspiration and comfort from reading the Quaker Advices and Queries. Two of these seem to be particularly relevant to the issue of living a full life:

"7. Be aware of the spirit of God at work in the ordinary activities and experience of your daily life. Spiritual learning continues throughout life, and often in unexpected ways.There is inspiration to be found all around us, in the natural world, in the sciences and arts, in our work and friendships, in our sorrows as well as in our joys. Are you open to new light, from whatever source it comes? Do you approach new ideas with discernment?"

To me this Advice is reminding me that the whole of life is sacred, and that if we can just try to live mindfully, with an awareness of the sacred and the numinous in our everyday lives, those same everyday lives will be much fuller and richer and more rewarding. I also believe that being "open to new light" is a wonderful way of living a full life - there is always room for new insights and revelations in our minds and hearts - or there should be.

The other is no. 27: "Live adventurously. When choices areise, do you take the way that offers the fullest opportunity for the use of your gifts in the service of God and the community. Let your life speak."

Live adventurously. Wow! There's a challenge. With our busy lives, it is tempting just to look after your own, doing the bare minimum for other people. In these days of DVDs and home entertainment centers and the Internet at our fingertips, it's very easy to retreat to our own little castles and pull up the drawbridge. Using our gifts "in the service of God and the community" takes much more effort. But it can be very rewarding to volunteer for something, not for the kudos it will bring you, but because it's the right thing to do.

My mother is a case in point. When my sister went up to university, 22 years of dedicated child nurturing came to an abrupt end. But instead of sitting at home feeling sorry for herself, she went out and became a Citizens Advice Bureau volunteer. That was in 1981, and she did it for more than 25 years. She became one of the most respected debt counsellors in the county, and found a great deal of fulfilment in helping those less fortunate than herself. It also broadened her outlook on life and society.

In the late 1970s, the print and poster shop Athena International also sold books, with titles like The Language of Friendship and The Language of Happiness. Each consisted of a collection of short statements or poems or quotations on the topic concerned. My favourite, to which I still turn (indeed it is falling apart) is Creeds to Love and Live By, and I have used much of the wisdom contained within its covers as readings in services.

One of my favourites, by Sidney Lovett, chaplain of Yale University from 1932 - 1958, is all about how to live a full life:

"Give the best you have received from the past, to the best that you may come to know in the future.
Accept life daily not as a cup to be drained,
But as a chalice to be filled with whatsoever things are honest, pure, lovely and of good report.
Making a living is best undertaken as part of the more important business of making a life.
Every now and then, take a good look at something not made with hands -
A mountain, a star, the turn of a stream.
There will come to you wisdom and patience and solace and, above all,
The assurance that you are not alone in the world."


  1. Wonderful Sue...I will carry that Lovett quote with me today...thank you X

  2. Another Quaker wisdom 10.1 - Our life is love, and peace, and tenderness; and bearing one with another, and forgiving one another, and not laying accusations one against another; but praying one for another, and helping one another up with a tender hand.