White Space: The Strategic Pause

By Dick Koehneke

Recently I attended the Global Leadership Summit. It’s an annual two-day event that’s broadcast from Willow Creek Community Church in the Chicago area. This year it reached more than 700 satellite locations around the world. Fort Wayne, Indiana, where I live, had the largest number of people anywhere under one roof: over 4,000 – yes, 4,000 of us!

There were 13 speakers who spoke for up to an hour each. All of them were excellent. Four of them touched me in special ways. Over the next four months in Rich and Charlie Resources I want to share their thoughts – and my observations – with you.

As the busy fall season begins, I thought it would be timely for me to tell you about Juliet Funt’s message: “White Space: The Strategic Pause.” She is the founder and CEO of WhiteSpace at Work. She says, “We live in the age of ‘busyness’ which is really overload. Our work styles are all exertion and no thoughtfulness. We are too busy to figure out how to become less busy.” That last sentence is a beauty!

Today’s success-oriented culture seems to place a high value on “being busy.” It’s almost like if you’re not busy, you’re not worth much. My question is: Busy doing what? Here’s another question that’s even more important: Busy getting what done? Effort is not the same thing as accomplishment.  

I ask those questions with no claim of superior insight. For many years I thought that I needed to have a jam-packed schedule to show that I was a hard worker. I didn’t want anyone to outwork me. The idea of “white space” didn’t really enter my mind. Not very smart, right?

How different the lifestyle of “busyness” is from the approach that our Lord Jesus took. I can’t find anywhere in the Gospels where he was frantic or in a hurry. He experienced great pressure for sure, but he always gave himself time to pray and reflect in the presence of the heavenly Father. He was perfectly responsive to the needs of every person and situation that he encountered. He was calm in the midst of the storms, both literally and figuratively.    

Juliet Funt defines white space as “a strategic pause between activities” and observes that “you don’t really need long stretches of time.” She says, “White space has no rules or goals. It gives us time and space to think the ‘unthunk thought.’” She says that it’s not the same as meditation, mind-wandering, or mindfulness. You gain white space by becoming conscious of “the thieves of productivity” and “defeating them with specific questions.”

These “thieves of productivity” are four “core forces” that she says are good in themselves but when pushed too far can become corrupted: Drive, Excellence, Information, and Activity. Drive becomes Overdrive. Excellence turns into Perfectionism. Information becomes Information Overload. Activity becomes Frenzy. These four thieves “lure us into a pace and pressure that can actually lower our effectiveness,” she says.

You defeat the thieves by asking good questions. Here are the questions related to each thief.

Drive/Overdrive: “What can I let go of?”

Excellence/Perfectionism: “When is ‘good enough’ good enough?”

Information/Information Overload: “What do I truly need to know?”

Activity/Frenzy: “What deserves my attention now?”

I think those are REALLY good questions.

“Do not become a servant of any of the four core forces,” she says. “Know yourself and which ones are most likely to be corrupted in your life. Don’t serve them; make them serve you.”

Here’s the thought that crossed my mind: Our loving Lord doesn’t want us to fall into the trap of compulsively thinking we have to work harder and harder in the use of our gifts to justify our calling or even our existence on the planet. We recognize that our gifts and talents can become corrupted into workaholism or arrogant pride of performance. Faithfulness is not the same as busyness.

I guess I’m saying this: Know yourself. Appreciate yourself. Thank God that He made you. Let Him work through you. You’re not the generator; you’re the cable.

A question I’m asking church workers and lay leaders these days is this: “How can we honor and encourage self-care as much as we honor and encourage hard work?” If we don’t take care of ourselves, our hard work will not last long. Or it may continue to be hard work – but not good work.

I don’t know how it is with you, but when I start feeling like a martyr or a victim, I’m no fun at all to be around. If I’m miserable, I want you to join me, and I’ll find some really good passive-aggressive ways to make that happen. Sound familiar? Maybe not. It’s probably just me, don’t you think?          

Give yourself time to be. God’s Word does not say that “anyone who is in Christ is a busy person who works very hard.” It says, “Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation.” Who you are means more to God than what you do. Give yourself time for being, not doing. “White space” is one very good way to take care of yourself so that you can continue to be your best self in the vocations in which God is calling you to serve and honor Him.