Wednesday, September 06, 2006

PREGNANT TASKS

Necesse est opprimant onera, quae ferente maiora sunt. Quaedam praeterea non tam magna sunt negotia quam fecunda multumque negotiorum ferunt. Et haec refugienda sunt, ex quibus nova occupatio multiplexque nascetur.

Burdens that are too heavy for their bearer must necessarily crush him. There are certain undertakings, moreover, that are not so much great as they are prolific, and thus lead to many fresh undertakings. You ought to avoid those that give birth to new and multifarious undertakings.
-Seneca’s De Tranquillitate Animi 6:4 (ESS II:234-236)

This phrase in the Latin fascinates me because of the word nascetur: “they are born.”

Ever adopt a dog? Well, it is quite a surprise when you adopt one dog only to discover that your new pet is a mother-to-be. You thought you knew what you were getting yourself into (one dog), but now you are suddenly out of your depth. You unwittingly adopted a pregnant dog and will soon have puppies running everywhere.

That is the image that accurately describes some tasks. You might think you know what you are getting into, but it pays to look closely. Some tasks appear very manageable, but once undertaken, they give birth to “new and multifarious occupations.”

Your simple task becomes a juggling game that would dizzy most professional managers, as one after another of the cute little baby-tasks is born and demands your time and attention.

It’s really nothing more or less than common sense. Of course, that is what Seneca is best at teaching us: what we already know.

Watch out for “pregnant tasks.”

In the Church there are no shortages of “pregnant tasks.” What seems like a simple project usually has the power to cascade into a seemingly limitless number of small, time-consuming, resource-draining tasks. Of course, that’s my business; after all, the devil is in the details, and he is very difficult to exorcise.

Whatever your business might be as husband or wife, pastor, wage-slave or corporate manager, the warning is a sound one. Think about what you’re getting into before you fill your weekly planner quite so thoroughly. Watch out for tasks that grow beyond their bounds, and leave a little wiggle-room in case one slips through your defenses.

Jesus once used the analogy of a man who planned a great construction project, but ran out of money before it was finished. Everyone laughed at that man’s foolishness and lack of planning. He hadn’t counted the cost accurately before setting about to engage in his task. He obviously imagined that his own resources were greater than they actually were or that the task at hand was much simpler than it actually was. Either way, he could have benefited from Seneca’s advice: some tasks are obviously too big, while others are pregnant with new and multifarious tasks that can overpower you.

Of course, Jesus Christ wasn’t using the story to teach about planning various tasks. After all, the task of discipleship that Jesus is discussing is always too big for a person and is guaranteed to overwhelm a person with as many new and multifarious tasks as they have neighbors.

-Lucilius


Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish.'
-St. Luke the Evangelist (14:25-30, ESV)

3 comments:

Teofilus said...

Good to have you back posting. And wise words as usual. (What else should I expect from a wise-guy?)

Contra Mundum said...

Nice...

Der Bettler said...

Glad you're back.