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“God doesn’t need our exhaustion.” That is one of the lines that got my attention in Kirk Byron Jones’ wonderful book, Addicted to Hurry. It is a striking thought for us in a culture that values achievement and busy-ness, which leads to hurry and stress.
It is said that every crisis is an opportunity to learn and grow, and the pandemic has been no exception. Once we realized that it was going to be prolonged for months, many of us settled in and became aware of aspects of our lives that needed tending. The things that matter — many of which we sorely missed — suddenly stood out in stark relief. Forced to stay home, we began to notice the people and things in our lives we had been rushing past.
Some folks used the time to learn new skills like baking or new forms of artistic expression. Some finally got around to reading the books that had been waiting in a stack. Family mealtimes and game nights were restored in many homes.
I realize that these positive effects were not realized in the lives of medical workers, teachers, the newly unemployed, and others. But even many of those who underwent terrible stress were awakened to the values they had been neglecting.
Recently I took my grandchildren to a swimming pool where they happily made use of all the water toys, went down the slide, and jumped off the side in crazy poses. My six-year-old grandson could only walk with his head above water in a small section of the shallow end. He spent a lot of time in water a bit deeper, and he simply kept bobbing up and down, springing off the bottom of the pool.
After about 45 minutes I realized he had been in perpetual motion the entire time. I gently pulled him into my arms and said, “Let’s take a break, buddy.”
Are we often guilty of moving all the time, barely keeping our heads above water? How often do you stop, only to wish your life were not as hectic? Do you blame other people for keeping you busy?
The simple fact for most of us is that it is our choice to keep running. Jones says: “It is not just that speed is all around us. Something more ominous is at work. Speed is inside of us.”
I have often remarked that it is not requests from others I need to say “no” to. It is my own compulsive nature. But where does that come from? For some of us, it is part of our personality. But we have to admit that in our society, we virtually train our children to go, go, go. We are afraid to deprive them of opportunities, but we forget that in the process, we are depriving them of rest and time to imagine, time to breathe and savor life.
If we bemoan the shallowness of our spiritual lives, perhaps this is at the root. We miss seeing what God is doing in the world around us and inside of us because we do not pause long enough to notice. Maybe this is the reason that Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments. God knows that we need a rhythm in our lives that includes rest. God cares about our emotional well-being.
Sabbath is an unpopular word, but it is God’s gift to us. Once a week, whether we can do it on a Sunday or not, we have the inherent need to practice stepping back and seeing the big picture. It is a time to “be still, and know that I am God.” I presume to add, “and know that you are not God.” (Psalm 46:10) We are not automatons that can run 24/7! Yet even machines are given a break to recharge and check for needed repairs.
So how can we slow down the rest of the week? It may be too much to try and change all at once. Habits die hard, and the obsession with work and hurry will not give up easily. It will nag us to get going once we try to deny its authority.
Jones has a better idea: to frame it as “savoring pace” instead of “slowing down.” Try taking just a few extra seconds to gaze on a face you love, or a picture on your wall, or a flower. Even that small bit of increased awareness feeds your soul. Try taking a ten-minute walk without earbuds, just noticing the world around you. Sit in silence to experience peace for a few minutes each morning. (I like to listen to the birds!)
We will always have work to do. In God’s beautiful, life-giving economy, six days a week is enough to get it all done. Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” I believe his is the voice Jones is also referring to when he writes, “There is a side of all of us that knows, even yearns for engagement, but not at the expense of wellness. It is the self that speaks to us in those quiet moments, challenging us to stop carrying so much and to slow down. Listen to the other voice within, the neglected voice; it is trying to save you. Let it.”