We used to joke that one of our daughters had only one speed in the morning: SLOTH. It was painful to watch as she struggled out of bed, dawdled her way through breakfast and the morning jobs, and then scrabbled to pull it all together as we headed out the door to school. No matter if she was first up, she was always the last to be ready to leave. It used to drive me nuts when we were in a hurry to go somewhere.
But these days, courtesy of the COVID-19 lockdown, we’re not in a hurry, and we’re not going anywhere.
I’ve recently finished John Mark Comer’s book, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, which is all about “how to stay emotionally healthy and spiritually alive in the chaos of the modern world” (find the book here, or listen to his teaching on the topic here). And it was like a prescription from heaven for my heart.
I love the thought from Dallas Willard, on which this book is based, that working to “ruthlessly eliminate hurry” is (one of) the most important thing(s) to do as disciple of Christ (and a healthy human being in the modern age). Some time ago I made the quote into some wall art which I can see every day. But applying it? Now that’s the hard part.
How do you make the fundamental adjustments needed when life is still hurtling along at the same old pace?
I wasn’t expecting a global pandemic would stop me in my tracks, but here we are. And to be honest, I’m more than a little grateful. Yes, life is still very full—there are 4 kids at home 24/7 who require near-constant feeding and I’m still working, but all that extra-curricular hum of activities has been silenced. Of course I’m still planning what I’d like to do each day and making some lists (I’m still a person!), but I’m learning to say “oh well, we can do it tomorrow” when a task isn’t achieved.
I’m learning to live SLOW.
And it’s good. But, it grates.
I’ve found myself sabotaging my peace by creating a false sense of urgency, rushing to get something done to meet a fake time goal. Or putting false pressure on myself by overloading my must-do list with unnecessary tasks. Because if I’m not busy and under pressure, am I even a good person?
Old narratives die hard.
I used to complain that the younger kids never had any sense of urgency, and while there’s some truth in that, a deeper truth is that I was living with a sense of urgency all the time. I think I’m addicted to speed.
And that I would like to change. I see in this COVID-19 lockdown a grand opportunity for my soul, and perhaps yours too.
The virtue of slowing isn’t in the slowness itself, it’s in what it lets you pay attention to. Just like a journey down our road at walking pace allows me to see and enjoy a lot more than the same journey at the 100 km/hr that the speed limit allows. When I’m living slower I can see and enjoy the relationships around me, I can see and enjoy the embodied experiences that creation offers, I can see and enjoy the opportunities for meaning and vocation, and I can see and enjoy the company of God along the way.
But I know I’m not going to find a slowing for my soul that lasts longer than lockdown if I just live a little slower while we’re in lockdown.
At one level there needs to be a fundamental shift in those underlying narratives. The key here in this scenario, I think, is to pay attention to those urges, to those moments of discomfort, to the frustrations, and to interrogate their basis. For me it looks something like arguing back: Of course I’m a good person even if I’m not busy and under pressure! And to whom was I needing to prove my goodness anyway?
At another level, there are some habits of being that need reshaping. There are a whole bunch of soul-healthy practices that I’ve been wanting to prioritise, not least Sabbath-keeping. But working that in has been so difficult while life is still racing along and my natural bent is to race myself anyway. But in lockdown, it’s never been easier to Sabbath. And Simplicity? Well, the shops are shut so we’re all detoxing from consumerism, and we have the time and headspace to reevaluate whether the things and the activities that we thought we wanted really meet our values.
John Mark Comer has released a workbook, How to Unhurry, to go along with his book that will help put these practices into practice. I’m aiming to work my way through it as a devotional practice while this lockdown persists. Perhaps you might like to also.
The practice of Silence & Solitude though? Now that one is harder to find in lockdown.