“Slow down, everyone, you’re moving too fast.” – Jack Johnson, Inaudible Melodies
It was a crisp Monday morning in December. I was rushing around, swigging coffee and slamming down breakfast in between wrangling a python (aka dressing a toddler) and packing two backpacks. I dragged my son out the door, stuffed him in his car seat, started a podcast, and began heading to the church worrying about whether Levi would throw a fit when I dropped him off at preschool that would keep me from getting to the staff meeting on time.
Then about a quarter of the way there, it hit me: I forgot Levi’s backpack.
Cue (what I hope was) a toddler-friendly curse word, an abrupt illegal U-turn, and a pedal pushed to the floor. My chest tightened as my mind raced and sweat threatened to break through my brow. You know the feeling, don’t you?
So I pulled into the driveway, jumped out of the car, sprinted to the door, found his backpack, hastily locked the door, and began running back across the lawn toward the car when it happened.
Inaudible words fell into my consciousness with the force of an urgent yell:
“WHY ARE YOU RUSHING!?”
It was so jarring that I stopped in my tracks. There I was: wide-eyed, holding a toddler backpack with a tractor on it. If a neighbor had been looking out his or her window at the time, it probably looked like someone had caught me stealing in broad daylight.
Whatever it was had my attention. And I’m very aware of how insane this sounds, but I’m convinced it was God. So obviously I answered the question:
Um, because I’m going to be late?
Instantly, these words shot back back: “And why are you worried about being late?”
Because I am a pastor and I don’t want to be late to the staff meeting. No one knows that I can’t drop Levi off early enough to get there on time, and I won’t be able to explain myself and my coworkers will just assume that I’m lazy and entitled.
“And why are you worried about that?”
Because I am what others think of me.
In that moment of freedom and confession, it was like my eyes were opened. Suddenly there was an expansive world around me, and not just a crushing tunnel in front of me. There was sky and grass and trees and neighbors and birds singing about all of it! The first thing I noticed was my beautiful son, oblivious and sitting calmly in his carseat (with a Hot Wheels car in each hand as per usual), kicking his legs leisurely and looking at me.
“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 18:3, NIV
(Something to notice about little ones. They run, but they don’t rush. They learn that from us.)
I got in the car and drove to work slowly, chatting with Levi and in a state of utter peace.
As I reflected on that moment in the days that followed, what struck me was the oddity that God would virtually yell at me for the first time in my life about…hurrying? I mean of all things. Talk to people I went to high school or youth group with (or my wife); I’m a pretty famous sinner. There are lots of things God could have picked. But hurrying and worrying? Really?
Yes, really, and it’s not surprising anymore.
The very next Sunday, Pastor Sid spoke during service and referenced the now famous story where the wise Dallas Willard told a younger Pastor John Ortberg, “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” To which Orteberg replied: “That’s great, what else?” and Willard, like the freaking Jedi he is, said after pausing: “There is nothing else.”
And he’s right. There is nothing else. I’m realizing that every spiritual master (most of whom are not religious professionals, by the way. Tragically, we are often the busiest.) knows this “open secret” and usually laughs when a young apprentice like me stumbles upon it and attempts to articulate it as if they stumbled upon something new. No, it isn’t new; it is ancient. Slowing down is ancient wisdom that gives one new eyes and in turn unleashes the healing power of a new creation.
I know. Sounds nuts. Just hang in there with me.
God’s words to me were nothing less than a “gracious interrogation,” like the one God gave Adam and Eve or the one we saw Jesus give his disciples last week in Mark 8:14-21. Such words from Jesus are not the withering condemnation that he gives to the religious leaders, but the stern rebuke of a friend (Proverbs 27:6). They are wounding words that heal. And there is, ironically, an urgency to them. It is an urgent matter that we slow down, akin to someone yelling at you to slow down as you drive through a neighborhood where kids are playing. The stakes are enormous. It is life and death.
As Peter Scazzero says in his book, Emotionally Healthy Leadership (which we are reading as a staff), “You cannot live at warp speed without warping your soul.” Warped souls hurry, and hurry warps the soul. It’s true, and I could share a hundred more quotes like that but I know you are busy and have probably already hurried onto another thing or are trying to do three other things while you read this (lol).
Think about this! Really think! The things that make us hurry (e.g. hubris, fear, greed, etc.) are literally the exact same things that make us all do stupid stuff that ruin this good world. And the crazy thing is that intentionally slowing down actually battles those things in us and heals our souls.
Slowing down and listening deeply to someone who is “lower” than you (poor, disabled, socially ostracized) will humble you.
Slowing down to meditate and rest in God’s unconditional love for you will free you from the fear of what others think.
Slowing down to reflect with gratitude on God’s gracious gifts will release you from the the grip of greed and envy.
This gets me thinking: perhaps the reason Washington is so corrupt is because people there move so fast.
“In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God!” – Mark 10:25, NLT
(Something to notice about rich people. They are almost always rushing.)
As a community, we are studying Mark’s gospel in order to glimpse “the Jesus life” that we are pursuing together. And so far we’ve seen in his forty days in the wilderness, in his early morning meditation, in his stopping to heal and converse with a sick woman, in his approach to Sabbath, in his patient teaching of the crowds, and in his bearing with his disciples (not to mention that he waited 30 years before even starting!), that the Jesus life is the unhurried life. In fact, I would argue that the disciples impatient pragmatism (aka hard-heartedness) is what caused them to miss the signs of God’s kingdom all around them (e.g. Mark 6:52)! Jesus had an urgent mission that he carried out slowly. Salvation is slow. No wonder so much damage has been done to the souls of young people like me with altar calls and quick-fix discipleship schemes. No joke, I once heard a missionary talk about “conversion rates” while trying to raise funds. It’s okay to barf.
How about you? Are you implicitly teaching your kids or your employees or your comGroup that their value and worth is found in their busyness? Or are you practicing slowing down? Are you experimenting with what Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, Ruth Hayley Barton and others have called the “disciplines of letting go,” like sabbath, solitude, silence, giving in secret, or fasting? Or are you just adding “disciplines of activity” such as study, prayer, worship, and fellowship to an already too-packed schedule?1 Yeah, that was me too. And listen, none of this is to earn God’s grace of course, but to actually experience it! Only people who know grace slow down, and only people who slow down know grace.
“Love is patient, love is kind.” Love is the healing power of new creation, and love is first of all patient. Impatient people certainly aren’t kind, are they? And if your rhythm of life (and your smart phone, let’s be real) is making you less patient, then you need a new rhythm! Because you aren’t learning to love. And seriously, if we aren’t learning to love, then we should all just quit yesterday. And if “church” or “spirituality” isn’t making you a kinder, gentler, more open-minded and self-aware person…then seriously just what in the hell are you doing? What are we doing? I apologize if that sounds severe, but I wish someone had said that to me. And they probably did. I just didn’t have the ears to hear. I was too busy.
Why are you rushing?