Slow down

Lake

Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.

– Dallas Willard

In the spiritual life God chooses to try our patience first of all by His slowness. He is slow: we are swift and precipitate. It is because we are but for a time, and He has been for eternity. …

There is something greatly overawing in the extreme slowness of God. Let it overshadow our souls, but let it not disquiet them. We must wait for God, long, meekly, in the wind and wet, in the thunder and the lightning, in the cold and the dark.

Wait, and He will come. He never comes to those who do not wait. He does not go their road.

When He comes, go with Him, but go slowly, fall a little behind; when He quickens His pace, be sure of it, before you quicken yours. But when He slackens, slacken at once: and do not be slow only, but silent, very silent, for He is God.

– Frederick Faber

Going slow is difficult for me. Especially since I’ve learned what it means to put my faith into action, and I just want to do it. Especially in a church that’s committed to the work of justice and the renewal of our city, and there’s so much to do. Especially in a city where your value is often based on your activity.

But in these contexts, going slow, even stopping, and learning to listen are particularly important. Because it’d be real easy to think when you’re busy and active that it’s what you do  that matters, rather than who you are and who you are becoming.

Who you are and who you are becoming are far more important than what you do.

So …

  • Remember to sabbath.
  • Build your life on a foundation of love and devotion for God.
  • Spend time tending to your soul by spending time with God — quality time.
  • Make time for things that give you life — whether that’s with friends or on your own (or both).
  • Build in habits of rest and silence and solitude and prayer.

William Wilberforce, the great anti-slavery activist and parliamentarian — I’m guessing he was probably fairly busy — said,

Of all things, guard against neglecting God in the secret place of prayer.

Doing good is good. Doing good is important. But doing good won’t last long if we’re disconnected from God because we’ll constantly feel stretched thin, worn out, and burned out. We weren’t made just to do good. We were made to live with Godto do life with God (and part of that involves doing good).

And doing life with God means we have to move at God’s pace — James Houston wrote, “The speed of godliness is slow.” So slow down a little; don’t miss what God’s doing.

[Both quotes taken from John Ortberg’s Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You.]

3 things to do if you’re feeling overwhelmed

Apparently, the last post (“9 signs you may be at your limit”) struck a chord with a lot of people. I think many of us felt at least a few of the indicators, and have felt that the way we’re doing life right now isn’t the way we’d like to do things for the rest of our lives — nor would it be sustainable.

Question markThe next big question that several people asked was: “What can we do about it?”

Here are some ideas (learned from others!):

1. Audit your time. Many of us feel overwhelmed but can’t place our finger on exactly why — we might point to something broad like “Work’s a lot right now,” or “There are too many people to try to catch up with.” A helpful exercise — one taught me by my brother Clem — is to actually sit down and look at how you spend your time. You may discover, as Clem did when he did this a number of years ago, that you’re trying to pack too many things into a finite number of hours. So consider:

  • How much time does work take?
  • How much time do you have after that?
  • How much time do you spend watching Netflix or TV shows?
  • How much time do you have to recharge your batteries?
  • How much time do you give to your family?
  • How much time do you spend with God?

2. Differentiate between a busy season and a busy lifestyle. This is something my counselor mentioned to me, and I found it a really helpful distinction. Ecclesiastes 3 reminds us there’s a time for everything, but it can be hard for us to discern whether we’re ‘just’ in the middle of a particularly busy season of life or whether we’re living in an unsustainably busy way.

Snow on the doorknobOne question to ask yourself is, “Is there a discernible end to this season?” Christmas and Easter are particularly busy times of year for me, but I know that once those days pass, things will calm down (a little). Just as there are signs when seasons change (like, for instance, oh … the snow stopping when it’s time for spring), busy seasons should have clear indicators of when they’re ending.

However, if you’re thinking that your busy seasons just keep following one another, you’re probably living in the Southern California of life — where there’s only one season, and it’s busy. And if it’s unsustainably and unhealthily busy, you may need to re-prioritize and practice saying no (even, and especially, to good things).

3. Establish healthy rhythms of life, building in time for things that give you joy. Whether you’re currently in a busy season or engaging in an unsustainably busy lifestyle, there are some helpful rhythms to practice to move toward a healthier, fuller way of living. Ruth Haley Barton lists a few in Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership:

  • Work and rest. Learning how to sabbath is key to counter the workaholic busyness of our culture without descending into laziness; and if you’re in this for the long haul, learning to rest is indispensable. (Click here for more on sabbath: “In the beginning … rest.“)
  • Engagement and retreat. There are times when we press forward, starting new initiatives, beginning new projects, taking on the challenges of life and work in a broken world; and then there are times when we step back in order to recover, to recuperate, to heal the wounds caused by those challenges of life and work in a broken world. Remember that the weight of the world does not weigh on your shoulders; remember that God is at work — he was long before you came onto the scene and he will be long after you’re gone.
  • Silence and word, stillness and action. “When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable,” reads Proverbs 10:19 (which Ruth quotes). Too often we jump straight into sharing our thoughts or leaping into action without first being silent and still before God to hear what he might want for us, or even to figure out what we really think or want to do. Should I engage in this new venture? Should I say yes to this possibility? Should I voice my opinion or say what I think? Learning to live out of a deep reservoir usually involves pressing pause before pressing play.
  • Self-knowledge and self-examination. It can be tempting to think that once we’ve taken enough tests (Myers-Briggs, Enneagram, Strengths Finder, etc.), we can just rely on our instincts or our understanding of who we (think we) are. But the call of Jesus is constant and continual discipleship, learning and relearning how to do life with God. Psalm 139:23-24 should be a constant refrain in our lives: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
  • Finding a way of life together. Our inclination is to be self-sufficient, to find more and more ways not to need others (buy all your own stuff, have your own back yard, etc.) but the way of Jesus is one in which we do life in community. If you aren’t already, find a local church to plug in to, join a small group, cultivate connections in which you give life to others and others give life to you.  Don’t lone-wolf this. (Yes, I made that a verb.)

Life is constantly changing — new technologies (or TV shows) to distract us; old friendships fading away, new friendships popping up; quitting a job, finding a job; finding new hobbies, forgetting to make time for old hobbies; families growing and shrinking.

Listen to the words of Jesus:

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.

This is our God. This is the life he invites us into.

There isn’t a formula that allows us to plug in certain data and come up with the secret to good living — but part of what makes life worth living is the sometimes-arduous, never-boring, ultimately-rewarding process of becoming the kind of people who are actively seeking to live as God would have wanted us to live; the journey of learning how to be more like Jesus; and the privilege of having the Spirit of God help us do that with peace in the busyness, with joy in the brokenness, with hope in the pessimism, and with focus in the anxiety and freneticism and stress.

“Take heart,” Jesus says, “for I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

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Keeping busy

There’s a great piece from the weekend by Tim Kreider, entitled “The ‘Busy’ Trap,” which speaks into the cultural inclination toward busyness–something that’s particularly prevalent in cities, with Washington, DC being no exception. It gives an insightful look into one of the ways by which we try to give ourselves meaning:

Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.

This is framed in non-faith terms but the truth remains (I’m in agreement with Aquinas and Augustine here that all truth is God’s truth, but this opens another discussion for another day), and it raises a whole lot of other questions about worth and value and purpose and meaning. And for Christians especially, it should give us pause; we shouldn’t simply be thinking about the external symptom of busyness–though many of us need to think about this, for starters!–but also about the deeper questions of what we’re about and who we are.

Now, I disagree with Kreider on one point; he says, “The Puritans turned work into a virtue, evidently forgetting that God invented it as a punishment.” But Scripture tells us that God created us for work as well as rest and relationship–when humanity was made in the image of God, each of us was commissioned to have dominion and to bring order to the world he had created (Genesis 1:28). The outcome of the disobedience in the garden of Eden was that the work would be accompanied by toil and struggle, that the relationship between humanity and creation had been corrupted (Genesis 3:17-19).

Work is a good thing, but we have a way of making good things into idols (sex, power, relationships)–and I’d say that work has become, for many of us, an idol.

One of the things I’ve done recently is reach out to friends who’ve been or served in pastoral ministry for many years to ask what practices or habits they would recommend for a young pastor. Without exception, one of the things that everyone has said is, “Take a sabbath.” I talked about this six months ago–“In the beginning … rest.” Establish a rhythm of work and rest–of working from your rest. Remind yourself that it’s not you who’s in charge but God, and that even if you don’t do anything for a day, the world will still turn and things will still get done. Don’t be defined by your work. Don’t let work become an idol. Live out the gospel story, which says that, because of the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are no longer defined by what we do, how much we do, or even how we do it, but first and foremost by the God who calls us his own, who invites us into his family, and who asks us to join him in telling the tremendous story of grace with our lives.

So … take a break.

This weekend was a doozy

After the busiest month in recent memory—including Lazarus Sunday, preaching two weeks in a row, Easter weekend, leading worship, performing at a coffee shop, and more—I was given most of the week off from church duties. So I didn’t have to lead any of our Leadership Community’s organizing training, nor did I really have to do anything in the service this morning.

And yet this weekend was a doozy. I felt uncentered, my mind was all over the place, my spirit was unsettled, and my thoughts and emotions were out of control. For a couple of days, it was as if I’d entered a completely different existence.

Taking the time to think and pray about it, I realized that my busyness had replaced my centeredness. Doing things for God had replaced living life with God. I had come to a place where I was operating out of a desire to stay occupied than out of a deep grounding in the love and presence of God.

And so when a couple of occurrences this week sought to push me off course, it was never going to end well.

But this—I suppose you could call it a ‘crisis’ event—was, I think, providential in that it prodded me to a point of realization and recognition. I came to see that there were healthier and more intentional decisions that need to be made in order to set up a more beneficial and God-centered way of living. I came to realize that I needed to spend some quality time reconnecting with God and recentering my life on him.

I spent much of this evening with a baby in my arms. For much of the night, I held Natalie, walking in circles around the kitchen, rocking her back and forth until she finally stopped fussing, closed her eyes, and fell asleep. And as I wore a groove into the tiles with my pacing, I prayed, reconnected with my Father, and was brought back to the path I’d so easily wandered from.

Like I said, this weekend was a doozy.

Past, Present, Future

Original post: August 27, 2007; reposted unchanged.

On Saturday, I was on two planes and in three airports. I always journal when I’m on planes and in airports; maybe it’s all of the time I have while waiting, or the association that I have with airports as symbols of transition and change that stirs something in me. Maybe I just think a lot and these are some of the few times I have to write my thoughts down.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking about time. I’ve now been in the States for over a year. It’s been a tough year—probably the toughest yet; but it’s been a good year—one of the best. I don’t feel like I’m living what Brennan Manning describes as “a life of surrender without reservation” (The Signature of Jesus, 91). It’s where I’d love to be.

Things are busy, life is busy, there’s always a lot to do, Brennan acknowledges. But his subsequent comment jarred me from my stupor of busyness: “What of prayer, silence, solitude, and simple presence of the indwelling God?” (104). Take time, get out of the busyness for a while, center down, practice the presence. It is the difference between a tired, strenuous, stretched-thin, mediocre existence, and the fullness of life.

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You’ve probably heard that saying, “The past is gone, the future is not yet here; all we have is the present” or some variant of it. It’s so important to dwell in the present, to make the most of the opportunities we have in the here and now, not missing out on them because we’re looking back at what once was, or looking forward to what might be.

Of course, we learn from the past, we remember the past; and we look forward to what is to come, we work towards hopes and dreams. But the only thing we can do anything about is the present.

And rest assured, time and experience work themselves out in more than just a straight line. For instance, I’m continually astounded when songs that I’ve written years ago for someone else come to speak exactly into my situation or into someone else’s situation; songs like “I Miss You”, “Undone”, “Somewhere I Don’t Need to Care”, “What Happens Now?” and “Her”.

Human experience differs as cultures, times and situations change. But on another level, it’s basically the same. Hence the appeal of the Bible: here, we find stories of tragedy, of dysfunctional families, of hard lives; songs of love; words of advice that hold true today; examples of people who lived ordinary lives, hard lives, faithful lives. And it speaks to us. Because we’re human too.

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“Only the one who has experienced it can know what the love of Jesus Christ is. Once you have experienced it, nothing else in the world will seem more beautiful or desirable.” (Manning, Signature, 42)