God walks “slowly” because he is love. If he is not love he would move much faster. Love has its speed. It is an inner speed. It is a spiritual speed. It is a different kind of speed from the technological speed to which we are accustomed. It is “slow” and yet it is lord over all the other speeds since it is the speed of love. It goes on in the depths of our life whether we notice it or not. -Kosuke Koyama, Three Mile An Hour God
We are all going to have to slow down if we want to catch up with God. – N.T. Wright
The world is tired. We are suffering from perpetual motion sickness. I sit with people either in person or over a video call on a weekly basis that have a vacant look in their eyes and a heaviness to their countenance. They are weary. That weariness is revealed in a full schedule and the ubiquitous electronic umbilical cord we carry around with us—our smartphones.
Annie Dillard has famously said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
We wrestle with resting. Why do we find it so hard to slow down?
Regular stopping was once embedded into our weekly, monthly, and yearly calendars. I can remember when walking out of the office marked the end of the day’s work, when Sundays equaled rest days and Christmas holidays stretched on for weeks, even months. That’s rare these days.
In our culture, however, for someone to be busy is a sign that they are in demand. And if you are in demand, you are important. I know pastors who wear their busyness like a badge of honor. Feelings of importance can seduce us. And often it comes from professional insecurity. Medical professionals are always busy. Lawyers are busy. CEO’s are busy. Engineers are busy. Accountants are busy. Highly respected and successful professionals are busy.
To slow down, to take rest seriously, to open up blank space in my daily schedule for doing nothing feels inefficient. To feel inefficient is not too far away from ineffective. To be ineffective is not very far away from being incompetent. We can’t live with that.
Inefficient, ineffective, incompetent—not very aspirational. Our culture would reject us if that were to describe us. So, we stay busy to mask whatever weakness we might actually have.
I have had people come to me and say, “I know you are a busy pastor, but…” I have to assure them that I am not a busy pastor. I am a pastor who has time on his hands. Time for prayer. Time for study. Time for silence. Time for stillness. Time for people. Time for God.
If we derive a good chunk of self-esteem from being a super-worker, doing less could equal less praise – so how do I get to feel valued and important anymore?
Many people do what they do at the pace they do it because they enjoy the adrenaline high that comes from always being busy. Not only that, but there is also an identity crisis that busyness masks. If I am always busy, then I don’t have to come to terms with the truth that if my identity is wrapped up in my schedule or success my very existence is almost always threatened. I live as if failure is lurking around the corner just waiting for me to stop or slow down and then it will pounce on me like a cat on an unsuspecting mouse.
Doing always equals being. That’s the axiom of our culture.
Here are some practices that have helped me to slow down and harvest that spiritual fruit of feeling groovy.
For My Exterior Life
Every morning I spend an hour in my woodshed (weather permitting) reading God’s word and listening to the day awaken. If not in my woodshed, then in my favorite chair next to a window so that I can watch the night give way to the day.
There are times during my day that I get up from my desk and take a walk outside around the perimeter of my Church building. This change of pace opens my senses to the sights, smells, and sounds of the outside world. It takes seven minutes to walk around my building.
Monday through Friday I lead a 15-minute guided prayer time at noon with a handful of pilgrims from different parts of the country over zoom.
I block out time on my daily calendar to do—nothing.
Every Saturday I practice Sabbath.
For My Interior Life
I listen to soft instrumental music that soothes my soul. I have favorite Pandora and Spotify stations that I use. Often film scores like Out of Africa or The Mission.
I read the Psalms every morning. I have a reading plan that takes me through the Psalms in two months. I read them three times a day. Morning, noon, and before I go to bed. I read them slowly. Painfully slow.
I read poetry aloud. I have discovered this practice in recent years, and I can sense my interior clock slow down. Poets like Wendell Berry, Mary Oliver, William Stafford, Robert Seigel, Judy Brown, and John O’Donohue.
I am working my way through hand-copying the New Testament into a journal. I call this Scriptio Divina (Sacred Writing). I write in cursive ten verses every morning. This practice slows me down to see words, word pairings, and phrases that I have often missed as I hurry to get my Bible reading in before wolfing down my breakfast and rushing off to work.
I offer these as suggestions. They all may not work for you. But it is important to find ways to slow down in a world that is spinning out of control. My grandfather used to say to me, “Joe, don’t just sit there, do something!” I’ve come to say to myself these days, “Joe, don’t just do something, sit there.”
There is a difference between being tired and being weary. I am tired after I preach my sermon each Sunday. I am tired after I split a cord of wood. I am often tired after a day’s work of studying, listening, and caring for people.
But weary is different. The Apostle Paul reminds us in Galatians 6:9, let us not be weary in well doing. Weariness is a soul-sickness. This comes to us when we live out of rhythm from God’s design of Sabbath-keeping and building into our day white space in our schedule for interactions with Jesus.
Weariness comes to us when we don’t attend to the One who said,
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30
I think it worthy to note that Jesus was never in a hurry, and he was never late. Can you keep pace with Jesus? You can if you follow him.
After all, he walks at the speed of love.