Last week I turned 36, so I’m fully entrenched in my mid-30s, tilting toward my late-30s. With my fortieth birthday not far way, I’m looking at patterns, some I wish to establish and some I want to lose. Without question, the pattern I most want to break is the pervasive pattern of hurry in my life. For over a year now, these words from Dallas Willard have been my meditation: ‘Ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.’
These now infamous words that Willard spoke to his lifelong friend, John Ortberg, have been quoted often in the past several years. And for good reason. We know there’s a serious problem with the pace of our lives. We like the idea of eliminating hurry from our lives because of the chronic tiredness and exhaustion we feel. But few people have translated this good idea into action.
That’s because the cultural pressure is strong to encourage a hurried lifestyle. American culture celebrates and rewards speed. Productivity is king and efficiency is queen. Because we esteem productivity as virtue, we ignore the warning signs of a hurried life—impatience, frustration, and burnout.
I don’t want to keep searching for godly examples of people who live unhurried lives. I’m thankful for those examples, but I don’t want to admire someone else’s example. I want to become an example of what an unhurried life looks like. As a priest, I sense an urgency to unlearn the hurried pace that has been my normal rhtyhm. Or arrhythmia. Yet to become an example of an unhurried life requires my repentance.
The first step toward an unhurried life is naming chronic hurry for what it is—sin. Chronic hurry is an attitude of the heart that peace will only come when I’ve completed my to-do list. Chronic hurry is a spiritual matter because it’s deeply rooted in my ego and self-importance. It’s rooted in a pattern of ignoring and rejecting the limitations that I have as a human being who needs times of silence, solitude, and rest. Human beings are not unceasing machines of endless productivity. Human beings are made in the image of God to commune with our Creator and Redeemer. Chronic hurry is the enemy of prayer.
Yet chronic hurry is very different from holy urgency. Repentance from chronic hurry does not mean an overcorrection into laziness. Sloth is a sin, too. Learning the holy rhythm of mission and Sabbath is the easy yoke of Jesus’ kingdom we’re meant to assume.
Read the Gospel of Mark and his repeated use of the word ‘immediately’ and it’s clear that Jesus’ mission moves with urgency. But here’s the difference in Mark’s Jesus story and my own story. Jesus is the Messiah and I’m most certainly not. Christians addicted to hurry love the pace of Mark’s Gospel and Paul’s relentless missionary fervor to preach the Gospel to the nations. It can even be used as a justification for a life of chronic hurry. I know this rationale because I’ve tried to use those Scriptures to justify my hurried life to myself. I was wrong. And I’ve beginning to repent.
Defending a life of chronic hurry on that reasoning is not only unwise, it’s bad theology and interpretation of Scripture. Jesus clearly lives a rhythm of mission and prayer. Paul takes three missionary journeys, but he remains in Corinth for almost two years after he planted the church there. Paul’s missionary movement is prevented by the Spirit of Jesus from advancing to Asia and Bithynia. Had Paul advanced, he would have gone ahead without the Spirit. Instead the Spirit led his mission in a different direction, to Macedonia (Acts 16). The character of Paul’s ministry was shaped by the Holy Spirit’s pace and limitation, not Paul’s own ambition or sense of his ‘legacy.’
To be sure, a life shaped by Jesus’ mission means every person’s life has peak seasons of activity. To join the mission of Jesus means there will be days and weeks when your schedule is full. In these stretches, we must move with holy urgency to the many and varied commitments we’ve been given.
But moving with holy urgency does not mean we must chronically press against God-given boundaries. When God created the heavens and the earth, he placed Adam and Eve in Eden—a garden with boundaries. But the Genesis story is clear that the boundary creates freedom for Adam and Eve in creation. God created his world and human beings in wisdom (Proverbs 8). Part of his wisdom in creation was establishing boundaries. The boundary lines protect us from chaos.
So, God’s limitations are not the source of my frustration. They protect me from harming my own soul. They reign in my ambition. As the psalmist wrote, ‘the lines have fallen in pleasant places for me, indeed I have a beautiful inheritance’ (Psalm 16.6). Would that Adam and Eve had said those words when the serpent tempted them at the Tree of Knowledge.
Perhaps repentance from chronic hurry looks like this: accepting God’s holy limits and boundaries with how much I can accomplish in a week. Maybe growth in faith means trusting God with what does not get done.
However, when I consider doing less, I discover a trace of anxiety in my heart. ‘What if I don’t get to accomplish….’ Ah yes, there’s the real enemy—fear. Our ancient Enemy preys on us with fear. It’s the same tactic he used to tempt Adam and Eve to transgress their limits in Eden.
So maybe repentance from hurry is really the uprooting of fear within the heart. And salvation from fear always means the birth of faith within the heart. And where there is faith, freedom always follows. ’By grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing. It is the gift of God, not a result of works, lest anyone may boast’ (Ephesians 2.8-9).
Jack King is Rector of Apostles Anglican Church, Knoxville, Tennessee. He writes here and at www.knoxpriest.com. Find him on Twitter @knoxpriest.