Good, but way too busy.
Semester’s a little crazy.
When can I apply for sabbatical?
So much for work/life balance.
Hoping things slow down a little.
These are responses from colleagues as we pass in the hall and offer a perfunctory, How are you? We all seemingly bemoan time moving way too quickly – with too much to do.
Sociologists identify these concerns as a form of hurrysickness. Hurrysickness is a result of living in a constant state of overdrive where we cram each moment so full of events that we have no time to experience these events in any meaningful way. One prominent symptom of this chronic sense of hurry is the need to continually accomplish multiple tasks at once.1 Increasingly I have noticed that when I come home from campus, often late, I try to carry on a conversation with my wife as I check emails and sift through snail mail, all the while sneaking peeks at the evening news playing in the background. Like many individuals today, I find that life in the fast lane is surprisingly addictive.
This past year I’ve noticed that while my proficiency at multi-tasking has increased, the depth of my relationships has decreased. I fear I’m not alone. In a prophetic book written in the late 1980s, Jeremy Rifkin draws the same conclusion in his work Time Wars: “The modern age has been characterized by a Promethean spirit, a restless energy that preys on speed records and shortcuts . . . Despite our alleged efficiency we seem to have less time for ourselves and others.”2
If you suspect that you and your family may be infected with hurrysickness, answer these simple diagnostic questions: How many nights a week are you and your family free of any outside commitments? How many nights a week are you and your family together with nothing structured to do? How many nights are spent tech free? How often do I watch my favorite Netflix guilty pleasure—Black Mirror—and respond to emails simultaneously? The answers to these questions can be as illuminating as they are alarming.
The most disturbing result of hurrysickness is that I start to see those around me as obstacles that slow me down. Leisurely walks with my wife, unscheduled call from one of my three sons, or unstructured evenings at home are viewed as interruptions. And yet, as a Christian, God calls me to resist our culture’s frantic obsession with speed and the shallow relationships it produces. God prescribes a remedy for hurrysickness—regular times of spiritual introspection and rest. His Psalmist exhorts us to “be still” (Ps. 46:10).
God’s word instructs me to invest the time required to cultivate rich, intimate relationships. Our decision to follow Christ is also a decision to form relationships with fellow believers. The Apostle Paul’s favorite metaphor for this community of believers is the human body: “Now you are the body of Christ and individual members of it” (1 Cor.12:27). Paul’s image of a body implies a vital relational interconnectedness between those of us who make up Christ’s body. Paul states that we are “joined and knit by every joint,” and that when we take time to care for and nurture each other the whole body will be “healthy and growing and full of love” (Eph. 4:16). God’s desire is that our interconnectedness will be so tangible that when one of us experiences disappointment or joy, we all would know it and respond accordingly. “If one member suffers,” writes Paul, “all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Cor. 12:26).
The depth and quality of our relationships have crucial implications for hurrysick students who view exhaustion as a badge of accomplishment and shallow relationships as the price you pay for ambition. Jesus states that those around us will know we are His followers not by our ability to multi-task or by the efficiency through which we check off items on long “to-do” lists. The world will know we are true followers of His by the quality of love we exhibit toward each other (Jn. 13:35).
There’s the rub: love, intimacy, and quality relationships take time.
In Proverbs 20:5, I read that the “purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters” and that only through time and carefully prodding can we “draw them out” (Prov. 20:5). The Apostle Paul picks up this theme when he encourages his readers at Philippi to set aside selfishness and self-absorption and to take the time to place the interest of others above their own. “Don’t look out for your own interests,” he writes to them and me, “but take an interest in others, too” (Phil. 2:4 NLT).
As educators, are we ready to do that? With those God has called us into relationship with are we prepared to slow life down enough where a person has sufficient time to gradually reveal the purposes of their heart? As hurry-sick individuals we may desire to listen and draw out others, but our frantic schedules leave us no time to do so.
What steps can we take to get turned around again? In a world sick with hurriedness, is it possible to cultivate daily pockets of rest which in turn could bring rest to our weary relationships? I think it is. Through the process of creating daily pockets of rest filled with introspection, confession, and intercession we can achieve the quality of relationships God desires.
To create pockets of rest we have to squarely face what C. S. Lewis calls the real problem of the Christian life, which he suggests comes at the start of each day. “It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in.”3
For the last few months, I have conducted an experiment to see if daily times of spiritual rest can bring depth and rest to my relationships. The experiment itself was prompted by a gradual physical, emotional, and spiritual fatigue caused by the constant juggling of family, teaching, committee work, multiple writing projects, and assuming the role of co-director of Biola’s Winsome Conviction Project. I was experiencing what one philosopher described as a “fatigue of the soul,” which in turn caused me to become selfish and self-protective with my time.4
The experiment entails setting my alarm twenty minutes prior to when I would normally wake up to start the day. During this time, while the “wild animals” are just beginning to stir, I sit downstairs in our family room and attempt to open myself up to the stronger, quieter life Lewis described.
For the first ten minutes of my time with the Lord, I ask myself: How has my lack of inner rest influenced my interaction with my spouse? My three adult sons? My interaction with students? Fellow faculty? As a person who teaches communication courses, I often focus on the quality of my communication with those around me. The Book of Proverbs facilitates my self-examination.
In Proverbs 12:17, “reckless words” are presented as a piercing sword. I’m advised to drop an issue before a dispute breaks out because “starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam” (17:14). On a daily basis these ancient writers remind me that just as some words can cut like a sword, others can be a sweet honeycomb to the soul (16:24). During these first few minutes with the Lord, I ask him to reveal to me if my words this week have resembled more a sword or a honeycomb. Did I take the time to encourage my wife yesterday? Send a tweet to my sons? This past week have I been quarrelsome with fellow faculty? Have I been too busy to listen to students?
Confession and Intercession
The next ten minutes are spent in confession for the irritability, self-absorption, and aloofness that often accompany the demands of my frantic schedule. I then ask the Lord, as specifically as possible, to supply me with the grace and strength to love those around me in the midst of my busy schedule. For example, concerning ubiquitous office hours I pray:
Lord, I confess that often I feel infringed upon when a student seemingly rambles off-topic during office hours. The more they talk, the more agitated I get thinking of what I could get done during this block of time. Help me to be present. Let me see this student as you do.
That last sentiment—seeing my students as God does—particularly gives me pause. For example, if the child of a faculty member stops in for office hours, I drop everything. I’ve had three sons graduate from Biola and I’ve always appreciated the time and attention given to them by colleagues. Knowing you have a fellow faculty member’s child sitting in your office provides extra incentive to focus. In short, faculty kids—if I’m being honest—get my “A” game. Yet, is it overly spiritual to acknowledge that each student is God’s spiritual son or daughter? Ought this not cause me to slow down and discard distractions?
Sadly, my morning prayers can easily be forgotten once at work. By mid-afternoon I find myself immersed again in the fast lane. My communication with others is short as I fall more and more behind in my schedule. My wife calls me at the office to say “Hi” or ask a question, and I never take my eyes away from the computer screen as I mumble a reply. Lewis would not be surprised. He writes that “coming in out of the wind” and pushing back the “fussings and frettings” of the day takes practice.5 Letting the quieter life of God come into our lives is a process. “We can only do it for moments at first. But from those moments the new sort of life will be spreading through our system: because now we are letting him work at the right part of us.”6 When hurried, I take a minute to catch my breath–both physically and spiritually–and intercede for myself and others.
By the end of my workday, I recognize the need to regroup spiritually. I get that opportunity in the car as I drive home. I slowly have come to view my silent thirty-minute commute as an indispensable part of my day. During this time, I find myself repeating the three stages of my morning experiment: introspection, confession, and intercession. It’s another opportunity to cultivate and experience a pocket of rest. My attempt to push back the “animals” of hurriedness is often two steps forward; three steps back. But the pockets seem be more regular and deeper. With that, comes rest to the soul and patience, attention, and grace to those around me.
- While there are many tests—popular and academic—here’s a simple test from Bill Gaultiere’s book, Your Best Life in Jesus’ Easy Yoke: https://www.soulshepherding.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Hurry-Sickness-Test-Salem-1.pdf
- Jeremy Rifkin, Time Wars: The Primary Conflict in Human History (New York: Touchstone Books, 1989), p. 30.
- C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperCollins, 1980), p. 198.
- Gabriel Marcel, Man Against Mass Society (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 2008), p. 100.
- Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 199.
- Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 199.