I don’t embrace ‘slow’ very easily. I like fast. I think it’s because I’m task-focused; I see the world in terms of jobs to be completed. I also like efficiency, because the quicker I go, the more I can do. And the more I get done, the more satisfied I feel. I love those mornings when it gets to 9.30 am, and I’ve spent time with Jesus, put a load of washing on and hung it on the line, emptied the dishwasher, done two school runs, changed the sheets and cleaned the bathroom. Ah, bliss. In my books, that feels like a winning start to a weekday.
As you can imagine, there have been many occasions during our marriage where Jon has urged/pleaded/cried out in desperation for me to try and enjoy the in-between bits of life. Things like getting from A to B, or cooking dinner, or those unfilled moments between two jobs. It seems I have a natural talent for introducing speed, and consequently, stress, into pretty much any moment of the day. I don’t hear him say it so often these days. I hope that’s because I’ve gradually got better at enjoying the in-between bits and not because he’s given up trying to change me after eighteen years of marriage.
A few years ago, my Mum and I spent a couple of days at a retreat centre. Jon was on sabbatical, and I was excited for a couple of days to tuck myself away and meet with God. I didn’t know what to expect, having not done anything like this before, however, I’d read a book about the amazing things God had done there, so I was ready for an encounter with God. There were several ‘services’ throughout the day for us to participate in, so to the chapel Mum and I headed, full of anticipation.
When I think of a service, I’m used to pre-church hustle and bustle. You know, people catching up over coffee, toddlers running around, parents chatting in line while they sign their kids into the children’s work, stewards putting chairs out and greeters warmly welcoming people. Well, there was none of that. Here in this little chapel, on a hill in the middle of nowhere, everyone sat in silence as they waited for service to begin. Some people were reading the Bible, others praying, while others were just sitting. I felt so uncomfortable. It nearly killed me not to say “Hi” to someone and find out where they were from. I must have been the fidgetiest person in the room. The service consisted of a team member leading us through a booklet with set readings, prayers and songs. She explained at the outset that they like to do things slowly and reflectively. I quickly realised that by ‘slowly,’ she meant S-L-O-W-L-Y, or rather S—–L—–O—–W—–L—–Y. Excruciatingly slowly in my case. I did not know people could speak that slowly, and you could still follow what they were saying. It was like a classroom game of ‘who can read out loud the slowest and get away with it.’ Was this their way of dragging out a ten-minute service to twenty minutes so that people felt they’d got more for their money?
Baffled as I was, I knew that my mum, sat serenely by my side, with the insight of a few prior retreats and a much slower inner clock, was have a good chuckle to herself. How entertaining to see me caught in a room where time had slowed to a snail’s pace, with no means of winding it up. We went to the services maybe five or six times over the next couple of days, and to my surprise, they got a little less painful each time. I even bought a booklet so that I could carry on this meditative approach at home. My efforts lasted at least a week, maybe two before the hurry crept back in.
I think hurry is a battle I’ll always be fighting. Hurriedness of mind and hurriedness of doing. Sometimes with growth it can feel like we get some breakthrough then head back to square one. But actually, I think our growth curves with God are more often than not a three-steps-forward, two-steps-back kind of affair. Whenever I’m learning something new and want to grow in it, I find that as soon as I stop being intentional, I forget and slip back a bit, but never so far as the starting line. Looking back, I can see that I have moved forward, that something has stayed with me from that particular season.
Here’s a case in point for you. At the start of the lockdown, I read The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer. It’s an easy read, and so much of what he said resonated with me, that I raced through it in a couple of days. I get the irony. Encouragingly, I must have absorbed some of what Comer said because I’ve noticed myself slowing down. For example, instead of prayer marching my way around the local heath, I’ve ambled, stopping to watch bees gather nectar, which has lead to wonder and worship, further fuelling my prayers. It’s this going slower that made me feel so full and free. But, as often happens, I’ve noticed my pace increasing during the past few weeks. I’m finding that as my speed and productivity increase, my sense of full and free decreases. Our pastor recently recommended we read Cromer’s book together as a team. Seeing as I’d probably given myself indigestion last time round, I thought it’d be worth another, slower, read. I’m loving it just as much the second time through and highly recommend it.
Do you ever find yourself longing for God, to feel and know more of his presence in everyday life? I do. In the book, Comer points out that if there is no place or time where God isn’t present, then the problem is actually “our awareness of God,” rather than his absence. Comer tells us we get to awareness through attention. How can we give our attention to God when it is so busy elsewhere? How can I give my attention to God when my mind is so often engaged in getting through the task at hand as quickly as possible and thinking about the next job?
I’ve been growing veggies in lockdown. I’ve dabbled before but never really had the time to get into it properly. But this spring, there was time. In our garden, there are two watering cans and two water butts. Bearing in mind my natural bent towards speed and efficiency, the way I see it, if it’s just me watering these vegetables, I’ve got two options. Option A: fill one watering can and then empty it while the other is filling. Option B: fill both watering cans at the same time, then empty them in quick succession before returning for a double refill.
In option A, I end up rushing, willing the water out of the can faster than the little holes will allow it to go and running back across the lawn to turn off the tap before the other watering can overflows and wastes water. On the other hand, option B requires me to stand still and wait for two or three minutes during filling. The problem is, I find waiting (that is, being unproductive) incredibly hard, so I end up running inside to do a two-minute job, or rushing off to prune the tomatoes and get back to turn the water off in time, so the cans don’t overflow. You see my dilemma.
So what’s the answer to this and all my other jobs that I try to rush through? Simply put, I need to slow down, and to slow down, I probably need to do a bit less. I need to learn how to be in the moment. To be present to what is currently happening and present to being with God, who it turns out, is already there. How can I meet God in all the moments that make up the day when I’m rushing about, trying to make every minute as productive as possible? This being present is just what I discovered at the start of lockdown when life gave a helping hand by slowing right down, and I took Comer’s timely words to heart. I need to hear this again, that our attention is a precious resource and that “attention leads to awareness”.
I’ve approached the vegetable watering as a task that needs to be done, ideally as quickly and efficiently as possible. I’ve treated it as yet another withdrawal from the bank of my time. Tonight, if I am going slow enough to remember my own words in a few hours’ time, I’m going to see it as an investment, a well-spent opportunity to let my soul fill up with joy in the beauty of nature, and with delight in the One who has generously given it for us to behold.