The doctor tells me that this “won’t hurt a bit,” and that I should take a deep breath and things will be over quickly. This is the routine message I get when I go in to the clinic to get immunizations for travel and my ‘now that I am over 40 physical for middle age men’.
I typically follow instructions, partly because anyone about to stick a needle in to me has considerable influence in my life and partly because relaxing is important for recovery. You see, years ago the doctor told me that when I tense up right before getting the vaccination, the pain lasts longer, but if I relax, it’s typically no big deal.
So, the idea of relaxing and rest is directly related not only to short-term conflict, but long-term pain as well. And this is instructive and something I reflected on as I have been participating in the #slowdownchallenge initiated by Jeff Goins. Jeff’s book, I have not read, The In Between is related to the subject of waiting and living with focus in a world of speed and inattention. The challenge has had several exercises like ‘focus’ and ‘savor’ and the idea has been to not only slow down, but to be present (at least that’s how I have interpreted it).
I have never met Jeff and I can’t tell you if he slows down or not, but the idea reminds me of something I have been taught about the life of Jesus. There was a rhythm to the Christ life as depicted in the Gospels and that rhythm is one of engagement and withdrawal. Intense sacrificial engagement with people followed by intense withdrawal and communion with God through fasting, prayer, and solitude.
Many people I know engage until they can’t do it any more and then withdraw to do nothing. Others I know focus on the solitude and prayer part well, but engage very little in the community. Jesus seems to hold both practices in tension and this rhythm of service and Sabbath seems to be at the heart of Gospel teaching.
Yet, we live in a 24/7 world, fast paced, and the irony of talking about slowing down on a blog, communicating via twitter, etc. isn’t lost on me. Many of us have accepted technology as a normative and often without discernment to the consequences spiritually. And I know few people who handle this rhythm of service and Sabbath well.
Yet, to me, that’s what the #slowdownchallenge reminds me of and points me toward. Slowing down for the sake of slowing down isn’t really that helpful. The medical community reminds us that physically being active is more healthy, sitting down for long periods of time is detrimental, and being mentally engaged prolongs brain health long term. So, what Goins reminds me of is rhythm and I encourage others who participate in such a challenge to refrain from seeing it as tortoise vs. the hare OR an issue of speed only.
You may also want to check out a forthcoming book by Kevin DeYoung called ‘Crazy Busy’ and a fascinating book entitled ‘Prophetic Untimeliness’ by Os Guinness. Both tackle the aspect of time in our culture.
Finally, the Pulitzer Prize winning book Gilead by Marilynne Robinson is a book about embracing the fullness of life and the prose is striking. Early on in the story we read these words: “There’s a lot under the surface of life, everyone knows that. A lot of malice, dread and guilt, and so much loneliness, where you wouldn’t really expect to find it, either.” And perhaps, that’s akin to what the challenge is about….going beneath the surface of life and spending more time there than in the shallow waters of self-protection and convenience.