Life in the Slow Lane: Spiritual Disciplines for the New Normal

Personally, I’m not generally a fan of “slow.”  I tend to drive in the far left lane; I look for the shortest line at the grocery store; I grow impatient when my computer or Netflix takes longer than normal to load up.  Inefficiency is frowned upon.  Expediency is a virtue.  The present is merely a step to the future.  The next thing is what matters.  Where are we going?  How and when are we getting there?  Maybe you can relate.

I’ve read a common opinion that the pandemic has forced us to slow down.  Whatever plans we had were wiped off the board.  Whatever we thought the “next thing” was going to be very likely isn’t going to be.  For many of us, it feels like the wheels came off when we were doing 80 on the interstate.  Somehow, even in the forced slowdown, we desperately want to get back up to speed.  Rather than pausing, school, work, and church went virtual.  There were new things to learn and different ways to do things.  From so many I’ve talked to, we all agree that we’re busier now than we’ve ever been, even while working from home with no commute or need to get out of pajamas to get work done.  It’s taken a toll on our total well-being.  Some of us have more time, but less energy.  And some of us have neither.  And yet we plow ahead undaunted by the reality that normal is broken and won’t likely be replaced with a remotely similar model.  Forced to slow down, we just push harder…

Last week I talked about silence as a spiritual discipline.  This week, I want to talk about “slowing” as a spiritual discipline.  We need to learn to live in the slow lane, even if just for a time.  Slowing goes hand in hand with silence, because we can’t create silence if we won’t slow down.  We can’t create space for Christ in our lives if we don’t take our foot off the gas, pull over, and just be for a while.  

Slowing isn’t easy.  We’re conditioned to view our worth as our productivity.  Doing “nothing” feels like failure.  It feels like a waste of time.  We’re haunted by the thought of everything else we could be doing instead.  Personally, this is one of the greatest obstacles to slowing down my thoughts and activities.  As I was reminded last Sunday, even Winnie the Pooh knows that often doing nothing leads to the best somethings.  For us, that’s time spent with God.  

Psalm 118:24 – “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Do we treat each day as a gift, as a reason for rejoicing?  Even the worst days are opportunities for rejoicing, because God has made it and is with us in it.  We’re not promised any specific number of days.  We can’t take any of them for granted.  We can’t assume we’ll have tomorrow to do everything we’re ignoring today.  As Matthew 6:34 says, tomorrow can worry about itself because today’s trouble is enough.  

And today’s joy is enough.  We put off joy as something for another day.  We tell ourselves: when I get done with this project, when I get to the weekend, when things get back to normal…  We’re good at incorporating worry into our daily lives, but not so much joy.  We’re good at inviting a chorus of other voices to speak into our daily lives, but so much with God.  We’re so busy and our lives are so loud, we keep the pedal to the floor even after the tires have blown and we’re doing circles in the median, kicking up dirt and going nowhere.  

Adele Ahlberg Calhoun writes: “Slowing is a way we counter our culture’s mandate to tend to the bottom line, to move it or lose it, to constantly be on the go.  It is a way we honor our limits and the fact that God is found in the present moment.  Through slowing, we intentionally develop margins in our lives that leave us open to the present moment.  Slowing ourselves down doesn’t happen automatically.  We may need to incorporate some practices that make us conscious  of our haste.  Perhaps we drive in the slow lane for a week.  Or we may try to eat more slowly.  Buffering five or ten minutes between appointments can also slow us down.  Sometimes I choose to stand in the longer line at the checkout counter.  When I do this, I become aware of the internal compulsion to hurry and how it can rob me of the now.  As I slow down, I see the young mom with kids in tow and send up a prayer.  Or I notice the old woman who can’t get her change right and help out.  Ask God to help you live in the now.  The present moment is the only moment we ever have to live.  It is here, and it will never come again.”

Maybe God has something He’s been trying to tell you if you’d just slow down and pay attention.  Maybe there’s something He wants you to learn in a moment of silence and slowness, but it requires your undivided attention.  The little “something” in a moment of “nothing” can change everything.  For me, it was sitting on some rocks overlooking the beach when I gave my life fully to Christ after many years of partial commitment.  The fact I’m writing this right now is a direct result of that moment of slowness and silence.

We’ve got enough–right now–with which to concern ourselves.  Jesus taught this “way of slowness.”  When He taught His disciples to pray, He told them to pray for TODAY’S bread.  Matthew 6:11 – “Give us this day our daily bread…”  As I mentioned already, Matthew 6:34 – “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.”   Piling tomorrow and tomorrow’s tomorrows into today overwhelms us, demands too much of us, and drives us out of the present where God waits to engage with us. 

Slow down.  Be silent.  Make slowness and silence a part of your spiritual life, focused not so much on yourself but on God’s voice, His leading, His presence.  We need more of Him and less of the noise, stress, and anxiety.  We need to learn to trust Him with everything, even our time and what might otherwise feel like nothing, because that may be the most important “something.”

~Pastor Andrew

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