What is it about being forced to slow down that makes you want to run faster than you were before? I think it is because we realize we had been taking our abilities for granted. On top of that, we realize that though we were running fast, much of it was spent on directionless pursuits. It is amazing how we can feel pressured to check social media, or check a gaming app on our phone. There have been times I have felt like my evening was full because I needed to write a blog post, but no one is sitting at their computer waiting for me to post. Not even my mom does that. Still, something inside me says you better get something written soon.
These are small examples, but we fill our days with these types of anxieties. Many of the things that have us running so fast could be eliminated without a deficit to anyone involved. Often, the only real negative impact we feel is the effect it has on our pride. We tend to think, if I am busy, then I am important. People need me to fulfill all of my so-called responsibilities, because if I do not, things will fall apart, but it is not true. Much of what we feel pressured to do is noise.
We rarely realize this until something hits our life that forces us to start reevaluating. There comes a time when your body or emotional state says, it is time to change pace. At first, we usually think we can work through it, but, in the end, we find that providence is serious about making us slow down. It is at this point that we will hopefully start to gain perspective.
The process is painfully pleasant. About a year ago I found myself in a similar situation. First, I wanted to power through as if my will-power could right all the wrongs with my health. Once I resigned to the fact that I could not do it, I settled in to make some changes. The first thing that I needed to do was to get rid of all the needless distractions that had been adding stress but did nothing to help me be productive with things that were important.
I started by reevaluating what truly mattered. The key to this was making sure my mind was set on things above, or in other words, making sure I was seeking first the Kingdom of God. I will not talk about this much here because I do so in other posts (see links at the end of this post), but if we fail to get this right, everything else becomes meaningless, regardless of whether we are moving fast or slow. Upon reflection, I found I had filled my life with needless interruptions, and they were not benefiting me in any way. I came to realize that I did not know I was being distracted because I was not even aware of what I was being distracted from. I believe this is the case for many people.
Then began the process of slowing down and removing needless stress. This process involved deleting apps on my phone, limiting social media time to once a day, and I even began to schedule time on my calendar to check email only three times a day, instead of checking it continually. This reduction was the part that felt painful at first. I felt like I was going to miss out. If much of my productivity happens with email, how could I accomplish all that I needed to get done? I noticed myself repeatedly looking to my phone for notifications that were no longer available. I had to retrain my mind’s habitual response. The result of this was that I found I was not less productive, I was more productive. I had hours in the morning, afternoon and evening, which were email and social media free. These uninterrupted hours forced me to become more strategic with my time at work and home, instead of wasting it always checking to see if there was something new in my inbox, and diverting my train of thought. This also gave me more time to do something I enjoy, writing.
Regarding social media and time online, I realized I was not missing out on much. I also noticed that my executive attention, the ability to focus on something for an extended period of time, began to grow stronger. Before I was forced to slow down, I had already realized that the internet had started shrinking my thoughts. I began blogging 2005, that was eventually reduced to Facebook posts, and then I was down to 140 characters on Twitter. Though all of these can be powerful tools if used correctly, sustained thought is not something online platforms encourage. The big takeaway was that my mind was spending much less time flitting from one unimportant thing to another.
I also began to choose my television time much more carefully, and I would always keep my Kindle or a book with me. If I was going to spend time doing something during my free moments, I could at least make it something mindful. I could continue to talk about more of these little changes, such as reducing entertainment and letting my mind get bored to make myself desire more useful stimulation, but I think you are getting the picture. Let me conclude with few thoughts on the importance of slowing down.
Slowing down is not something we have to be forced to do. It is something we can do even when our health is strong, and life is good. Jonathan Edwards once said this about a man he honored deeply, David Brainerd.
“[One] imperfection in Mr. Brainerd, which may be observed in the following account of his life, was his being excessive in his labours; not taking due care to proportion his fatigues to his strength.”
Much of what I have written about is removing the unnecessary and unproductive activity from our lives, but sometimes we even need to slow down on that which is worthwhile and godly. Our Lord has put His treasure in jars of clay, and though the outward man is wasting away, the inward man is being renewed day by day. This truth should teach us two things. First, our bodies cannot do it all, and they will eventually fade. Second, when our bodies force us to slow down, even in our service to God, we are not necessarily reducing our pace in being renewed spiritually, which is the ultimate goal.
It seems our culture as come to believe that the two are inextricably bound. If you are not running fast, then you are not being renewed. Sometimes, the best path to being renewed is through slowing down. Maybe it is time to take due care to proportion our fatigues with our strength. It is by doing so that we find we are redeeming the time more effectively than when we were before. It is important to remember that doing less does not mean we stop doing difficult work. Much of our most important undertakings are challenging. This truth is why I think we sometimes prefer busyness over slowing down. If we are using it as a form of procrastination, that type of busyness can be a form of laziness. In the end, I found during my time of slowing down that I was actually accomplishing more.
A divided mind, one caught between heaven and earth, will never find peace because it is chasing things in two different directions. A heart that is united in the fear of the Lord will be able to slow down and cover more ground simultaneously. This need to slow down and regain focus, like all battles with the sinful nature, is a daily struggle. Part of what prompted me to write this post is the fact that I have allowed many of these things to begin crowding my life again. We must continually guard our hearts against being pulled away from the Lord and his service by things of no importance.
Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name. – Psalm 86:11
Posts on Setting Our Minds on Things Above