Eliminate hurry?  

Posted by Denis Haack in , ,

“You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life,” philosopher Dallas Willard notes, “for hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our world today.”

By that measure I’m in trouble.

In the days since I read that Willard quote (in an email from The Trinity Forum), I’ve been trying to figure out the source of our impulse to hurry. Some of it comes from habit, I suspect—hurry long enough and it becomes a way of living that’s hard to change. We may not even notice that we hurry, though your tendency to blow through life seems pretty obvious to me. I suspect some of it comes from our world. We get used to things happening quickly, begin to think it is our right not to have to wait, and hurry to get everything in efficiently. Advances in technology mean we can be more places, do more things, communicate with more people in shorter periods of time, and soon our expectations require we hurry to live up to all that potential.

 At least I feel all that in myself.

And if you are a Christian you are busy the one morning each week (Sunday) when secular friends can sleep in, hang out at a coffee shop, leisurely read the newspaper, eat a scone, and sip a latte. And at church we often hear appeals to do some task, join some group, read some book or the Bible more, attend some meeting, fill some need, go on some mission trip, help with some potluck. We hurry to church and leave having a more hurried week.

So, I wonder just how we can possibly eliminate hurry from our lives?

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I blame the efficiency experts of a hundred years ago along with social Darwinism. That perverted the "protestant work ethic" into something inhumane and mechanical. After all, by not defending our borders, we can always replace those who can't keep up, and eventually we will improve the breed of the proles by so doing.
So we in America now work longer hours than even the Japanese. We are the most productive workers in the world - but at what cost? Is Adam Smith's economic system, dramatically distorted by social Darwinism a good thing? Is the bottom line really the sumum bonum?

I am hoping to soon obtain von Roepke's _Towards a Humane Economy_ to supplement by Chesterton on a genuinely free alternative to plutocratic, social Darwinistic State Capitalism on the one side, and national Socialist State-run economy on the other hand.

November 22, 2010 at 2:59 PM

Couple thoughts:

1) We don't view work as an end in itself. It's an enabler that allows us to go some place else, so we're constantly in pursuit of that something else. (This may be more about chasing than hurrying, but I think they're related.) Kingsolver has a great anecdote about it in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: When she was in college, one day she figured out a quicker route home from school. She took the route, saved 20 minutes and excitedly told her grandpa upon arrival all about how she'd planned it, drove it, and arrived early, all on her own. Her grandpa's response: "Great, you saved 20 minutes. You just spent 15 minutes telling me that you saved 20." I think part of why we hurry is because we're always trying to get some place else, most of what we do on a day-to-day basis is treated as a means to some other end - I work so I can get money, I commute for 30 minutes so I can get to work to make money, I spend 15 minutes at the gas station filling up my car so I can drive to work to get money, and so forth. So part of slowing down, I think, involves simply acknowledging the sacredness of the moment, feeling gratitude for that moment we're enjoying as we enjoy it.

November 22, 2010 at 3:19 PM

The sacredness of the moment, being actually present in the moment instead of using that moment only to pursue another thing can be hard to do, but as you point out, is so important. I wonder if the evidence of being in the moment is that we aren't distracted--and if so, I'm in trouble.

One of the things I remember about Francis Schaeffer is exactly that--he was present whenever he sat down to talk. The lecture he had been preparing, the proofs he had been checking, the previous conversation with someone else were all set aside, and he was with you, listening, in this conversation, now. I need to be more like him.

Thanks for commenting.

November 22, 2010 at 3:31 PM

I was walking in the woods by my house this afternoon asking God the very same question. Why am I always working on one thing and thinking about the next thing that needs to get done? Why can't I give complete attention to the specific project at hand (I am an artist and a quilter) without worrying about the next place I need to be or the next thing I need to do? Working on a piece of art or a quilt is one of the ways I bring myself before the Lord in worship - and I know that we have an enemy who doesn't want us to do that. Busyness and being driven to get the to-do list checked off is another cause of our hurry and inattention. We don't allow ourselves (or at least I'm aware that I don't allow myself) what Richard Foster called "sacred idleness." We don't allow ourselves to do nothing. Because doing nothing is a great way to get in touch with God. Hmm.

November 22, 2010 at 4:08 PM

Sadly, the only way that we have found to deal with this is to schedule time to be "not hurried". Once a month, we have been going to the mountains instead of going to church. We go up, let the boys play in a creek or something and walk, and walk, and walk.

I think one of the keys for me is getting away from technology. If it is available, I feel compelled to check email, facebook, etc.

People would be less hurried if we did more for ourselves, I think. Growing food, raising animals, caring for animals or crops can't be hurried. At least, it can't be hurried if it is done right. I remember sitting down with my great-grandmother when I was about six and watching her shell butter beans. I have no idea how long it too, but it seemed to take quite a while. Her hands were moving so fast, but there was nothing really hurried about what she was doing. She was telling me about something but I remember thinking how she and my great-grandfather had planted and grown those beans and now they would all be gone after lunch. (There were many more that they grew, but they farmed only for themselves, not for profit.) It made me appreciate them more. She was totally in the moment and so connected to the earth... to a degree that is just not attainable by most people today.

Strange that that would turn out to be one of the most vivid memories I have of her.

November 22, 2010 at 4:17 PM

thanks for posting this important entry, Denis. For now, as a gloss, let me link you and your readers to an excellent entry by Nathan Foster (Richard Foster's son) who co-authored a book with him recently called "Wisdom Chasers" which I've heard excellent things about:

this is more about silence but relates to the subject of hurriedness---we're often too busy to 'shut up and be still'


November 22, 2010 at 6:06 PM
Chris Harper  

Denis, I resonate with your question and regularly feel the pull in different directions.

I saw this link to a Youtube video yesterday over on Anthony Bradley's blog and share it here as I believe it fits in the conversation. It's worth the 15 minutes (of unhurried time) to watch it.


November 22, 2010 at 6:24 PM

We'll get there fast
And then we'll take it slow
That's where we wanna go
Way down to kokomo

November 22, 2010 at 6:48 PM

My generation may have the hardest time avoiding the hurried lifestyle, and I anticipate it will only worsen. In many ways I'm unable to escape it; my career requires an excessive pace, new friends are easier to come by than ever before, and to participate I can end up in a vehicle for hours. Short of rethinking my calling, shrinking my social circle, and moving to a one store town, I've tried to balance my busy life with an unhurried life. For me, this balance flows easier through hobbies that require unhurried time. Cooking, car repairs, fly-fishing, writing, etc. And when incorporating these with friends, it's that much more comforting.
I need incorruptible time in my life.

Couple questions I'd like to hear others on:

Is it even possible to be unhurried in every aspect of our lives?

And if it is, what are the disadvantages? Could it alienate others or be perceived as laziness? Or worse, would it actually become slothfulness?

November 22, 2010 at 10:27 PM

The efficiency experts certainly have not helped, but historically the problem existed before their work. “We.. live in an essentially fast age. The rush and excitement that our everyday life calls for did not exist three-quarters of a century ago, and consequently the tax upon the mind, and the wear and tear on the home life of the present generation is, as a whole, full of ceaseless activity... In other words, the [fast-paced, busy] life of today [breeds stress], followed by exhaustion.” Dr. Frances Rankin wrote that in 1890.

Your hope in economic theory is misplaced. As James Davison Hunter shows in To Change the World such convictions are not the way to institute meaningful change.

Your facts are also badly mistaken. Not "defending our borders" does not provide workers to displace those who are slow, but to provide workers for jobs Americans refuse to accept.

November 23, 2010 at 8:25 AM

Old Dominion Heather:

Very interesting ideas--thanks for commenting.

The fact we have to schedule "non-hurried time" into our hurried schedules says something important about both our lives and our view of time. There is something of the Sabbath principle built into the very nature of Creation that calls out for fulfillment in some way. Too bad you feel that skipping church and its means of grace is the best way--or perhaps only way--to find such rest.

Your idea of doing more things for ourselves is intriguing. At first glance, at least, growing more of our own food would seem to more time, but the process itself might generate a lack of hurry. I have been wondering if intentional community (of different sorts) might be part of the answer in some cases. Living close enough to share some tasks, take some of the pressure of each living unit (single or married) to every task themselves.

I do think creative thinking is required.
Blessings, including on your walks,

November 23, 2010 at 8:33 AM

Thanks for the link. Have heard about the book, but haven't read it. I wonder if any of my readers have.

And I agree: silence is part of eliminating hurry, though not on a one-to-one basis. We aren't slowing down simply to be silent, but slowing down allows the preciousness of silence to exist without the pressure of feeling it has to be filled with something "more" productive.


November 23, 2010 at 8:36 AM

I don't have time to deal with this today.

November 23, 2010 at 9:05 AM

I've been thinking my Luddite ideal and the elimination of hurry.

I think that one reason we hurry is that we are afraid to be alone with our thoughts. Self-reflection leaves us all looking pretty badly and since we are surrounded by technology, we never have to experience it. People like my great-grandmother were not afraid to be alone with their own thoughts because they had meaningful work to do in their leisure. When they sat down at the end of the day, they knew that they had accomplished meaningful work, spent time with each other, and seemingly felt that the day had not been wasted in multitasking.

Wasn't their a study that suggested that multitasking is basically impossible? The tasks that are accomplished by this method are poorly done and less work is done. Here is an old article about this but not the one I remembered. http://archives.cnn.com/2001/CAREER/trends/08/05/multitasking.focus/index.html

So, perhaps if we WERE engaged in more community, we might feel that our work had some value beyond bringing in a paycheck so that we can buy the food that we would be happier is we just grew. It has become part of the American Ideal (or perhaps it has always been there) not to depend on anyone for anything which leads (in my opinion) to the disgust that people have for families dependent on welfare or other social programs. We value ourselves more highly when we are not dependent on anyone else.

I've gone completely off topic now and I'll go ahead and shut up. Like Twain, if I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter!

November 23, 2010 at 9:14 AM

Chris Harper.

The YouTube video was great--thanks for posting it here. And thanks for being my pastor, who is sensitive to such questions as these.


November 23, 2010 at 9:43 AM

Daniel Munn:
Ah yes, poetry usually says it best.
Thank you.

November 23, 2010 at 9:44 AM

M Nyman:

Thanks for commenting, because I think you touch on a reality we need to face, namely, that some callings or vocations in our world require a fast pace. It's simply the way the world is. It is a broken world, but it is the world we need to live in. Your determination to find unhurried or incorruptible time at the margins or edges of your vocation is a good thing. Some in such fast-paced vocations do not even allow for that.

You raise good questions, too.
Thank you.

November 23, 2010 at 9:47 AM

Nice, my friend.

November 23, 2010 at 9:48 AM

Old Dominion Heather:

I agree that some of the problem is that we don't want to be alone with our thoughts--or we fear it. Years ago, when I first joined InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and went through staff training I was introduced to ROS (Retreat of Silence). We were encouraged, once a month or so, to set aside a day where we went to an isolated place, no technology, with only a Bible, a notebook and a prayer book or hymnbook. The day was to be spent quiet and alone. The first time was very hard: to keep from work, to keep from cutting it short or napping, but mainly to be comfortable just being with myself and God. Over the years an occasional ROS has been a wonderful discipline.

We have always maintained some measure of intentional community at Toad Hall and have never regretted it. For some of the reasons you mention.
Thanks for your good thoughts.

November 23, 2010 at 9:54 AM

Nicely said, in real time that could be unhurried but so often is rushed.

Like you I've been reflecting on the notion of being truly present in the moment and wonder why it's so hard. I realize each moment is to be lived in hope and so there is always anticipation in that sense. But when I do manage to engage the moment without the inner sense of hurrying forward it is so peaceful, even though productive.

Hope you have many more quiet, unhurried walks.

November 23, 2010 at 10:00 AM

As usual, I am stretched and challenged.
I think one thing is missing in this dialogue. Or perhaps just brushed over by the person who mentioned they could move to a "one store town," and touched on by Jake. I think there are great points already made in this dialogue, but I think keeping up with the Jones' has been left out. Now entire countries feel like it's their turn to keep up with the Jones' which adds a great burden on God's creation. But I digress.
I believe in addition to our need to function in society, our fears of being alone with our thoughts and sprawl creating the need for long commutes, we have been conditioned to believe we deserve a certain type of life. It differs a little from person to person, but it's always more.
I remember when I was very involved in church that many of the women would grumble about the long meetings about the childrens ministry. (Something else to hurry and get to). They all had different ideas about what was important, and negotiating took a great deal of time. And, all the while, I'm thinking these are over-indulged children. Don't get me wrong, I believe children are important, including them in ministry is important and nurturing them in the church is important. But, this is just one example of a certain amount of entitlement we all feel. And, with that entitlement comes the need to defend what one thinks one deserves as well as an intention to earn what one thinks one deserves. So, we work long hours for the new car, the marble counter-tops, the HD flat screen TV. Well, maybe not anyone in this discussion...and then again maybe. And,I'm not saying having these things is wrong. I'm just saying sometimes our busyness is manufactured from a paradigm that has shifted away from God being all sufficient to a paradigm of need, want, deserve and entitlement. Consider the lilies of the field.

November 23, 2010 at 10:26 AM

Very good point: keeping up with the Jones is part of the problem. The pressure can be very subtle, but I doubt any of us can be totally free from it. And with the diversity that we have, there are various model Jones from which to pick. On the one hand, our shared humanity means that comparing ourselves to others makes sense. On the other, the feelings of envy and self-doubt are destructive, as you point out.

I didn't read your comments as anti-children, but that this is an area where the pressure can be on the surface. It's worth noting that St Augustine, John Calvin, and Katherine von Bora never were involved with ballet classes, soccer camps, and the host of other "necessary" activities kids need today, yet they did, all things considered, fairly well for themselves.

We even feel this way spiritually. We read a comment like I've quoted here by Dallas Willard, see someone we think is eliminating hurry in their life and feel pressure to keep up. That would be an interesting discussion: the difference between having good models and trying to keep up with the Jones.

Thanks, as always, for your thoughtful comments.

November 23, 2010 at 12:55 PM

I am thinking back to last December where we had a record-breaking snowstorm just before Christmas. We were without power for 4 days. Fortunately we have a woodstove, so we cooked all our meals on it, and spent most of the rest of our days cutting fallen trees and melting snow for drinking and flushing. It was remarkably like 19th century camping. I say all this to say that hurry went away completely. There was nothing to hurry to or from. And there was a peaceful rhythm to those days that was quite appealing - no hurry, and no worry either. I was almost sad when the power came back on and we had to go back to "real" life.

This snowstorm came at a time when we had raced through the summer and fall "hurrying" from one activity to another - work, church, ministry, outreach, fun, too, - and it forced us to slow down and just do what was necessary for survival. And there was time for conversation and reflection. Hurry really interferes with reflection.

It's also interesting to me how quickly we went back to the regular pace of our lives, really without even giving it a second thought.

November 23, 2010 at 4:57 PM

We have had a similar experience. Several years ago two couples, both dear friends came to stay with us for a few days. One of the couples were trying to sort through some issues (vocationally) and we thought time to talk, and rest, and think, and pray might help.

Anyway it was a delightful time, and then a blizzard hit here in Rochester. The highway was closed (so the pastor couple could not drive back for church) and the airport cancelled everything (so the Durango couple were stuck). We had two extra days, no agenda except eating, talking, and occasionally going outside to shovel snow. It was leisurely, unhurried, and simply wonderful.

We talked about what of that time we could bring back with us into "normal" life. Not everything, but some things could.
Some interruptions are grace.

November 24, 2010 at 8:35 AM

Denis, Thanks so much for what you and Margie are doing in the world! I so appreciate your ministry, your blogs and your thoughts and comments. Keep up the good work!

November 26, 2010 at 8:38 AM

Thank you for your kind words.

November 26, 2010 at 9:47 AM

The root of our hurry emerges from our desires. When we desire mostly impossible to attain things from our lives we set about chasing after them at an impossible to maintain pace. Why do we hurry? Why did I cram in too many meetings in one day? Why do I have to sit in traffic or on the train? Why do I have to miss a family dinner for a meeting, again? And then hurry to and from all those places? Sometimes indeed, life happens. But so often it is because we want too much, we consume too much, we desire too much, we eat too much or shop too much and then we have to pay the bill.

November 27, 2010 at 6:30 PM


You are saying something very wise here, I think. It's easy to inflame our desires with expectations for more, and then as you say, "we have to pay the bill." In that light, stress and hurry are part of the bill we pay, and the cost can be huge as you note. Trouble is, it's easer (or so it seems) to try to be more efficient or to do better time management than to settle our desires down. Besides, we seldom have time to reflect on our desires and expectations to begin with.

A related problem is that once hurry is accepted in one part of life--say in a very demanding vocation--the hurry often seeps over into al other aspects of life. I've noticed, for example, professional people in my town racing through a camping trip in the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota, portaging into numerous lakes, canoeing through vast tracks of wilderness, and arriving home flushed and physically weary but excited at all they've seen and done. The one chance to supplant hurry with slow, and they keep up the hurry. Silly.


November 29, 2010 at 10:39 AM

I realize that this discussion is moving on - blogs do get in a hurry. Some offerings from Richard John Neuhaus in his book Freedom for Ministry that provide me a helpful reminder as I deal with the finiteness of life:

"We complain that we do not have enough time. One answer is to learn to do expeditiously what has to be done in order to get on to what must be done. What must be done in largely determined by our own setting of priorities. When as a young priest, Archbishop William Temple deplored the fact that there was so much to do and so little time in which to do it all, his wise father responded, 'William, you have all the time there is.' You have all the time there is - it is a thought worthy of more than a moment's reflection. Finally, before God, we are responsible for what we do with all the time there is."

And then there's Pascal's "the sole cause of man's unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room." All the hurry does keep us diverted from thinking about our own life before God.

November 29, 2010 at 2:10 PM

Very wise words, my friend.
Thank you.
Wish we could meet for coffee--make that single malt--regularly.

November 29, 2010 at 2:59 PM

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