Thursday, February 27, 2020

Learning to Go Faster By Going Slower

Someone has said a definition of an athletic contest, whether a football, soccer or basketball game, is thousands of spectators in desperate need of exercise watching skilled athletes in desperate need of rest.

That sums it up well, especially for couch potatoes in comfortable couches and chairs, snacks and drinks close by – cheering for favorite teams and grumbling if they fail to meet expectations. Never mind all the effort expended by players leading up to the game; all that matters is whether they win or lose.  

But for many of us, overwhelmed by our hectic lifestyles, the scenario shifts dramatically when it’s not game day. Then we’re the ones running to the point of exhaustion, disregarding the need to take a breath and get some rest. We try to defy physics by proving we can be in several places at one time. Overuse of technology has turned frenetic “multi-tasking” into a hideous art form. 

However, the problem of “rush, rush, and more rush” is hardly new. And not unique to American society. Mahatma Gandhi, the revered human rights activist and leader of India’s non-violent independence movement in the early 1900s, said, “There is more to life than merely increasing the speed.” He said that long before anyone knew anything about smartphones, email, texting, Siri and Alexa! 

Author and contemplative David Steindl-Rast offered another global perspective about humankind’s fascination with busyness: “The Chinese character or pictograph for ‘busy’ is composed of two characters: ‘Heart’ and ‘Killing.’” How’s that for a graphic image?

Any lumberjack worth his splinters knows a key to efficient tree cutting is pausing at times to make certain the axe is always sharp. Chopping fast with a dull blade is counterproductive. Some of us, enamored with jam-packed, stress-filled schedules, have little time to pause to “sharpen our blade.” Before we can appreciate one event or achievement, we’re sprinting off to the next one. You know the adage about taking time to smell the flowers? We’re moving so fast, we don’t even notice any flowers to sniff.

This is one reason God places emphasis on rest, including the designation of a sabbath day. Following the Creation account in Genesis 1, we read in Genesis 2:2, “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing, so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”

Imagine: After creating the entire universe, including the world in which we live and everything in it, God Himself called a timeout. Being all-powerful, it wasn’t because He was tired. But it was a good time for smelling the flowers He had made, enjoying a sunrise and sunset, and listening to His creatures flying and frolicking everywhere. Why exert so much effort and creativity if you can’t enjoy it?

The Lord found it so refreshing, He decided to include rest-taking as one of His commandments: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God…” (Exodus 20:8-10).

For some, the Ten Commandments are restrictive, archaic rules established by a spoilsport God who doesn’t want us to have any fun. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus offered some clarification when legalistic religious leaders challenged His disciples’ activities in the Sabbath day. He said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). In other words, the Lord established a day for rest as a gift, not an imposition. 

Somehow, many of us in our society have lost the appreciation for rest, for healthful relaxing that’s not immersed in just another form of non-stop activity. That’s probably why we repeatedly find admonitions in the Scriptures to “be still” and “rest.” As Isaiah 58:13-14 tells us, “If you call the Sabbath a delight…then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth.”

The writer of Ecclesiastes, who allowed himself to experience every human pleasure imaginable, including material abundance, understood the pointlessness of endless human endeavor: “Better is one handful of tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after wind” (Ecclesiastes 4:6).

And King David, who had plenty of demands to occupy his days and nights, also learned the virtues of peace and rest. “Find rest, O my soul, in God alone, my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken” (Psalm 62:5-6). 

Do you sometimes find yourself “weary and heavy-laden,” as the old hymn expresses it? Perhaps even right now? Maybe consciously, deliberately choosing to take time to rest, rather than adding one more item to your already overflowing to-do list, is what you need. 

The place where you find that rest, to make a much-needed “pit stop” in the midst of your race, is up to you. But make sure not to leave God out of the process. “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him” (Psalm 37:7). “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Because after all, Father knows best.

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