Summing up: Be agreeable, be sympathetic, be loving, be compassionate, be humble. (1 Peter 3:8)
Several weeks ago in the church lobby I was greeted by an acquaintance with, “How’s your family?” I assumed this was a question, but as I started to respond he turned away to speak to someone else. I have known this man for many years and this is typical – he is always in motion rushing from one person to another, like a humming bird frantically darting from one flower to the next. I found the interchange disheartening and socially awkward.
Ironically, it was only a few minutes later that I was hurrying to connect with a friend and I turned away from another person who wanted to speak to me. Talk about hypocrisy! Fortunately, the Holy Spirit was present to convict me. I have become so habituated to my own hurriedness that I have lost touch with the degree to which I ignore and/or avoid contact with other people.
This is not new. When I was working, it seemed natural to be in a hurry – rushing to my job, avoiding co-workers to complete my work, speeding through a daily workout, reading or listening to the radio when family members tried to communicate. Even in retirement the old habits of hurrying are still with me. I rush to get my breakfast and cleanup the kitchen every morning. I watch the clock when I am exercising and do not like being interrupted during my routines. When I am on the road, I want to pass anyone not going at least 5 mph over the limit, and am frustrated when stuck behind someone driving slow. But mostly I am too hurried to be fully present with other people. I live a hurried life.
A hurried life is not the same as a busy life. Being busy is an external circumstance based on mental “to do” lists. Having things to do is part of the human condition – the “work” that God assigned to Adam and the work we all do as part of living. On the other hand, being hurried, is an internal state that focuses principally on my agenda and my needs. John Ortberg in Soul Keeping describes it this way. “Being busy is an outward condition, a condition of the body. It occurs when we have many things to do. Busyness is inevitable in modern culture. … [In contrast] Being hurried is an inner condition, a condition of the soul. It means to be so preoccupied with myself and my life that I am unable to be fully present with God, with myself, and with other people. I am unable to occupy the present moment. Busyness migrates to hurry when we let it squeeze God out of our lives.”
The roots of being hurried go deep in my life, showing up in the ways that I interact with other people. I have a framework for my day, which fundamentally is built around me. I don’t enjoy interruptions such as phone calls or emails or conversations that I have not initiated. And it turns out that I am not alone. In Transformed Into Fire Judith Hougen writes, “My whole life I have been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I discovered that my interruptions were my work.” Her words cut to the heart of the matter by describing the fundamental mind-shift essential to embracing an unhurried life. Namely, interruptions are not a problem to be avoided, but a ministry to be embraced. Reflecting on this, I have to admit that I often see other people more as irritations than those I am called to love. It is a profound revelation about how I choose to relate to others, and not one I am proud of.
Hougen goes on to describe a relevant spiritual discipline, which she refers to as mindful availability. “Mindful availability is a focused openness to the other, born of our attentiveness to God’s presence in the present moment. You welcome others into the loving, ego-less space God creates within you for true self ministry. Simple as it sounds, your full, compassionate, worshipful attention is one of the greatest gifts you can ever offer. Mindful availability is a spiritual practice that enables us to see all of life as a sacrament.” Mindful availability is a spiritual discipline leading to an unhurried life. For me, it means taking time to listen to others who come into my path.
After being been chastised by the Holy Spirit as to my hypocrisy at church, I resolved last week to practice the discipline of mindful availability at home. My plan was simply to be attentive when Pat is talking to me. I quickly discovered that I have a number of unpleasant if not rude habits in our relationship. For example, I often do not look at her when she is talking. She might come into a room where I am working on the computer and ask me a question, and I respond without looking up. Sometimes I do not hear what she is saying because I am too involved in my work to focus on her. And there are still other times when I actually walk out of the room when she is talking. Undoubtedly some of this is born of the easy familiarity that comes with a good marriage. Unfortunately though some of my bad habits are simply a matter of poor manners – I obviously missed a few days of Kindergarten where they talked about being “a good listener.” The deeper reason is no doubt my pride and a soul preoccupied with itself – a hurried soul.
Paul tells us “love is patient” (1 Cor. 13:4) I have always understood “patience” to mean longsuffering or slow to anger. In other words, “putting up with” or tolerating another person. While patience clearly has this meaning, the Greek word for patience, makrothymeō, is also translated “to be of a long spirit.” Taken in this sense, I am wondering whether patience is not only reactive (putting up with), but also proactive, such as stretching our spirit to be attentive and present to another person? If so, true patience is found an unhurried life.
What do you think?