By James Dwyer
When was the last time you stopped?
I don't just mean pausing to catch your breath between items on your to-do list. I mean really stopped. Phone switched off, television walked away from, distractions muted, and your out-of-office switched on properly—no occasional glances “just to make sure everything’s OK.”
When was the last time you experienced that?
Or perhaps let me ask you this: Where are you reading this article? If I was a betting man, I would put money on you reading it either at work or on your phone while you are out and about.
Finally, ponder this thought: Why is it that often, the only time we experience a complete pause from the chaos of our daily lives is when we are ill? When our bodies cannot take any more. When enough is enough. When rest is all we can physically and mentally do.
Put simply, all of us are too busy.
Our bodies know this to be true. More often than not, our minds know it too. Yet, we cannot prise ourselves away from the carousel of 21st century life. We are addicted to doing rather than being.
I know what you are thinking right now: Great. Another article telling me I need to be less busy. I've already read a thousand of those. That's absolutely, unashamedly what this is. Why? Because we still haven't learned. It all sounds great in theory, but when faced with a decision between the next big thing or resting, the big thing always wins.
Is it any wonder the darkness seems to creep in while we are flat out and too busy to notice it?
How do we change this? It is clear we aren't designed to live this way. You only have to look at the statistics for people suffering from depression, breakdowns and other serious illnesses to see that something is wrong. Studies have shown that people in Britain are “more anxious and stressed than ever” and that constantly staying busy has added to feelings of stress among university students. The warning signs are all there. Yet try as we might, our lives feel like a manifestation of the film Speed; we are unable to stop the hurtling bus for fear we might explode.
In the Bible, we see an individual living at a different pace. Jesus wasn't rushed. He didn't hurry. He spent the first 30 years of His life living in complete obscurity, quietly and patiently preparing Himself for His ministry. When He finally got going, He didn't speed up. He took things at His own pace. People didn't always get why He lived that way, but He knew what He was doing (see John 11 for a good account of this).
Jesus slowed down in order to live well. He spent time with God. He spent time in silence. He spent time with others and away from others. He had a rhythm to His life that allowed Him to cope with the crescendos.
He intentionally lived slowly in order to live fully.
Where are you living in intentional slowness? We shouldn't have to wait for our bodies to break down to have times of rest, but it is important to listen to them. Often, physical symptoms are the first sign we are in trouble. By listening to our bodies, we will begin to learn our individual rhythms, and be able to recognise when we need to take a break.
We also need to radically reassess our diaries and start planning quiet days or retreats within the next six months. There is wisdom in the “hour a day, day a month, week a year” model—intentionally booking out a variety of regular slots in our diaries to step away from the world and simply stop. Put these planned down times in your diary and circle them in red. These are non-negotiables.
Practice Sabbath. Enjoy the beauty of a 24-hour period where you aren’t carrying the weight of the world upon your shoulders. Spend time with God, time with your family and friends, time outdoors, time alone. Spend time pausing. Slowing down. Breathing. Tell others this is what you are doing, and they they shouldn't expect to hear from you in that time. Turn your phone off (yes, off) and enjoy the freedom that comes from being released from the great shackle of non-stop connection.
Figure out what you love to do—what refreshes you—and make space for that. Put down those screens that absorb us and get outside, pick up a book, get covered in paint or listen to beautiful music. Don't post about your quiet moments online. Don't let the whirlwind suck you back in and ruin what you are experiencing. Just be in that moment.
You will notice a pattern. At first, taking time to intentionally pause will feel odd. It will be difficult. You will feel you are missing out. You will instinctively reach for your phone to see what you could be doing and who you could be doing it with. You will wonder how you can cope without being busy from dawn to dusk. You will feel you are letting people down by not replying to them instantly.
That is OK. You are creating space.
Space to live slowly. Space to breathe. Space to take in the beauty of the world around you. Space to be compassionate. Space to love God more fully, to let Him into your life more wholly, to let Him speak truths of love to you.
Space to become who you were truly meant to be.
James Dwyer is training for ministry within the Church of England. He is based in Oxford, and passionately believes there is a better way to live than that which the world offers us.