Exodus 20:8-11 and Mark 6:30-32
During this season of Lent we Brothers are inviting you to explore with us our relationship to time. We believe time is a gift from God, and that often we abuse that gift by rushing through life, or by overcrowding our days, or by squandering our time on things of lesser importance. We want to imagine with you how we might reorder our relationship with time, so that it may be the gift God intended it to be in our lives. Tonight we’ll be focusing on our need to stop and to slow down. Then, over the next four weeks, we’ll be asking how we can make time to pray, how we can manage our time for work, how we can incorporate play into our days, and how we can take time to love.
Most of us are aware of how the pace of life has quickened. Undoubtedly this has been the case over the whole course of human history, but in the last few centuries, with industrialization and the advancement of technology, the pace of life has increased dramatically. A study done in 2006 showed that the pace at which people moved in large cities had increased by 10% since the early 1990’s. (1) As a result of this quickened pace, many people today are suffering from higher levels of stress and anxiety, from the lack of adequate sleep and physical exercise, and from a constant pressure to produce. Many of us find it difficult to keep up with the demands of modern life. We are constantly in motion, moving from one task to another. We have forgotten how to stop.
The need to stop – to pause and rest from our labors – is built into our DNA. Our Scriptures tell us that even God took a day of rest after completing the creation, and that God commanded us to rest for a full day each week by keeping the Sabbath. Not only were the Israelites to refrain from work on the Sabbath; their servants and even their animals were to enjoy a full day of rest each week as well. In the act of creation, God set an example for us to follow, and in the Law, God sanctified regular times of rest. We are meant to live in such a way that work is balanced with leisure, outward activity is balanced with inward reflection, and times for ‘doing’ are balanced with times for ‘being.’
Jesus himself modeled this kind of balance. His ministry was marked by periods of intense activity and interaction, followed by times of prayer and rest, often in deserted places.
How can we find and restore this healthy balance in our own lives?
First, we must learn to stop – to stop rushing, to stop achieving, to stop doing – long enough to discover the inner stillness that allows us to notice God’s presence and activity in our lives and in the world around us. We need to give ourselves permission to stop; to say, “That’s enough work for now.” We need time and space to reconnect with that quiet place within us. When we live from this place of inner stillness, we are able to be truly present to the people in our lives. In this place of stillness, it is also possible to see and recognize our true selves.
We are aware that it takes discipline to do and to achieve; but it takes an equal amount of discipline to know when and how to stop doing and achieving.
In the gospel lesson we read this evening, Jesus invites his disciples to “come away to a deserted place all by [themselves] and rest a while.” They had been engaged in a strenuous period of activity and ministry, with “no leisure even to eat,” and he encourages them to stop and to rest. I wonder if we might imagine ourselves going now to some lonely place, where we can ponder with Jesus some ways to bring greater balance into our own lives by stopping and slowing down.
We might consider first what it is that we are doing with our time. It’s hard to slow down when we are trying to do a million things. Could we make a conscious choice to do less? Could we learn to focus on what’s really important, what really needs doing, and then let go of the rest? What is it that we could stop doing, or at least do less of? Could we put space between tasks and appointments, so that we can move through our day at a more leisurely pace?
To live out of a place of inner stillness, it is important not only to slow down, but also to be mindful of whatever it is that we are doing in the present moment. When we find ourselves thinking about things we need to do, or something that’s already happened, or something that might happen, we can gently bring ourselves back to the present moment. We can learn to stop wandering in the past or in the future, and focus on what’s going on right now.
Too often when we spend time with friends and family, or meet with colleagues, we’re not really there with them. We talk to them, but we are distracted by devices. We are there, but our minds are preoccupied with the things we need to do. We listen, but we’re really thinking about ourselves and what we want to say. Can we stop being preoccupied and learn to be present with the person we are with? Can we listen deeply to what they are saying, and attend to the feelings behind their words?
We might take an honest look at how connected we are. If we carry an iPhone or Blackberry or other mobile device, can we learn to shut it off from time to time, or even to leave it behind? If we sit in front of a computer most of our day, can we take time to disconnect periodically, so that we are not constantly being pressured by information coming in, and by the demands of others. It’s hard to maintain an inner stillness when you’re constantly checking new messages coming in and feeling the pressure to respond to them as quickly as possible.
Sometimes we need to stop doing what we’re doing and just go outside. We spend so much of our time in our homes or offices or cars that it is increasingly rare for many of us to be outside in nature. Can we learn to stop and simply enjoy the beauty of the natural world? What might we discover if we were to take time to notice and observe, to feel the breeze on our faces and luxuriate in the warmth of the sun for a few moments? Why not stop what you’re doing, step outside and take a deep breath of air – every day?! We can enjoy the serenity of water, trees and plants. We can take time to walk, hike or bicycle outdoors. If we will take the time, nature will restore our inner stillness and bring us peace.
We can learn to slow down. We can train ourselves to eat more slowly, for example, tasting each bite, savoring the flavors and textures, appreciating the gift of nourishing food and drink. It will be good for us. Likewise, when we find ourselves taking the steps two at a time, we can physically slow down, and stop to take a breath… or two… or three, before proceeding calmly to our next task. Driving more slowly can also contribute to our inner peace of mind. We can use travel time to think about our lives and to notice the things we’re passing. Driving can become a joy instead of an irritant.
Why not give up multi-tasking and try focusing on one thing at a time? When we feel the urge to jump to another task, we can pause and breathe, re-centering ourselves in the present moment. Whatever we’re doing, we can try to be fully present, appreciating every aspect of the task before us, and giving thanks to God for the skill to do it. If you’re washing dishes or sweeping the floor or doing the laundry, give yourself permission to enjoy the task. “Whatever you do, in word or deed,” Saint Paul encourages us, “do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).
Finally, we can practice breathing. When we find ourselves going too fast or stressing out, we can learn to pause and take a deep breath, feeling the fresh air coming into our bodies, and breathing out all tension and anxiety. By focusing on each breath, we can bring ourselves back to the present and slow ourselves down.
I wonder how our relationship to time would change if we were to choose to do less, to slacken our pace, and to remain mindful throughout the day. I’m certain the quality of our days would increase.
Take a moment to breathe now, to let go of any stress or worry you may be carrying, and to entrust yourself entirely to God’s loving care and goodness.
“Drop thy still dews of quietness, till all our strivings cease;
take from our souls the strain and stress, and let our ordered lives confess
the beauty of thy peace.” (The Hymnal 1982, #652, verse 4)
- This 2006 study was conducted by Richard Wiseman, Professor of the Public Understanding of Psychology at the University of Herfordshire in the United Kingdom.
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