“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 NIV
I was recommended to read John Mark Comer’s “Ruthless Elimination of Hurry” in January of 2021. To quote Alanis Morrissette, “Isn’t it ironic,” I was too busy to read it. Or perhaps too scared to be called out for my lifestyle? Because, let’s be honest: We all have plenty of time to do what we need to do. It’s just how we choose to spend that time.
As a mom of three who, until recently, worked from home during a pandemic, only one was able to go to school. With no childcare, 2021 was much more difficult than the year 2020. As difficult as 2020 was, it also brought gifts of stop and rest for everyone. The whole world was granted a stop – a break from the unnecessary.
As things began to reopen, life began swirling once again with choices – virtual or in-person school or church, daycare or nanny, grocery store or curbside pickup, family get-together or virtual holidays – so many daily musts that came with new choices. And everyone’s expert options greatly differed. All this made for a very tired, overwhelmed and depressed mama.
At the beginning of his book, John Mark Comer describes his mid-life realization (crisis?) that he needed to leave his post as the full-time Megachurch pastor in order to center and slow down his life. He acknowledges how Jesus rested and prayed often-and Jesus calls us to do the same.
“But the thing is, I feel like a ghost. Half alive, half dead. More numb than anything else; flat, one dimensional. Emotionally I live with an undercurrent of a nonstop anxiety that rarely goes away and a tinge of sadness, but mostly I feel blah, spiritually empty. It’s like my soul is hollow.”
“Corrie Ten Boom once said that if the devil can’t make you sin, he’ll make you busy.”
I felt every single word of Comer’s reflection. A drifter and a doer through life, checking hourly boxes with no real purpose other than to keep up with the Joneses. But I don’t even know the Joneses-they’re two dimensional families that live in my social media feed. Thanks to the worldwide pandemic, I’ve lost touch with reality. I’ve slowly forgotten how to be with real, 3D flesh and human soul.
Comer separates his life into “before and after.” He resigned from his Megachurch and spent time reevaluating how to live. After his year-long sabbatical, he returned to a much smaller intercity campus. His life after became much slower and more intentional. He writes, “But for the first time in years, I’m moving toward maturity, one inch at a time, becoming more like Jesus. And more like my best self. Even better – I feel God again. I feel my own soul.”
He acknowledges that hurry and distraction are an enemy of God. “Corrie Ten Boom once said that if the devil can’t make you sin, he’ll make you busy.”
I’d summarize Comer’s experience into a reprioritizing of focus and responsibility. Time after time Jesus emphasizes that our top priority must be love – love of God and love of each other. ‘But love is painfully time consuming.” Hence, busyness takes away our time to love. “Hurry and love are incompatible.”
This brings me back to my original thought from the great closure of 2020. What in life do we really need?
Comer discusses just how much stuff we have and that stuff takes over our lives. When God freed his people from slavery in Egypt, they were taken to the desert. The people didn’t understand the freedom in being stripped from their comforts and their homes. They couldn’t see that freedom was to simply be with one another and to worship God. They had been so busy working, building pyramids to store Egyptian stuff. They didn’t know what to do with nothing. Yet they were finally free to choose anything.
We too are slaves – we are shackled to our schedules, to-do lists and employers simply to pay for our stuff. And we are too busy to enjoy it.
A part of me longs for those first few desert months of 2020. There were so many no’s, but that left us free to find some time to say yes. Online school was flexible which allowed time for daily walks and scavenger hunts with my kids, or walks with my unhurried friends. Or, with no sports on TV, we were free to introduce our tweens to the classics like “Men in Black” and the original Jumanji. We were free from the same busyness, which left us free for connection.
Comer ends his book with four spiritual disciplines and then twenty rules to live an unhurried life: silence and solitude, sabbath, simplicity and slowing. Jesus did all of these four things. And the word disciple comes from the word “discipline.” We exemplify self-control and discipline so we can follow Jesus in his four ways of life.
The 20 rules are more specific, and I can’t seem to attain each one. But there are a few that I hope to implement into my new year, such as turning my smartphone into a dumbphone, setting a time limit for social media. doing something different and restful one day each week, and stopping to smell the roses. All of this so that I can “be intentional about your sabbath.” At the end of the day, God gave us only this one life to make a difference in the world.
As St. John of the Cross tells us in his Dark Night of the Soul:At the end of our lives, we will only be judged on how well we loved. Thus, I am intentionally tiptoeing into 2022 at a slower and more intentional pace. I’m vowing not to use social media during my kids’ waking hours. And I pray the new year brings each of you a refocused and restful new perspective as well. And yes, I promise, you do have time to read this book.
Emily Clary has worked in Catholic education since 2005. She has worked in parish Faith Formation for the Diocese of Providence and the Diocese of Charlotte. She has taught middle school Religion and worked in Catholic School Campus Ministry in Woonsocket, RI and in Raleigh NC.