Perhaps you’re symptomatic. Impatient in the checkout line. Irritated in traffic. Hitting the “door close” button the second you step onto the elevator. Chronically short of time, rushing from one thing to the next.
You may be coming down with a bad case of hurry sickness, “a behavior pattern characterized by continual rushing and anxiousness; an overwhelming and continual sense of urgency.” Sounds exhausting, doesn’t it? I’m no doctor but my guess is you’ve been suffering with this malady for longer than you’d like to admit. It tends to be a chronic condition that, without treatment, contributes to a variety of stress-related illnesses, from high blood pressure and chest pains to immune disorders and sleep disruption. The spiritual consequences are even greater. I know. I’ve been battling hurry sickness for years.
Hurry has become so normative in our society that it’s easy to forget we are sick. We are carried along by the momentum of the masses that casts a suspicious glance at folks who possess what ancient civilizations once referred to as “spare time.”
Last week I returned from a mission trip to South Africa. We attended Sunday worship in Emmaus, a rural Zulu village, where my friend Musa is the pastor. Musa is a soft spoken, humble man with a powerful, Paul-and-Silas-prison-walls-shaking testimony and a deep sense of calling to this place and these people in the foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains. I feel the presence of Jesus when I am with Musa, which is why his words so crushed my spirit.
Our team of 18 had 7 p.m. reservations for an excursion on the coast, a five-and-a-half hour drive from Emmaus. We’d just completed a week of work with ministry partners in nearby Winterton and were looking forward to a bit of fun and adventure before traveling home. Musa and I agreed that the team would come for worship at 10 a.m. and leave Emmaus by noon.
If you’re a chronic sufferer of hurry sickness, you wouldn’t do well with Africa time. Worship began around 10:45 because Musa had to drive “over the mountain“ to collect the many folks who wanted to be in worship that morning. As he introduced us to his congregation, he reminded us that, in Africa, no one looks at a watch.
Worship ended around 12:30 and, as the team headed for the vans, Musa invited us for lunch. We hadn’t talked about it when I called, but I knew that the strong sense of hospitality in that culture allowed him to do no less, despite the significant cost of feeding 18 people a meal of chicken and Zulu bread. Of course we would stay. By 1 we were gathered around the plastic preschool tables that had been pulled into the middle of the one-room building with a dusty floor, washing our hands in the common bowl, dipping our Zulu bread in the delicious gravy and enjoying fellowship with one another, telling the stories that bind us together — family, faith, hopes for the future.
This is where my heart goes when it thinks of South Africa.
By 1:30 we began our goodbyes. As I approached the van, already fully loaded with the team, Musa leaned over and whispered that his wife, Zabwa, had baskets for the team to look at. We often purchased baskets when we were in Emmaus. “Two minutes,” he said. I knew I had to decline; we had no margin left if we were going to get to the coast in time.
Musa looked at me for a moment, then smiled. “I understand,” he said. “You are rushing.”
It was what writer Kathleen Norris refers to as a “monk moment“ — a quick slap where your spirit tries to warn you to pay attention. We had come half way around the world, in part, to see Musa. To hear what Jesus had to say to us through him. And we were rushing. Sometimes a monk moment gives rushing a face, the face of who and what we are leaving behind as we hurry. A child. A spouse. A friend. Jesus.
Hurry sickness is not a new phenomenon. The phrase was actually coined in the 1950s before the digital revolution and modern household appliances made our lives so much easier and more efficient. And still we miss Mayberry. But we’re afraid of missing out on other things even more. Trading porch swings for experiences, gadgets, opportunities, even excursions on the African coast. None of them bad. Some of them great. But still we feel a bit empty and even farther behind.
The good news is this malady of our age is treatable if we are willing to acknowledge that we are sick with hurry. The following prescriptions may be helpful to you.
• Know your purpose. Jesus was never in a hurry. He didn’t grasp at experiences to feel alive or to find meaning or value. He knew who he was and it shaped what he did and didn’t do every day.
• Reflect each day. Hurry demands full speed ahead. Its power is broken when we take time to look back — to give thanks, to learn, to worship. Take five minutes to reflect at the end of each day. What was good? What would you do differently tomorrow? Where was God at work?
• Slow down. Practice being intentionally present. Whether you are eating a meal, in conversation with a friend, or out in nature. Fully live in the moment that you are in — even if it’s in traffic or in the longest line at the grocery store. It’s the only moment you truly have. Discover what you are missing when you skim past your life.