The Frustration of Slowing Down

Life is busy, and it’s easier to dream of escape than to face the reason we stay busy: We crave distraction to avoid feeling things at a heart level.

Topic: Culture

Life is busy, and it’s easier to dream of escape than to face the reason we stay busy: We crave distraction to avoid feeling things at a heart level.

Sitting in a room of pastors, talking about the need for becoming a more wholehearted and centered person, I couldn’t help but blurt out, “It will just require slowing down, and that’s frustrating.”

The tension in my heart fit the words on my lips because life doesn’t slow down anymore. Wanting to think clearly, seize moments and live wholly—these ideals are lost before my email inbox, the vibration of a device and the next meeting to lead. It’s the phone in our hand for no particular reason, the handful of apps we check multiple times a day, the inability to shut it off and be in one place with oneself for one hour. When we turn the device off, it’s the disconnect that can be frustrating, creating impatience, anxiety and shortness of heart because we’re no longer used to taking a guilt-free moment of quiet for ourselves or the people we are with.

It’s frustrating to slow down.

Here is where a pastor and two sociologists are helping me. God is using their words to help slow the pace of my heart when I can’t control the pace of the world around me. While there is nothing new under the sun, these are concepts I’m asking the Lord to help me truly learn and put into practice.

A Pastor: Zack Eswine

Zack’s work, The Imperfect Pastor, took me awhile to read. Many nights I read 4-5 pages, closed the book and began to confess to God my sinfulness, my love of control and my need for Him—asking for greater awareness of each.

Eswine cites three main temptations for the pastor: to know everything, to fix everything, and to be everywhere at once. He offers a method of creating space to fight these temptations and remember provision in Christ throughout the day. Zack does this through pausing during the four portions of the day:

  1. Morning (6 a.m. – 12 p.m.)
  2. Noon (12 p.m. – 6 p.m.)
  3. Evening (6 p.m. – 10 p.m.)
  4. the Night Watches (10 p.m. – 6 a.m.)

Taking Eswine’s lead, at the close of each portion of the day, I’m trying to take just 3-5 minutes to recognize temptations I faced, sins I committed and emotions I’m feeling. I bring these all to God and trust Him to be enough in handling my failures and needs. I preach the gospel to myself, proclaiming the goodness of God and letting the Scriptures reshape my thoughts around His character and promises. In closing, I look at the coming portion of the day and ask for grace for the conversations to be had, people to care for and work to be done over the next portion of hours.

The days where this practice is present, my heart is rooted in the love of Christ. The temptation to define my worth outside of what He’s done is considerably less than on the days where I’ve had two cups of coffee and nailed my to-do list without ever slowing to consider my soul. Eswine gives an example of this practice on his blog, and has discussed it on podcast interviews you can listen to here and here.

Two Sociologists: Sherry Turkle and Arthur Boers

Turkle and Boers are academics whose research is complementary, albeit approached from different angles. Boers is a former pastor and current associate professor at Tyndale Seminary; Turkle is the Professor of Social Studies of Science at MIT. I’m struck by the threads of their work that center around the value of solitude, the vulnerability of humanity to technology and the need for intentional use of our devices.  

The Value of Solitude

In Reclaiming Conversation, Turkle describes the distinction between solitude and loneliness and how modern culture has conflated the two. She quotes Paul Tillich: “Language…has created the word ‘loneliness’ to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word ‘solitude’ to express the glory of being alone.” Turkle adds, “If we don’t know the satisfactions of solitude, we only know the panic of loneliness.”

The value of solitude is the resilience it builds and the space it offers. When we turn to a device in moments of boredom instead of our thoughts, we are robbing ourselves of the opportunity for deeper thinking, which inherently means we are thinking on a more shallow level than what is available to us outside of our devices. The panic of loneliness compels us.

The Vulnerability of Humanity  

I have a love/hate relationship with Instagram and Twitter. On a good day, I’d tell you that I have the self-discipline to check them sparingly, but the truth is that my idle hands can refresh a feed before I even realize it. Without conscious thought, I’m trying to avoid boredom.

The thread of compassion and empathy toward ourselves in Turkle’s work has lingered with me for weeks. Recognizing the addicting nature of technology is the first step. Once we admit this, “we are in a position to look at our vulnerabilities with a clearer eye. If we feel ‘addicted to our phones,’ it is not just a personal weakness. We are exhibiting a predictable response to a perfectly executed design. Looking at things through this lens might put us halfway to making new choices, needed changes.”

Where my attention is drawn away from the person in front of me to something someone might have said somewhere else, I have fallen prey to an engineered attraction that I’ve welcomed into my life. Recognizing my weaknesses helps me plan for them because the proven neurochemical chain of gratification from these apps quickens the pace of my heart and keeps me from centering on who is in front of me. When my 3-year-old daughter said, “Put your phone down daddy,” I realized my vulnerability to technology designed to steal my attention was affecting far more than my attention to work.

In Living Into Focus, Boers uses Albert Borgmann’s term “focal practices” to enter into our vulnerabilities. These practices are activities that “center, balance, focus and orient one’s life…[and fight]…lives marked by pathological busyness, distraction and restlessness.” Eswine’s portions of the day are such a practice for me. In identifying these focal practices, we can design life to counter our vulnerabilities and change the tempo of our hearts. Borgmann provides four metrics to test the kind of activity that restores focus and reclaims oneself when tempted to busyness. In what activities and with whom would these statements be true?

  1. There is no place I’d rather be.
  2. There is nothing I’d rather do.
  3. There is no one I would rather be with.
  4. This I will remember well.  

My heart bucks at this change of tempo and yearns for it at the same time. Being kind to ourselves by recognizing and removing distractions helps us embrace a life that fits the four qualifiers above. To paraphrase Boers, we are either choosing the ways that we want to live or we are being carried along by the bad habits of a wider society. Which describes you now?

Our culture is discipling us in the use of our devices, and it’s the harder heart work of being truly present in our moments that calls for intentionality with our tools to change the tempo of our hearts.

The Need for Intentional Use of Our Devices

Recently, The Art of Manliness posted an article entitled “The Complete Guide to Breaking Your Smartphone Habit.” This points to a growing response to what Boers and Turkle have articulated so well. There is richer life to be lived outside of a screen, and we’re waking up from believing the opposite. Recognizing my own vulnerability, I’ve made a few changes that have helped my heart slow down in the midst of life. These changes are practical, but their implications are spiritual—designed to supplant my weakness. They center around the phone, email and time with family.

Phone

Short of buying a plain phone, I’ve made my iPhone as dumb as can be. No browser, no email and no feeds for entertainment (e.g. social media, news, app store). Do Not Disturb mode kicks in when I get home and shuts off when breakfast with my kids is done. I intermittently check it in the evenings only for emergencies. I installed Moment, which provides accountability for the sheer amount of time spent on the phone. When tempted to check something or send a text, I ask, as Turkle suggests, “With what I’m doing and who is in front of me, does this belong here?” By ignoring my phone, I’m telling my daughter it doesn’t matter and she does.

Email

I read a lot of suggestions on efficiency and productivity—my friends laugh now when I show them a new technology, again—but there have been a few practices lately that have provided clarity and freedom from a self-induced, frantic pace of heart and anxiety. First was deleting email from my phone. Second was installing InboxPause which causes my emails to be delivered only twice a day. This way I can do the work I need to with the people and circumstances in front of me, then attend to my email on a predictable schedule.  

Time With Family

When I hear the siren song of whatever is happening online or at work, I repeat Borgmann’s four qualifiers to myself. Valuing where I am, what I’m doing and who I’m with—these moments are important. A true emergency will find me; there are avenues for that. Placing myself at the adrenaline drip of productivity trains my heart to run at a level I’m not okay with. I want my family to love Christ and His bride, not think the Church took too much of daddy.

You’re Already Enough

Consider how you might surround the portions of your day with space to let the tempo of your heart settle and center around the love of God in Christ. Zack Eswine spoke these words in an interview to encourage the “earners” and the distracted among us, those tempted toward approval earned instead of approval given in Christ. Take a breath, and read them slowly:

Q: When you think back on yourself 20 years ago, what do you wish that you would have known? What would you say to yourself?

Eswine: That you’re already enough. Before you had the title of pastor or church planter, you prayed and The Lord heard your prayers. You looked to Jesus and The Lord was faithful to you. He was your portion and you were His.

Before you were ever a pastor or did anything like that, He was already enough for you, and you were already enough for Him.

Don’t let false ministry measures rob you of that truth.

Yea, that’s what I’d say.

Webster’s dictionary defines frustration as “the act of preventing the success of something.” Slowing down frustrates the parts of us that love to run hard, want to prove our worth and struggle to believe God’s love. Speed and productivity are exposed as the want of approval Eswine describes above.

Slowing down should frustrate our flesh, but in a different way; it brings quietness of heart amid the noise of life. It’s the settling of our souls before Christ, continually reminding us that Christ is enough and that in Him we are enough, despite how we forget and stumble to remember. The struggle to feel this at a heart level is worth the fight through the noise.

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