In The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, John Mark Comer explores how our increasingly busy lives are leading to spiritual neglect. It isn’t just us, but our environments and Western culture that have persuaded us to live lives of relentless rushing, so much so that we struggle to let ourselves be silent.
It doesn’t have to be that way, however. John Mark Comer shows how we can take back our lives, and our souls, by slowing down, taking time for God and others, and how this ultimately leads to a much richer, more fulfilling and holy life.
When did you begin to realize the importance of simplicity and slowing down?
I think we’re all recognizing the complexity, the overwhelm, the exhaustion, the anxiety that comes with kind of life in the modern world and the chronic sense of dissatisfaction. Even though we have more, eat more, drink more, consume more, own more, do more than any other generation in human history, it hasn’t done anything to quell that ache deep inside. If anything, it’s exacerbated our human pension for anxiety, worry, grasping, even melancholy. The Western formula for happiness is not really working, and so any attempt to do more of it faster is likely not going to yield a better result. And that’s when I came across that line from the philosopher Dallas Willard about how hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life. And that it just struck such a deep chord in me.
What do we risk by continuing to live in a rush?
Of course there’s the emotional ramifications of basically trading a life of peace and calm, but the far more serious implications have to do with relationships, spirituality, and particularly our love. The thesis of the book, if you have to put it into one sentence, is that hurry is incompatible with love.
I draw one distinction between a healthy kind of busyness that you see in the life of Jesus where your life is full and that just means you’re not wasting your life or lazy, but your life is generative and self-giving, and pathological busyness [which is] that kind of unhealthy kind of busyness or hurry when you have too much to do and not enough time. Love requires time, presence, compassion, emotional energy to give to other people. When [we’re] in a hurry, we don’t have that to give.
Why do you think hurry has become so normalized?
I think it’s a perfect storm of a whole bunch of different things. Technology is one of them. The digital age is a huge culprit in particular—the rise of the iPhone and apps and social media and Wi-Fi. If you’re thinking about Facebook or Instagram or YouTube or Google, they basically do everything they can to distract you and addict you to your phone or their product in order to steal your attention, take your data and then manipulate you through marketing.
Urbanization is another huge one. Wealth is a huge culprit. People that have more money buy more things, but things cost more than money. They cost time, energy and attention. So if you buy a new thing, the cost is not just how much it costs to buy that thing, there other costs of how much of your mind goes to that. The shopping costs, the attention, the upkeep, the using of it. And so the more things that you have, the busier that you are.
I think secularism is a huge piece of it. Obviously I’m biased as a follower of Jesus, but I think the secular worldview, to actually follow it through to its logical conclusions, is so nihilistic that I think people are scared of quiet, scared to be alone, scared to think deep thoughts, scared to get in touch with that deep part of our soul because existential questions and emotional things rise right to the surface of our heart. It’s easier to stay at the level of work and email and entertainment and busyness than it is to really sit in the discomfort of the big questions of life. That’s why I think the way that Jesus offers is such a compelling counter alternative to some of the secular narratives that are out there.
What are some simple changes that people can implement to begin to live slower lives?
I encourage people to start with the idea of parenting your phone. You can call it whatever you want, but if you’re a parent and you have little kids at home or you remember that season of life or you look forward to it, your kids go to bed before you go to bed, and they get up after you get up.
We hear a lot about don’t look at screens for an hour and a half before you go to bed. Put away any and all devices before you go to bed. Doctors recommend 30 to 90 minutes beforehand, and then do not pick them up again in the morning until after you’ve spent time in prayer and scripture or just in the quiet. Don’t touch your phone, don’t read the news, don’t go on social media, don’t do anything if at all possible until after, even if it’s just 15 minutes. Something like 93% of Americans sleep next to their phones and 76% of them check their phone first thing upon waking. And that has just extraordinary emotional and spiritual effects on us. So carve out that time especially.
And practice the Sabbath. Set aside one full day a week to rest and come to rest in God. That for me has been the most life-changing practice in many, many years.