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Hurry: The Enemy of Spiritual LifeHurry: The Enemy of Spiritual Life

Hurry: The Enemy of Spiritual Life

Alida Thomas looks at how John Mark Comer’s The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry can help our hurried, frenzied, burnt out culture, one that greatly affected her own life.

Alida Thomas
6 minute read

A few months after my 25th birthday was one of the lowest points of my life. I was a graduate student, living in beautiful Vancouver, and on staff with a growing church plant in the heart of the downtown core. It was, in so many ways, my dream come true. I had a thriving community and on paper was a millennial “success” story. 

Yet, I was falling apart. I wasn’t sleeping well (or enough) both due to a far-too-packed-schedule, started having panic attacks (something that wasn’t normal for me), and despite all the purposeful study and work and relationships happening around me, I felt like a shell of myself: exhausted, meandering, a ghost in my own mind and body, unable to articulate what I loved or cared about. I was clinically burned-out. 

And, despite all of my type-A, high-achiever “hold-it-together” resolve, I crashed. My over-doing, hurry, and non-stop pace in pursuit of the things that I thought I needed to do, to be, and be about, had taken a toll on my physical health, on my relationships, on my ability to focus and be present, on my ability to rest, on my emotional regulation, and it deeply impacted by spiritual formation. 

I now consider this one of the most defining seasons of my life: less because of all that fell apart, but more because of the things that fundamentally changed in the aftermath. I needed to relearn what it meant to live, to rest, and to embrace limitation. I had to unlearn culturally fed wrong ways of constantly doing and wrong expectations or standards of success. Even five years into a new way of being, I’m still learning, un-learning, and re-learning the fundamental lesson(s) of what it means to be human, to be limited in our capacity, and to structure our lives in such a way that feeds our souls. 

So, when I first heard a podcast of John Mark Comer talking about “Hurry Sickness”—what he articulates as one of the most pressing social, emotional, and spiritual issues of our modern world—and when I picked up a copy of his recent book, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry: How to Stay Emotionally Healthy and Spiritually Alive in the Chaos of the Modern World, I found language that echoed the learning, unlearning, and re-learning that has, and continues, to save my life, rooting me in what actually matters.

Put simply: Hurry (played out both in chronic distraction, escapism, and in over-doing or busyness) is a threat to our souls. It’s a threat to our ability to be present with ourselves, with others, and with the world around us and it compromises our ability to participate in the life of the Kingdom of God: in its rest, its justice, its joy, its hospitality, and its step-by-step, day-by-day, moment-by-moment communion with Jesus. 

John Mark Comer, a pastor at Bridgetown Church in Portland, Oregon and co-host (with Mark Sayers) of the podcast This Cultural Moment, has written a valuable exposition on modern culture and a sort of manual for the role of spiritual disciplines in the modern world. The book comes from his own experience with burnout and chronic hurry, and his pastoral insights of a growing church in the Pacific Northwest. Comer writes that, “hurry kills all that we hold dear: spirituality, health, marriage, family, thoughtful work, creativity, generosity...name your value” and suggest that hurry is “a “sociopathic predator loose in our society.” 

Few books have generated such consistent conversations across a diverse range of friends as Ruthless Elimination of Hurry. Comer’s back-to-basics invitation is resonating with the Burnout Generation in profound ways. We’re tired, we’re distracted, we’re anxious, we’re exhausted by the lies of the culture around us that suggests that we optimize everything (especially ourselves), and we’re hopeful that this isn’t what life has to look like. 

The good news, of course, is that speed (even under the guise of “hustle”), hurry (even under the guise of “accomplishment”) and disconnection (even under the guise of “connection”), isn’t what life needs to look like. 

There is a different and better way. 

In search of that different, better, intentional, more deeply human, and rejoicing in God’s life of faith, hope, and love, Comer outlines four practices (or “counter-habits” to hurry, overload, and distraction) that characterize a life without (or with less) hurry, chapters that could each be reviewed or highlighted on their own merits: 

  • Sabbath
  • Silence and Solitude
  • Slowing 
  • Simplicity

Throughout, common themes emerge around intentionality and pace. Hurry, for Comer, becomes almost synonymous with distraction, anxiety, escapism, materialism, consumerism, and restlessness, writing, “People are just too busy to live emotionally healthy and spiritually rich and vibrant lives.” It’s not just that we’re hurried, we’ve lost the ability to be present or to prioritize what truly matters.

Our attention, what Comer calls our “scarcest resource,” is spread so thin, we hardly know what full attention looks like anymore, especially when it comes to the slow and faithful rhythms of a life lived in obedience to the teachings of Jesus. Quoting John Ortberg, he further suggests, “For many of us the great danger is not that we will renounce our faith. It is that we will become so distracted and rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version of it. We will just skim our lives instead of actually living them.”

In a summary statement, Comer suggests, “What you give your attention to is the person you become. Or, put another way: the mind is the portal to the soul, and what you fill your mind with will shape the trajectory of your character. In the end, your life is no more than the sum of what you gave your attention to.”

A fascinating aspect of the book is that Comer isn’t advocating for anything new or particularly revolutionary with a longer view of history. He’s simply drawing readers back to principles and practices that have sustained people of faith for millennia, with the insight of contextualizing these practices for the specific demands of our informational, technological, and busier-than-ever globalized existence, including a common look at the role of technology and social media. Throughout, he exposes holes in many of the mantras of the frenzied modern age: that you are what you do, what you accomplish, what you know, what you experience, or what you can accumulate, etc. Comer contrasts the exhaustion of our current moment with the hopeful practices and rhythms of Jesus, suggesting that there are different way(s) to live: specifically as a “non-anxious presence in an anxious world.” His invitation is deeply hopeful and his own journey into a different way of living is compelling in its vulnerability and obvious transformation. 

Practically and helpfully, Comer’s book is the ideological foundation of these practices, meant to provide a launching point to the formation of a “Rule of Life”—what he defines as “a schedule and set of practices and relational rhythms to order your life around beginning with Jesus, becoming like Jesus, and doing what he would do if he were you, as you live in alignment with your deepest desires.”

Comer further expands on this idea in an interview with Bible Gateway:

“Some scholars argue the original word for rule (regula in Latin) was used for a trellis in a vineyard. Either way, the metaphor works. For a vine to bear fruit, it needs a trellis: a kind of support structure to hold it up off the ground, give it space to thrive, and it it in a desired direction, otherwise, it’ll bear a fraction of the fruit it’s capable of, and be far more prone to disease or vulnerable to wild animals. In the same way, for us to “bear fruit” as Jesus intended in John 15-17, we need some kind of “trellis” or rule of life -  to order our lives around, abiding and indexing our hearts in the direction of fruit.”  

At the conclusion of this book, Comer includes a link to a workbook “How to UnHurry” and further resources developed by Bridgetown Church on UnHurrying With A Rule of Life

In telling some of his own story, specifically as he reflects on his own pursuit of an unhurried life after he had “stalled out in my spiritual journey toward becoming a person of love,” Comer writes a poignant summary of the growth he has seen in his own heart, mind, and life, “I honestly value who I’m becoming over where I end up.” 

In our chronically hurried and action-obsessed world, we’d do well to engage with this invitation of simplifying our lives around what really matters. The health of our very souls, bodies, minds, and hearts may depend on it. 

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