By Karen O’Connor
Sooner or later we all have to learn the art and discipline of slowing down. Some people dread it. Some embrace it. And still others take a deep breath and simply endure it. When my husband and I accepted our daughter Erin’s invitation eight years ago to move closer to her family, I dreaded the work it would take to make the transition from Southern California to the Central Coast, even though I liked the idea.
I knew instinctively that once we settled into our new home, it would mean slowing down. I wasn’t sure I was ready for that. I liked the fast pace of San Diego, California, the eighth largest city in the United States, and our home for 25 years.
But quite the opposite occurred after I unpacked the last box and put our possessions in place. I embraced the quiet community nestled against the foothills of the Pajaro Valley, and I reveled in the slow and easy pace of life alongside sprawling farmland. Over time I learned to slow down, to breathe deeply, to sit quietly, and to praise God for all of it. I discovered the up side of slowing down, which is all about peace and joy, rest and simplicity, warmth and relaxation.
I was able to carry on my work as a writer and teacher from my home office, take a walk each day, play with my grandkids, prepare and serve nourishing meals from the abundant produce fresh off the nearby farms, and putter in a new garden filled with climbing roses and flowering shrubs.
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.
My friend and writing colleague Judy Gordon Morrow began to slow down in a different way after an unexpected divorce, a new job, and a relocation to a new city. “Away from all family and longtime friends, I counted on one constant: God,” she stated in her book, The Listening Heart: Hearing God in Prayer. “I knew one source of peace and hope and unconditional love: God. I found out that when every prop gets knocked out from under you there is always one who remains: God. He proved to me that he in his fullness is more than enough.”
Judy said she learned to trust “his wild and wonderful ways.” Her book is the result of meeting with the Lord early in the morning, day after day after day, following a time in the Bible. She kept a notebook and pen nearby, ready to hear what God had to say to her about her sons, her situation, her concerns, her future. “And share he did,” she said, “with words of hope and encouragement.”
God continues to teach Judy his lessons about allowing patience to have its perfect work in her as she waits for him to fulfill his promise for her future. “I never ever dreamed that 14 years later I’d still be waiting. Yet I am grateful for how these years have given me the joy of sweet communion with my Lord, which has resulted in knowing him in a much deeper and intimate way. In my utter dependence upon him, I have learned his trustworthiness and have seen his faithfulness down to the smallest details of my life.”
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
My husband sat across from me one day and started talking about an experience he’d had with God that turned him on his head. For years he’d been rushing to get things done and obsessing about one chore after another, until suddenly he felt called to slow down and listen.
“On a quiet Saturday morning the Lord led me away from my desk and my neat stack of to-do lists and into our living room. There he instructed me gently about something that needed changing. Most of my life I have been critical of others.”
It didn’t matter that Charles knew very little about those he judged, whether a driver, a person in line at the grocery store, a fellow employee, or a complete stranger. He admitted that he hadn’t known their moments of pain, disappointment, failure, confusion, sadness, loss, hurt, or a thousand other events in their lives that might have contributed to the way they were.
“I judged them by my standards,” he said. “And then it became clear to me that when I do so, I’m reflecting the same trait in myself. When I criticize others, I’m critical of myself. When I compliment someone, I see the good in myself. If I’m happy for another’s blessings, I see my own blessings.”
For years Charles had not made the equation because he was so quick to see the beam in another’s eye, he missed the log in his own. But in that moment with God, when he took time to slow down long enough to learn, he saw the Lord’s teaching clearly.
The lesson he learned? “To live completely and fully each moment with the assurance of God’s presence. The world is filled with challenges, distractions, sorrow, pain, and hurt. If we take our eyes off Jesus, then it’s easy to see in others what we despise about ourselves. But when we focus on the good, the blessings, and the gifts in others, we’re more likely to see those things in ourselves too. As for me, I’m on a new path of looking for the best, being my best, and offering my best to everyone I meet. I’ll be 86 on my next birthday. I’m thanking God for helping me slow down now while there is still time to represent him to others as he’s called me to do.”
I thank my God every time I remember you . . . being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
When it comes to learning how to slow down, Cathy and Walter Hopper turn to Paul’s letter to the Philippians. The retired couple knows that God will do in their lives whatever is necessary to complete his good work. They don’t have to stress about it. This proved true in 2003 when Cathy suffered a heart attack. After returning home from the hospital, her artist friend Donna suggested that Cathy start painting as a stress buster.
“I can’t paint,” Cathy responded, but Donna wouldn’t give up.
“Everyone has an artist within,” she said. “All you need is a blank canvas, an imagination, and some paint.”
Cathy felt inspired. She asked the Lord to give her something to paint, and suddenly she knew. She painted a sunset for her grandmother who was slipping out of her life. “She loved it,” said Cathy. After that, whenever Cathy felt despair about losing her beloved grandma, she turned to God for scenes to paint. “He showed me the hues in the sky, bluebonnet and iris fields, and trees with long limbs holding beautiful, colored leaves.” The Lord tells us to ask and we will receive. “I believe God wants to give us the desires of our heart,” she added.
Cathy advises those who want to slow down and express their creativity to do it. “If you’re inclined to paint, I hope you’ll go for it. Just enjoy the beautiful colors that come to mind as you guide your brush across the blank canvas.” And she finds inspiration in the words of Winston Churchill: “Happy are the painters, for they shall not be lonely. Light and color, peace and hope will keep them company at the end of the day.”
Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming.
Learning to slow down does not come easily. Sometimes illness, a broken relationship, a job loss, financial collapse, a wayward child, or a difficult, aging parent forces us to stop and take an inventory of our lives. What is God saying to us at such a time?
He may be asking us to remember that he is God, he is Lord. He may be reminding us that he is the only one who can restore a broken heart, comfort us through a numbing loss, and clarify a confusing experience. And he will do all of these things and more—if we learn to slow down long enough to hear his voice and to take up delightful activities that turn our hearts toward him.
Karen O’Connor is a freelance writer from Watsonville, California. www.karenoconnor.com.
10 Enemies of the Slow Pace
1. Comparing yourself to others.
2. Deriving worth from your busyness.
3. Ineffective planning or structuring of time and expectation.
4. Insecurity about missing out.
5. Lack of practice in focusing on the task or person at hand.
6. Not trusting who God is and what he says.
7. Overreliance on external motivation.
9. Unclear priorities.
10. Unrealistic ideas of what you can or should accomplish.