“Be still and know that I am God.”
– Psalm 46: 10
Why Slow Down?
It’s 2 AM, and I’m sitting in the rocking chair cradling our new baby Joseph in my arms. My inclination is to nod off, but my head is spinning in a million directions, mostly with a rehearsal of the next day’s “to do” list: Did I wash the cloth diapers with the proper detergent? I forgot to pack Ben’s lunch! I have to remember to sign Sarah’s permission slip for the field trip — oh! — and to include her completed homework in her folder. Did Felicity ever finish her math test yesterday?
And on and on the tapes play in my head.
My guess is that you have something like this going on in your head, too, at least some of the time. For me, it’s nearly always. I am a classic go-getter, always wanting to keep things moving and well organized, never falling behind on groceries, the mail, piles of paperwork, etc. I tell myself that I can’t live in chaos.
Which is true, except this time, as I rock back and forth with Joey nestled in my arms, I suddenly realize why having a newborn is so difficult for me: it’s because I am forced to slow down.
And, despite the fatigue and headache from chronic sleeplessness, this is a graced moment. I need to remind myself that being, rather than doing, is where God meets us in the heart. He speaks in the quiet and in solitude rather than in the rushed distractions we’re accustomed to.
1. Keep the Sabbath Holy
Even God rested on the seventh day of creation. When I wrote Waiting with Purpose a few years ago, I reflected on this reality in more depth. At the time, Ben and I were attending Mass on Sundays like “good Catholics do,” but then we’d hurry to the store afterwards or he’d mow the lawn. I had an epiphany at one point that we really needed to keep Sundays a holy day — a day of rest without engaging in unnecessary work.
This Lent, evaluate how you spend your Sundays. Maybe you’re already exceptional at being attentive during Mass, then leisurely spending the rest of your day with family, doing spiritual reading, and praying the Rosary as a family. Then again, maybe you still toss a load of laundry in that can wait until Monday or stop by “just to get milk” on the way home from church.
When I recall the profundity that God rested, I know how sacred time is for all of us. God doesn’t need to do anything, especially pause. But He did so to teach us a lesson about intentionality, about receptivity. If we take back Sundays as sacrosanct, we will better enter into the rest of our hurried lives with a refreshed, renewed attitude.
2. Watch Your “Stress Language”
I just finished a little pocket book called 30 Days to Taming Your Stress. It was a gift I received as a stocking stuffer a few Christmases ago. Most of the suggestions, while good, were ones I’d already tried: get enough sleep, take walks to clear your mind, call a trusted friend, avoid toxic relationships, eat healthy, etc.
But one particular point opened my eyes. Author Deborah Smith Pegues offered simple alternatives to phrases we commonly use, such as, “I have to run to the store” or “I’ll hurry by.” She called these verbs “stress language.” Others included rush, zip, hop, and dash. When we are cognizant of our word selection when describing an activity, we learn how to better slow down. This Lent, try replacing these words, which may cause stress and anxiety, with other neutral ones, such as “I am going to the store” or “I’ll stop by.”
3. Practice Patience
I’ve found it’s easier for permanent change to take root in my life when I focus on one thing at a time. One year, I felt God was asking me to work on the virtue of patience. That meant I didn’t worry too much if I faltered in fortitude or generosity. It didn’t mean, however, that I neglected to try to work on doing what was arduous or stretching myself to be kind to others. It simply meant I was working specifically on patience.
You can select another virtue to focus on this Lent. Each day, wake up with the intention of putting into practice patience (or whatever virtue you select), then record your results in a journal before bed. For example, if you opt to grow in patience, pick a devotional that dissects the different aspects of patience: mortification, self-denial, accepting humiliations, tolerating others’ faults, choosing to be last in line, and so on.
What happens when you take time to slow down every day? Even brief respites can motivate positive, noticeable changes. That’s certainly been the case in my life. Here are some things I’ve noticed when I pause long enough to appreciate the world around me, my life, and the goodness of God’s beauty and creation; the same may be true for you, too.
- You’ll notice people.
- You’ll become more grateful/appreciative of the little things.
- You will receive mental clarity.
- The fruit of peace will settle upon you.
- There will be less overwhelm, less anxiety, less overall stress in your life.
- Your confidence in God will increase.
- You’ll sleep better.
- Prayer will not be as tedious.