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Q & A
Q&A: Overly busy? Your ministry may be affected Mary Jacobs, Jul 17, 2009
Kirk Byron Jones
Americans drive too fast, eat too fast and work too much. Kirk Byron Jones would like us to slow down.
His book Addicted to Hurry: Spiritual Strategies for Slowing Down was first published in 2003 and recently re-released as an audio book by Judson Press. Dr. Jones teaches social ethics and preaching at Andover Newton Theological School in Newton Centre, Mass., and is pastor of First Baptist Church in Tewksbury, Mass.
He spoke recently with staff writer Mary Jacobs.
Your book originally came out in print and now it’s in audio. Is that for people who are too hurried to read a book? (Laughs.) I think so. It certainly is ironic.
When do you know you’re too busy? Wonderful question. If there are no periods of silence and rest, you’re probably too busy. If you do not have a Sabbath day, you are too busy. If work begins to feel more of a burden than a thrill, you’re too busy. If you have problems saying “No,” you are too busy. There are also physiological cues. Restlessness, or if you have difficulty sleeping, you’re too busy.
Is this an issue in particular for clergy? Oh, yes. This book is something of a sequel to my book Rest in the Storm: Self-Care Strategies for Clergy or Other Caregivers. We’re particularly susceptible. I served as a pastor for over 20 years. I think busyness is the major sabotage of ministry.
Clergy are asked to do so much on a number of fronts. There are so many needs. Most of us are people pleasers by nature. And we see ours as a calling from God. So with those influences, it’s very easy to fall to what I call the “curse of the competent”—trying to be all things to all people all the time. Then we theologize busyness. We say, “I can do all things through Christ Jesus.” We have ways to pray away our fatigue. It’s in our liturgy and in our prayers. So we have to be diligent and tender when it comes to unraveling this issue and creating alternatives.
How does “addiction to hurry” affect our souls? We like it when we’re complimented, when we know we’re pleasing people. We can live for acceptance, as opposed to living from acceptance. When we seek validation from without, when we seek approval from people, I think that can easily lead into what I call “overdosing on over-commitment.”
This is something I struggle with as a journalist—my inability to get anything done without a deadline, preferably a looming one. Some of us do get addicted to adrenaline. We get hooked on the rush. It becomes our norm. We find it difficult to live off the high. We live into deadline constantly.
What are the spiritual costs to all this hurry? Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God.” Not, “Be busy” or “Be constantly serving.” Not, “Be doing good all the time.” Be still. We do good poorly when we fail to create stillness times and rest times in our lives. So the spiritual cost is that we jeopardize our communion with God when we’re too busy, when we hurriedly do work in God’s name. We miss God.
What’s the antidote? First, there’s the awareness that something is wrong. Not that you’re a bad person. You don’t have to drown in guilt. Just acknowledge there’s something wrong. I invite people to look at this from a Christian standpoint. Look at Psalm 46:10. Look at Jesus in the Gospels, who is constantly resting: He’s sitting on wells, standing before lakes, going to mountains. He’s not available 24/7. Jesus had respites throughout the day and the extended respite we call Sabbath. Consider the biblical witness, including the God who rests on the seventh day.
When it comes to Jesus, it’s more than self-care. It’s a matter of discipleship. Are we going to do ministry his way? His way was not frantic, and his way was not hurried.
Are there ways for clergy to find support or accountability in this area? In terms of accountability with each other, a very simple thing: Clergypeople can begin by asking each other how we’re doing as people, as opposed to how we are doing as a professional. We are quick to say: “How many people did you have in church on Sunday?” and “What are you doing at your church?” Go to a luncheon with clergy and all they talk about is ministry, almost as if they are not people. One thing clergy can do is to be interested in each other and converse with each other, based on what it is to be human, detached from ministry.
I encourage people to have a devotion each morning, and include in that a time of stillness. I have a couple of Web sites that can help with this. One is brewseries.com. “BREW” is an acronym: Be still, Receive God’s love, Embrace personhood, Welcome the day. Practicing that for seven years, I tell you what, it’s saving my life. Every morning I have two cups of brew. The first doesn’t have anything to do with caffeine. To begin the day that way sets the pace. It gives you a touchstone, and it’s easier to carry it with you, whether you’re a minister or a reporter on the go. I know—easier said than done, but it’s doable.
Another strategy I talk about is at SavoringPace.com. Basically, see more clearly the ordinary and extraordinary, listen more carefully to the sounds and the silences, and think more deeply, which sometimes means taking some time not to think at all. So I encourage people—and I’m constantly relearning this myself—to learn to live at a savoring pace. We don’t have to live chronically rushed. We can learn how to be still.
Why do you have a heart personally for this? I’m 51. When I was 30, I was preaching in a pulpit in West Chester, Pa. Five minutes into the sermon, I stopped. In that moment I lost the energy to speak and the desire to speak. I was out of gas. After that, I spent about four to five weeks in what I later learned was burnout. So I’ve been there. That was when I began to say, “Look, there’s a better way.”
At the time this happened, I was finishing my Ph.D., serving as a pastor, heading a community organization, doing a lot of speaking engagements and trying to be a good father and husband. So I was doing great, but I was doing great poorly. We can only do so much. I had started as a boy preacher. It was a combination of living life without relaxation, and that period was particularly busy and trying. It just pulled the rug out from under me. So what’s the expression? Necessity is the mother of invention? I needed it. I never finished that sermon!
Since then it’s been a journey, reading some great writers on the subject—Howard Thurman, Mary Oliver, Henry Nouwen—reading about these people and becoming a disciple of stillness and living at a sacred, savoring pace. For many of us, the issue is guilt. An argument that has proven helpful is: The really selfish thing is to not take the time; if you don’t, the world will never see your best you. To begin to think differently leads to different practices. If you really believe that, rest and peace have a chance of becoming more a part of your life.