“Do you always read to your kids like that?” she queried.
My friend was referring to my rendition of a Dr. Seuss classic delivered at tongue-twister speed from a rocking chair in the church nursery.
“Just Dr. Seuss,” I replied. “It’s funnier if you read it fast.”
She grinned and raised an eyebrow. “You do everything fast.”
She was right and I think she actually meant it as a compliment, but she spoke more truth than she knew. Hands full and lap full, I was hard-wired for hurry in a world where I knew—I KNEW—that true success might actually mean sitting in a chair holding a sick baby all day. It might mean reading out loud to my older kids while I held the baby, just to maintain infrastructure and rule of law. You can polish off an entire Boxcar Children book that way, but really … How do you cross that off a to-do list?
Fast forward a dozen years, and I don’t spend much time in the nursery any more. These days it’s the women’s ministry in my church that has a way of putting my multi-tasking, hair-on-fire heart into a position to be challenged and changed and brought along the way by women who have learned the secret of slow.
One boils water and brews a scalding mug of tea that can barely be sipped. She’s not thinking about the wonderful work she is doing with her kettle and her pungent brew. She’s not thinking of herself at all. Cupped in my chilly fingers on a rainy day, her slow tea holds me seated in her kitchen. Scanning the pictures on her fridge, putting a hand on the muzzle of her friendly old dog, something lifts from my shoulders with the steam from my mug. We meander through a conversation over the teenage chaos that convenes whenever our kids get together. “What are you reading?” may actually find its steady way to, “Why are you discouraged?” and, “Why don’t we pray now?” That is, if I can just sit long enough to let it happen.
Another woman, another guardian to the secret of slow, shows up for my Sunday school class twice each week—once to drop off her mother-in-law and once to pick her up again. The trip between sanctuary and classroom is a pilgrimage on 88 year-old legs. Slowly, patiently, and with a steadying hand to stabilize, my dear Iris is granted the dignity of choice in this small thing by her daughter-in-law who, with leisurely patience, walks Iris from car to sanctuary, from sanctuary to classroom, from classroom to sanctuary, from sanctuary to car again. She’s not thinking about herself either or all the things she could be doing in those long minutes of steadying and supporting.
If I quiet my brain from its Sunday whirring and invite conversation, I will hear Iris say the words that melt my heart: “I pray for you every day because you are my teacher.” If I look up from my notes and leave space for silence, I will find that I can read the Word of God in the lives and in the tears of the women around the table in my classroom.
Impatient and restless, I’ve had to learn a great deal about slowing down, opening my eyes, and paying attention. Writer and practical theologian Annie Dillard wrote in Life Magazine:
“We are here to abet creation
And to witness it,
To notice each thing, so each thing gets noticed . . .
So that Creation need not play to an empty house.”
When I am present to the people God brings into my life I keep them from playing “to an empty house.” When I expect my husband, my children and my friends to intuit love from the blur that is me then the symphony that is them echoes off the walls, unheard. Coming to a full stop to look into the wide green eyes of the son who was born the year I turned forty–who has never known me without the hurry and worry lines that run parallel between my eyebrows–I will find grace to live slow and to remember that it’s a slow walk that takes us safely through this world:
Yes, LORD, walking in the way of your laws,
we wait for you;
your name and renown
are the desire of our hearts, (Isaiah 26:8)
“Walking in the way of God’s laws,” I will love: first God, and then my neighbor. Is this not–and has it not always been–the way of redemption and wholeness?
It is in my trusting dependence on God and not in my super-efficiency that the world will stand in awe of Him.
How many times have I missed God’s way in my hurry for my own name and my own renown?
With my hair blowing back and bugs in my teeth, how much do I really even know about the desire of my own heart?
There will be time for agenda writing and staffing plans and beating the bushes for volunteers.
There will be days for canning forty quarts of green beans and organizing birthday parties and studying for the next blog post.
But today, I will pour a cup of slow tea.
This may be the greatest and the hardest thing of all: the secret of slow.
This post first appeared at SheLoves, an online magazine that is really a global community of women who are seeking to glorify God in our every day living, loving, and serving.
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