I haven’t been sworn at very many times in my life. When it does happen, I find it unpleasant. At the most recent occurrence, I was exiting an airplane. Delayed by several hours already, I was about to miss the second connecting flight to my final destination. As we lingered in the indeterminable moment between the aircraft taxiing to a stop and the door finally opening, I stood at the ready, suitcase on my shoulder and eyes on my watch, calculating the likelihood of catching a flight scheduled to depart in 13 minutes. My seat was in the fourth row, but it wasn’t close enough. The lady in the aisle of row three hesitated for a fraction of a second and I took my chance. I skated ahead of her, sideswiping her luggage and striding off into the jetway. Behind me I heard a voice, “Oh, why don’t you go on ahead, please? Asshole.”
It took me several seconds to connect the comment to my behavior. Me? Surely not. I am not a discourteous person.
Hate to break it to you, self. You certainly were. As it turns out, there is a mundane variable strongly correlated to less-helpful behavior. Being in a hurry.
Once upon a time in 1973, a group of researchers subjected a group of seminary students to a thought-provoking study that tested their levels of compassion under varying levels of time pressure. Students were given an instruction to walk to another building and deliver a talk on the Good Samaritan. Some were led to believe they had ample time while others were told they were late already. On the route between the two buildings, all subjects would run across a man, apparently ill, slumped in a doorway.
Out of these fresh-faced lads bound for pastoral ministry and meditating on the archetypal compassion parable, 60% in the low-hurry group stopped to offer some kind of aid. In the high-hurry group? 10%.
The conclusion is almost too clear. When we take life at a walking pace, we are able to see those in front of us. We have capacity to believe that the other’s life is real and worth finding out about. When our value is tied to maximizing our time, that capacity begins to diminish.
Now, most of you can probably do better than to let hurry lead you to actual sins of commission and socially unacceptable behavior in airplanes. However, I am convinced that the Christlike ability to enter into the lives of others in love requires a special gift.
The gift of time.
Jesus was almost irritatingly hurry-less. He allowed himself to be sidetracked on the way to help dying people. Twice. In both cases, they died. The very Son of God didn’t consider it a waste of good years to wait for public ministry until the age of thirty. When he did, he did it in small spaces, among people he knew, and that knew him.
Fr. Matt Canlis, parish pastor and writer of the short film Godspeed, says, “Our generation… is always on the move. We avoid our deepest fears of being known. I realized that this avoidance, that this way of always being on-the-go is totally different than the way Jesus lived in the first century—than the way most humans have lived for all of history.”
If you’re like me, this information is self-corroborating. I know the differences in my behavior toward others when I am pressed and when I am relaxed. I remember how I sought others’ time and stories when I was lonely and unemployed, and see how I avoid contact now, wrapped in my quest for productivity. I know my pride in my busyness and my work. If I am in fact poorly connected, mean, and unavailable to minister because of my hurry, what is there to do?
Here’s the low-cost solution: Think unhurried thoughts.
Sorry, lads. That’s not going to work. Time is real. Time is limited. To offer more of it, it has to be given up from somewhere else. We will have to sacrifice one way of life for another. Here’s the equation:
Commit yourself less = Be available to minister more
The cultural pressure to pursue production and privacy is strong. To be present to the daily and open to emotional risk will not require a softening of discipline, so much as a turning of that discipline to a new set of values.
Is it worth it?
Jesus thought so.
- Ask God for the peace to do fewer things in one day.
- Spend the time you have in the presence of others.
- Ask for the grace to see others as valuable and fascinating. Ask questions.
Want to think about this more?
- Read A Liturgy Of The Ordinary, by Tish Harrison Warren. Become aware of God in the overlooked moments of your day.
- Watch Godspeed, a half-hour video about an American pastor and the parish in Scotland that changed his concept of the pace of pastoral ministry.