Christians (and others) must “ruthlessly eliminate hurry from their lives” in order to establish “margins” that will allow them to take better care of their relationships with God, themselves and others, James Bryan Smith told the PC(USA)’s Disciple-Making Conference here today (Jan. 23).

“The number one spiritual illness of our day is ‘hurry sickness,’” Smith told the 100 conference participants in his third keynote address of the event, which concludes tomorrow (Jan. 24). He defined “hurry sickness” as “an inward condition that comes from a feeling of a lack of time, so we have to do things more quickly than we ought.”

Because “we tend to think that everything that’s asked of us is a divine command,” Smith said, we find ourselves overcommitted, feel forced to hurry, and thus “eliminate the margins ― that time and space to allow us to do things at the proper pace.”

And ironically, he said, that lack of margin “causes us to drop the three things that matter most”:

1)      our time with God: “we figure God will understand”

2)      self-care: exercise, rest, diet

3)      investment in important relationships: “parents spend more time on email than with their kids”

The reality “is that Christians are trying to live a better life, to be better persons, to live a more intimate relationship with God,” Smith said. “But they’re trying without training, like just going out and running five miles without training first.”

Practices or exercises ― Smith refuses to call them “spiritual” because they are not inherently spiritual, nor “disciplines” because of negative cultural connotations ― are the “therapeutic or curative” activities that can overcome “hurry sickness” and reestablish margins in our lives, he said.

“If the problem is ‘hurry sickness,’” Smith said, “then the cure is margin.” He then outlined five ways to the cure:

  1. Learn how to say “no” ― “very few of us are making choices between good and bad things. We must learn to say no to good but not necessary things. Understand that every ‘yes’ is an automatic “no” to something else because time is not infinite. The question should be: are you uniquely called to do this?”
  2. Learn how to limit screen time ― the average American spends 7 hours a day in front of screens, Smith said. “Don’t discard them, just use them in right ways, find a right balance.”
  3. Get off the grid now and then ― try 48 hours, “but let people know so they don’t think you’re mad at them.”
  4. Leave earlier for things ― “Most of us know down to the minute how long it takes to get places so we time them, which creates hurry. I always leave five to ten minutes early.”
  5. Use your schedule book to block out time ― “People think of them as inerrant, so schedule place/time with God and other people.”

The purpose of practices/exercises “is not to earn merit,” Smith insisted. “God doesn’t like you more or less if you do or don’t do them. That’s legalism, which is really just superstition.”

Citing Richard Foster, Smith said: “Spiritual disciplines place us before God so God can transform us,” Of course that transformation is as God wills and in the ways God wants to, he added. “They are not magic tricks or magic pills.”

Practices also have the potential to help us correct false or toxic narratives, Smith said. “The first practice is sleep, because it’s fundamental for human existence and counters the narrative that we have to work ourselves to death. It also teaches us something about God’s intention ― He deliberately created us to spend 1/3 of our lives at rest, doing absolutely zero.”

In addition to sleep, Smith outlined his “panoply of practices”:

  • Silence: “having  time when we aren’t bombarded with noise and always trying to do something.”
  • Awareness of creation: “just go around and pay attention and see God in it.”
  • Count your blessings: “take time to write down what you’re thankful for”
  • Pray through Psalm 23: “an incredible picture of God and God’s character and living in the kingdom.”
  • Engage the Bible: “the center of what we do ―memorizing chapters, not verses; “lectio divina” (repeated reading and reflection on a single passage of scripture); exegetical study.
  • Solitude: regular periods of withdrawal (the absence of people vs. absence of noise, which is silence.
  • 24 hours without speaking: “teaches value of words.”
  • Intentionally slowing down: “drive in the slowest lane, get in the longest, slowest line at the grocery store.
  • Play: “we often don’t think of play as spiritual or valuable.”
  • Worship
  • Service: “without an intention to be recognized.”
  • Intentional acts of kindness
  • Devotional reading
  • Journaling