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Book Review: The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry

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Busyness is frequently considered a virtue. But in his book, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, John Mark Comer makes the argument that busyness has the same negative effect that sin has: cutting off our connection with God, with others, and even our own souls. If you, like me, find yourself too busy, then I cannot recommend this book to you enough. Hurry up and get it!

The Problem with Hurry

Well, ok, let's slow down a bit and see how Comer frames the problem. The problem with busyness, he says, is not in having a lot to do but in having so much to do that we have to hurry just to try to keep up. Hurry costs us in the health of our relationships, which can only develop with time. I smiled when Comer makes the simple observation that the first thing 1 Corinthians 13 says about love is that it is patient. Love is incompatible with hurry.

I enjoyed the author's "brief history of speed" (chapter 2), which demonstrates that hurry has become an increasing problem ever since the invention of the Roman sundial in the second century BC. Even then some began to notice the drastic change that keeping time would have on our well-being. The speed of our lives has only increased, especially since the official start of the digital age in our own lifetimes (2007). So while leisure used to be a sign of success and prosperity, now busyness is. And Comer traces the effects this is having on our health (chapter 3). It's hard to argue with the evidence he presents.

The Countercultural Clock of Christ

But we will probably push back against the solutions he puts forward. To start, Comer argues that the solution we are looking for is not more time but rather "to slow down and simplify our lives around what really matters" (p. 62). He urges his readers to accept not just their potential but even more importantly, their limitations. Now that is countercultural indeed!

But, Comer reminds us, this is the way of Jesus. It is the "secret of the easy yoke" (chap 5) that Jesus calls his disciples to take up (Matt 11:28-30). Following Jesus requires us to not only take on his doctrine but to adapt to his lifestyle, his way of life. Again, countercultural.

Nothing about Jesus may be more countercultural in fact. For when we look at the life of Jesus recorded in the Gospels, we notice that he never seems to be in a hurry. Jesus offers us his way of life, not as an escape from our frenzied world, but as equipment for living in it slowly, relationally. If we want to take up the "way" of Jesus, then we are going to have to pick up some of Jesus's life rhythms. These are what we often call "spiritual disciplines," and Comer zeros in on four of them.

Silence and Solitude

One of the clearest examples of Jesus's way of life, is his commitment to seeking silence and solitude. He would get away, by himself, and pray (Mark 1:35). And Comer observes that Jesus often did this more frequently when life began to speed up.

Comer argues that this is the most important of all spiritual disciplines because it affects most directly our relationship with God, the most important of all our relationships. Without making the time and space to silence the noise around us, our relationship with God will suffer. We will lose the ability to "abide" in Jesus. 

Solitude is not isolation, not if we believe that God really is there. Instead, solitude is about being present with God, connecting to him, and finding fulfillment in him.

Sabbath

Comer brought some fresh perspective to me in the practice of sabbath. Rather than seeing sabbath as only a day, he argues it is a way of being in the world. The observance of sabbath is actually about productivity, since the statistics seem to support the fact that after about six days of work, or 50 hours, our productivity begins to diminish. We need a full day of rest and worship to enjoy what we have been given and to find contentment in God's blessing.

In addition, sabbath is a way of practicing resistence to the slavery of materialism and its effects not only on ourselves but on countless others who are forced to work unceasingly to provide those goods to wealthier countries like ours. What can we do about injustice in the world? Comer says, "Nothing, one day a week."

Simplicity

The only god that Jesus ever called out by name was the god of materialism, Mammon (Matt 6:25, 33). We are so easily deceived by this idol, thinking it will provide us with  the satisfaction we seek. But we were not meant to find satisfaction in relationships with God, with family, and with friends. We have to fight against the propoganda of materialism, says Comer.

Simplicity is the practice of Jesus that will help us do this best. We simply have too much stuff in the prosperous West to enjoy life at a healthy, unhurried pace. And Jesus's warnings about money is not because possessions are bad but because too many possessions will make us slaves to it.

Simplicity is "the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts us from them." Comer offers 12 principles for living simply. They are helpful conversation starters in assessing how much we've succumbed to the lies of materialism.

Slowing

Finally, Comer suggests an overall "rule" of life that he calls "slowing." These are "fun, creative, flexible 'rules' to slow down the overall pace" of our hurried lives. They are spiritual disciplines, but they are context and person specific. What slows my life down may not be the ways you find helpful to slow yours down.

I enjoyed reading Comer's 20 ideas for slowing, and having started to practice some of them myself, I have experienced some promising results.

This is what I appreciated most about Comer's book. I have found myself in some bad habits of hurry. This book did not just give me tips for breaking those habits, but showed me instead the easy practices of Jesus that he graciously invites us to take up as his disciples to find our way in life again through a healthy relationship with him and with others.

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