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Slow down

Busy Christians risk missing what’s really important

By Jocelyn Green

For a growing number of Americans, busyness has become all-consuming. Despite the technological advances that promise to save us time — e-mail, cell phones, BlackBerrys — people are still feeling pressed to speed up their productivity.

In the 1960s, futurists predicted by now time-saving technologies would mean wage-earners working a 20-hour week could provide for their households. On the contrary, a recent study by Families and Work Institute reports one in three American employees is chronically overworked.

American workers get less vacation than any other industrialized nation — and 26 percent of U.S. workers don’t even take the vacation time they’re given. These statistics don’t account for the family, church and community activities filling our calendars.

So what happened?

“Progress,” says Dr. Richard A. Swenson, author of The Overload Syndrome. “Progress always results in more and more of everything faster and faster.” Swenson says progress is one of the most powerful forces on the planet. It has taken over American society to the point where if slowed the economy would fall apart.

“We’ve got a collision course between progress and human limits,” Swenson says. “Once progress slams past human limits, then we live in overload, and spiritual life will start to erode.”

Swenson suggests that Americans have transitioned from a strong Protestant work ethic to worshiping work itself.

“Our productivity becomes our scorecard,” he says. “Spiritually speaking, we should instead acknowledge in humility that our empowerment comes from the Spirit of God.”

Dr. Archibald D. Hart, author of The Hidden Link Between Adrenaline and Stress, says that fitting in more tasks per day over-activates and stresses the human body. “I don’t believe we were created for perpetual motion, or perpetual attention or perpetual activity,” Hart says.

The first step to slowing down is usually getting more sleep. People of all ages are chronically sleep deprived, according to a poll released in March by the National Sleep Foundation.

The resulting overuse of caffeine to power through one’s day is widespread, which is both a cause and effect of sleep deprivation.

According to Hart, even the less extreme buzz-seekers should think twice before reaching for their venti lattes or energy drinks.

“Doing more than we should and consuming artificial stimulants both elevate adrenaline in the body beyond the normal level,” he says. Adrenaline raises cholesterol levels, putting people at risk for heart disease, diabetes and other similar disorders, adds Hart.

Elevated adrenaline levels also increase the system’s cortisol hormone, the primary reason for record levels of depression. High amounts of cortisol block the “happiness messages” in the brain, resulting in clinical depression and anxiety problems, Hart says.

In recent years, the number of people taking prescription sleeping pills has soared — which comes as no surprise to Hart, who points to adrenaline as a primary cause of insomnia.

According to Medco Health Solutions of Franklin Lakes, N.J., use of the pills by 20- to 44-year-old adults skyrocketed 114 percent from 2000 to 2005.

Congregations are feeling the void left by members who are too busy to come. “A lot of churches are dealing with loss of numbers on Wednesday and Sunday evenings, even to the point of canceling those services,” says Tom Greene, National Men’s Ministries director for the Assemblies of God. “That should be of grave concern to us.”

If church service attendance is on the decline, even more so is the number of willing volunteers. University of Iowa professor Jennifer Glass reports that in the late 1990s, it took around two dozen phone calls in the average church to recruit the same number of volunteers that took only a couple of calls before.

On the other hand, Greene recognizes that an overloaded church schedule can also contribute to a frenetic lifestyle. Greene says he and his wife, Pam, spent 30 years in youth ministry. But when their son and daughter became teenagers, the Greenes realized that church activities had become so frequent they didn’t have time for each other.

“In leadership, sometimes we see success as a full calendar and as a result, family night sometimes gets brushed aside for church activities,” Greene says.

An international study by the British Council released in May shows urban populations are walking 10 percent faster than they were in the early 1990s. Professor Richard Wiseman, who headed the study, concluded the faster pace indicates the world is speeding up, often at the cost of physical and spiritual health.

“I know what it’s like to stand in front of my microwave and encourage it to work faster,” says Assemblies of God National Women’s Director Arlene Allen. “However, Christians, especially parents, should prioritize their day. We need to determine what in the day has eternal benefits and what is temporal.”

John Ortberg, author of The Life You’ve Always Wanted, makes a distinction between busyness and hurry. “In our society, hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life,” Ortberg says. “You can’t do anything that is Kingdom-alive when you’re hurried.”

Some people are genetically wired to be able to be quite busy without being hurried, he says. The indicator is whether irritation or discouragement happens quickly, according to Ortberg, whose new book dealing with time and commitments, When the Game is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box, was released in September.

For those who find themselves frequently hurried, Ortberg suggests the practice of slowing, which fits in line with the idea of sabbath.

“Sabbath observance is so important,” says Quentin Schultze, author of Habits of the High-Tech Heart. “It’s time off from work in order to relax and remember that we cannot save ourselves. Sabbath could be the greatest practical antidote to the control-freak attitude of high-tech persons.”

Even when it’s not the day of rest, Schultze says, people could benefit from slowing down. “Relational activities, even taking walks together or praying, require time,” he says. “Speed and efficiency do not make them better. In fact, they reduce the quality of our relationships.”

By being so busy, Schultze says, Christians can lose track of what’s really important: loving God and neighbors as ourselves. “Love is patient, not fast,” he says. “Do we take in God’s love in the midst of our busy, high-tech lives?”

“Using love and truth — not productivity — as His weapons, Jesus conquered the entire world,” Swenson says. “If you have a productivity agenda and not a love agenda, you’re missing the kingdom of God. We betray love in our families and in our churches in the name of getting things done.”

JOCELYN GREEN is a frequent news feature contributor who lives in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

4879 11/11/07

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