Maura TooleYouth Sunday, 2021
As I’ve reflected on the past year and all of the adventures that have come with it, I’ve been working on a list of things that I’ve learned. I want to share some of those with you. So, here is an abridged version of ‘All I Really Need to Know I Learned During a Pandemic’ by Maura Toole:
10. Trying to be perfect is exhausting.
9. Those cardboard cutout heads in the stands of basketball and football games are really weird.
8. I never want to hear the word “unprecedented” again.
7. The choruses to “Jolene”, “We Will Rock You” and “My Sharona” are all great 20-second hand washing songs.
6. Seeing the world hurting and not being able to fix it is hard.
5. My family is really REALLY patient.
4. Being productive isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
3. It IS possible to go an entire year without putting on real pants.
2. My teachers, and all of the people who have guided me through this time, are rockstars.
And, maybe most importantly:
1. It’s sometimes necessary to slow down.
For years before the pandemic began, I found comfort in hurry. “Hurry to get out the door”, “Hurry to get to school”, “Hurry to get to class”, “If we’re going to get to your soccer game on time, you have to hurry to get your cleats” were choruses repeated to me over and over again. I cannot even begin to count the number of times my little sister has told me to “Hurry up!” My days were filled with worry that I was going to be late. And, I liked it that way.
I had developed, as I’m sure many of you had, what some psychologists call “hurry sickness”. This sickness, which has reached epidemic proportions, shows up when we have to choose between checkout lines at Harris Teeter and we count the number of people in line and the number of items in their carts to determine the fastest way out of the store. It appears when we pull up to a red light, sigh impatiently, look around at the other stopped cars trying to figure out which one will be the slowest when the light turns green, and change lanes to not be behind them. And it is perhaps most evident, at least in my life, when I schedule every part of my day, checking my watch every couple of minutes to make sure I am not falling behind or running late.
David Kuntz, a phycologist and theologist, described “hurry sickness” beautifully. He wrote, “We are all riding on a very fast train that is travelling down a predetermined track, gathering speed as it goes, and we have been on it for a long time. Many of us want to slow down; some want to get off the train. Others are so used to the speed that they don’t notice it. The few who love the speed are the only ones who get their way. Most of us stare blankly out of the window, barely seeing the world flying by and feeling helpless.”
I had a very very strong case of “hurry sickness”. I enjoyed the speed, though, and enjoyed being in a perpetual state of feeling rushed. To be urgent was to be comfortable and I much preferred seeing a blurry world outside the window. It was easier.
I think that I developed my hurry sickness when my family was crumbling. My parents found themselves in the middle of a pretty messy divorce and I found myself needing to fill my time. If I was overbooked and rushing, I didn’t have to reflect on my experiences and feelings. Rowing practices, theatre rehearsals, soccer practices, doing homework with friends, and quiz bowl competitions (I was on the varsity team, no biggie) kept me out of the house. I felt like I was productive and in control. Filling my time to the brim was a defence mechanism at first, but it became a habit.
When the conductor suddenly put the brakes on the hurry-train that many of us had ridden for a long time and the blur outside the window became clear, I was stuck. My unending state of hurry had ended and there were no more practices to go to, no more classes to attend, no more places to be or things to do. I could not create urgency for myself anymore, which was unsettling. I was bored, really bored, for the first time in years.
I spent many hours pacing back and forth struggling to come up with ways to spend my time. Determined to still be productive for the sake of being productive, I set out on a small mission: to make myself the best version of Maura that I could possibly become. Baby steps, right? In my typical type-A fashion, I came up with a six-week plan. Again I scheduled every hour of my day to do things like read, nap, take walks, talk to friends, and learn everything I could about the philosophical nature of happiness. I was very quickly burnt out on self-improvement.
In a last ditch effort, I paused from the calendar that I had made full and put away my silly task list. And, it was uncomfortable at first. But, after a while, I started to find safety and joy in the stillness and silence that I had avoided for so long. I was still reading, taking naps, walking, going to virtual school, working, and talking to friends, but I wasn’t in any hurry. When I embraced slowing down, I could reflect on why I was afraid of the pause that came with living in a pandemic. I could reacquaint myself with my own beating heart and the thoughts in my head. I could take time to simply be. I rested more and I had time to sit with myself and think. When I slowed down, I could pay more attention, listen more intently, build relationships more meaningfully, feel more healthy, prioritize what was most important, and just breathe.
In reflecting on how my intentional slowing down has shaped my faith, I have realized that Jesus is a really great model for eliminating hurry. He carried great burdens and had so many people demanding so much of him. Yet, he was never in a rush. He stopped, he looked in people’s eyes, he listened as they told him about their sorrows and joys, and he ignored his disciples when they tugged at his sleeve saying, “dude, hurry up, you gotta get on your next Zoom call.” And Jesus’s call to us, his followers, is not one of urgency or obligation, but one of rest and reflection for the tired, the weary, and the burned-out. This doesn’t mean that we become self-indulgent and lazy, but that we use our energy to do the stuff that matters most.
When we slow down in a society that encourages us to move so quickly, we are following the example of Jesus. We too can stop, look into people’s eyes (six feet apart, of course), really listen, and ignore life’s tugs at our sleeve telling us to hurry. We can allow ourselves to be reminded of just how fragile and precious this life is.
Nearly every week, Lin asks the youth group “Where did you see God this week?” While it is a small practice and only takes a couple of minutes to discuss as a group, it is one of my favorite things that the youth do here at College Park. It reminds us to slow down during our week and to find the places, big or small, where we see God showing up. And, as I have embraced the Covid slow-down and created more time to look around and be reflective, I have seen God every day more clearly in nature, in new routines, in opportunities to say thank you, in other people’s talents, in prayer, and in my neighbors. As the world has slowed and as I’ve rejected hurriedness, my relationship with God has deepened tremendously.
As the world begins to look a little more like it once did, this is my prayer for you all. And, its my prayer and reminder for myself as I am launched into the world in a few short months:
God, help us to pause, to look around, and to smell the roses. Teach us to know what is most important to us and to let go of the rest. Let us not return to a world where we must always be in a rush, but rather, create a new normal in which we can pause and reflect. And, just as Jesus did, may we all learn to ruthlessly eliminate hurry from our lives. Amen.