Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Haste and Waste

    In 1970, Princeton University did some research with seminary students.  They would interview a seminarian in an office, and after the interview they would ask them to go to another classroom to give a talk.  The classroom, however, was across campus and scheduled such that there was little time to get there.  The researchers then had actors placed in the seminarian’s path along the way playing a person in some distress.   The researchers wanted to see if a commitment to service was sufficient to cause a person to actually stop and help in a practical situation.
     What they found was that being committed to helping others had no practical effect on these seminarians if they were in
a hurry.  The time factor trumped commitment every time.  If they weren’t in a hurry, if they had the time to stop and help, most of them did; but if they were short on time they didn’t stop.  They didn’t help.

Here’s the problem: when in our society are we not busy or doing something important?  We have so tied our sense of self-worth to what we do that it is almost a sin not to be busy.  You are either busy or you are lazy, but there doesn’t seem to be much middle ground.  And we have elevated all sorts of activities, even leisure activities, to a level of importance that we find ourselves in a near-constant state of urgency, haste, and busyness.  We over-schedule our lives, then we overschedule our children’s lives which adds even more things to our over-scheduled lives, and haste overtakes us.  Haste overwhelms us.
Haste is our enemy. It increases our stress level and our blood pressure, causes us to more easily lose patience, and makes us more prone to mistakes and accidents.
Most seriously of all, haste hurts us spiritually.  We have become a nation of Christians who are too busy for personal prayer and private devotions—not that we don’t do them, though that is often the case, but we do them in brief snippets.   (Evidenced by the fact that devotional magazines and books are smaller than regular books and magazines.)  Or maybe we multi-task our spiritual disciplines, praying while driving (eyes open please!),  reading while eating.  But devotion implies single-mindedness that multi-tasking undermines; how devoted can we be if we can only combine it with some other task?  We have also become a nation of Christians that are too busy for communal worship and communal study, two activities that, more than personal and private times of worship, are the foundations of biblical devotion and discipleship.  Work schedules, sports and recreation, and even fatigue increasingly keep us from assembling together to give homage to the Creator of the universe, to the inevitable detriment to our relationship with Him and our faith families.  If what we are doing Monday through Saturday so fatigues us that it is a burden to spend time in worship and Bible study on Sunday, it makes it difficult to claim with any credibility that we love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.
Or our neighbors as ourselves.  As the Princeton study showed—and our experience validates—haste blinds us to the needs of others.  Morality becomes a luxury as the pace of our daily lives increases, making it less likely that we will stop and help someone else in need.  In our hearts we want to be good Samaritans, but haste and hurry get in the way.   We need to see that this is a spiritual issue every bit as much as personal devotions and communal worship.  Jesus certainly did, or he wouldn’t have told the parable.

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