The Lost Art Of Slowness

Written by: Joseph Koh (Photo by: Zann Lee)

Lessons from Kinfolk

I hate waiting. It takes me a grand total of five minutes waiting at the bus stop before I start fidgeting; I tend to eat economy rice as it means that I need not wait for the food to be prepared; I multi-task practically everywhere, whether on the train or at home.

We live in an age that places a premium on speed and busyness. A volatile global economy has pushed countless into overdrive. Hastened by the advancement of digital technology, productivity is paramount today. We simply have to do more in less time. I’m only a few months in the job, and my to-do list already feels like a muddled story without a much-needed denouement.

In a 2013 study done by Taiwan’s China Times newspaper, Singaporeans were found to work the longest hours in the world: an average of approximately 46 hours a week. It almost customary for us to mention the word “busy” and “tired” whenever we catch up with someone. Our bodies have become hollow shells — brittle and blue.

In recent years, Kinfolk — an independent lifestyle magazine for young creative professionals —  is a brand that has gained a rabid following. I believe that the reasons for their popularity goes beyond their celebration of minimalism, boho-chic, and light-drenched photography.

Every magazine issue is an ode to slowness. They attest to have found the antidote to manic, modern living, as they draw us to simplify our life, cultivate community, and spend more time with friends and family. If we do not have time to take a stroll by the beach or daydream underneath the stars, then we aren’t really living. With each article, they implore us that there is more to life than chasing the elusive coattails of success, because it will not be long before we discover that we’ve lost everything else in the process.

As I thought about Kinfolk’s raison d’être, it struck me that the art of slowness ought to be a priority for all Christians.

When we are busy, we forget who we are.

This may not be commonly espoused, but busyness can often feel empowering. When we are constantly on-the-go, slipping in and out of meetings, and glued to our phone from dawn to dusk, it is easy for us to feel like an asset to the organisation.

It is possible to feel this way even in the spiritual sphere, especially if your pathway to God is ‘Activism.’ When I was twenty-three, my entire life was wrapped around church ministry. Week-in-and-week-out I was cooped up in church: planning, teaching, mentoring, and overseeing a few small groups. It came to a point that my identity was tethered to being a church leader — it was my pre-occupation and where I exerted the greatest level of influence.

Our work and competence can be shackled to our self-concept. Our self-worth is determined by what we do rather than who we are. However, this will only induce us to vacillate between self-righteousness (because of what we’ve accomplished) and self-pity (because we do not measure up).

Superhuman or not, we all need to find some silence and solitude, beneath the bedlam and buzz of the city, and reacquaint ourselves as sons and daughters of God. We all need timely reminders of how our lives are helping to piece together His larger story of redemption.

Busyness is a heart issue.

When our eyes are no longer present at work and when the dark circles can come across as smudged mascara, we do not have the space of heart for people around us — friend or stranger. We stop feeling deeply about issues that should singe our hearts like stepping on hot coal. Cases of injustice we find in the newspapers are reduced to mere statistic, cold and distant.

When I’m constantly in a hurry, swivelling from place to place, I lose consciousness of my neighbours, especially those whom might need a helping hand. I am unreasonably annoyed when surveyors stop me in my tracks. Should someone ask me for assistance, I am reluctant to do more than expected. I shamefully forget that one dollar would mean much more to the tissue auntie than to me.

Slowness has everything to do with love, for 1 Corinthians begins with, “Love is patient.” While we are well-aware of the need to guard our hearts from evil (Proverbs 4:23), too many of us have prostituted our hearts away to busyness. We sleep with her, and still feel no twinge of remorse the very next morning.

When we are busy, we stop listening.

At the workplace, people rarely listen to each other anymore. Colleagues cutting each other off and flaring up at each other are daily occurrences. The world’s breakneck pace has programmed all of us into task-oriented robots rather than people-oriented human beings.

A few months ago, it dawned on me that whenever I’m pressed for time or stressed out, I do not listen well during meetings; I merely seek to push my own agenda, all so that the meeting will end as quickly as possible.

Busyness hinders us from connecting wholeheartedly with others. I believe that it is today counter-cultural when we pay full attention to everyone around and listen to them. If we choose to lend someone a listening ear, we also lend them our hearts, as it is akin to saying, “Yes, you matter. Your voice matters.”

When we are swamped with activity, we also do not listen to the only One who knows the way, as if God is speaking to us when we are underwater: we cannot hear a thing. We fail to remember that He is a Person, someone whom we need to continually soak in (John 15:4).

Bill Hybels posits that receiving a vision from God is not only a deeply spiritual thing, but a deeply practical one. It involves the quiet, internal making of our heart ready; we need to prepare the right soil that it will not strangle the Word. The cacophonous noise of our heart can never be louder than His whisper.

Last year, a good friend of mine went out of her way in planning an elaborate birthday party for a mutual friend. She almost singlehandedly drafted the programme, set up an Facebook event page, secured the logistics, and decorated the venue. In spite of the tremendous effort that went into organising the party, not once did she grouse or murmur. As I attended the party, all I felt was the contagious affection that she had for her friend.

A hint of shame also surfaced in my heart like oil separating from water: I had been so engrossed with my own life that I no longer cared enough for my friends’ birthdays. In fact, my heart was draped in dread as I felt obligated to “show my face” on that night.

Our busyness can blind us from the things that matter. I believe that Jesus was ever hyper-conscious of the needs of others around Him as He was never in a fluster. Should we, Christians, profess to possess the antidote to this broken life, then we have got to slow down. If not, we’ll never realise who has been searching for it.

JOSEPH thinks that Nasi Lemak ought to be Singapore's national dish. He is passionate in discovering how faith can collide beautifully with urban culture, and believes in mentoring the next generation. He also wishes that a singular Singaporean accent will emerge in his lifetime. Follow him @firesandtimbers.


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