Friday, June 25, 2010

NASCAR Living Ain't for Me: How 'Bout You?

If my father was still alive, this coming Sunday morning he'd be sitting (if his health allowed) on a pew at First Presbyterian Church of Anderson, SC. Later, he'd be sitting in his recliner watching TNT — watching a bunch of cars going very fast around and around in a circle. Actually, more in an oval. He loved NASCAR.

Thing is, despite his love of NASCAR, of cars going close to 200 mph chasing a checkered flag, he personally drove like molasses being poured out of a bottle on a cold winter day. In that way, his driving reflected his general approach to life. He was a plodder. I'm inclined to think that, as a culture, our driving habits do indeed reflect our general approach to life. And if being on an Interstate highway, say driving through Atlanta, is any indication, we're addicted to speed. We want it, whatever "it" may be, and we want it NOW!

A man came to Jesus. He was a man in a hurry and, in this case, for good reason. His daughter was dying. He was in an understandable panic. He begged Jesus to rush over and heal his daughter. But Jesus didn't rush. He simply plodded along and, in the process, as the story is told, a woman came up to him and touched his robe and was healed. Well, about this time someone came and told the man to forget about bothering Jesus, his daughter had died. At that point, finally, Jesus turned to the man and told him not to worry, that his daughter would be okay.

Most of us, I dare say, would fault Jesus for his reaction, or rather, his lack of reaction. If it had been us, we would have immediately stopped what we were doing and rushed over to Jarius' house right away. But Jesus didn't; he took his own sweet time. My reading of the gospel accounts is that Jesus was a person of an unhurried life.

Then why do we hurry so? Why are we racing for that illusive checkered flag? That undefinable prize?

The National Jewish Medical and Research Center lists seven thoughts that we entertain which lead us to live NASCAR lives, lives of hurried stress:

1. making mistakes is terrible
2. it is essential to be loved by everyone
3. every problem has a perfect solution
4. if others criticize me, I must have done something wrong
5. strong people do not ask for help
6. everything is within my control
7. other people should see things the same way I do

What do all of those have in common? They compare us to someone else. When we think like that we are measuring ourselves against others.

Thoreau wrote: "Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life? We are determined to be starved before we are hungry."

Hurry, our love for speed, the need to do it better, faster — these are enemies of reflection and contemplation. Every time I sit down at my computer I find myself getting frustrated with its speed, or lack thereof, actually.

For most of my life, my mother suffered from bi-polar disorder. Back then we called it Manic-depressive. She ran in two-week cycles. For two weeks she'd be depressed, rarely leaving her bed. Then, for two weeks, she'd be manic, sleeping maybe two hours a night and the rest of the time buzzing around like Atlanta drivers on I-285. And since she was flying high, she thought I should be, too. To be honest, sometimes it would wear me out. On the other hand, I have to confess that those times were a lot of fun for me as a child, too — going here and there, doing this or that.

She was a woman of great faith, too; raised an Episcopalian, and a dedicated member of First Presbyterian in Anderson. I will always remember a prayer she carried around on a 4x6 card which my father had laminated for her. The intention was for my mother to pull out that prayer and read it occasionally when she was manic. You may have heard it. Part of it goes something like this:

Slow me down, God. Ease the pounding of my heart by the quieting of my mind. Steady my hurried pace. Give me, amidst the day's confusion, the calmness of the everlasting hills. Break the tensions of my nerves and muscles with the soothing music of singing streams that live in my memory. Help me to know the magical, restoring power of sleep. Teach me the art of taking 'minute vacations'... Remind me of the fable of the hare and the tortoise; that the race is not always to the swift; that there is more to life than measuring its speed.. Let me look up at the branches of the towering oak and know that it grew slowly and well. Inspire me to send my own roots down deep into the soil of life's enduring values... that I may grow toward the stars of my greater destiny. Slow me down, God.

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