The Need to Slow Down

A baby in our congregation was in the hospital in a near-by town struggling with the Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). My wife and I went to visit and pray with the little guy and his parents. Eventually, they were transferred to the ICU at a special children’s hospital in Atlanta.

The good news is that he recovered.

The bad news is that I was pulled over for speeding on our way home from the hospital.

A thirty-five-year streak of living with a perfect driving record was coming to an abrupt end just past the westbound side of the Lake Lanier bridge on Highway 60.

As I crossed the bridge, a patrol car hiding in the median was unmasked as a streetlight reflected off of its fender, revealing the word Sherriff emblazoned on the side panel.

Immediately, I looked down at my speedometer and began a prayer that I’ll confess was not offered in faith.

As the Hall County deputy slowly began to turn his car onto the road, the inevitable took the form of annoying blue lights.

Maybe I could talk my way out of it. After all, I was making a pastoral visit and needed to get back to town in time to pick up my youngest from youth group. Hmmm, RSV actually may qualify as an emergency pastoral visit. But we were going away from the hospital, not to it.

And my wife wasn’t in labor. She wasn’t even pregnant. That one wouldn’t work, either.

As my excuse options diminished, so did the likelihood of maintaining a perfect driving record.

Honestly, when I saw the police car, I was unaware of how fast I was going. I didn’t even know the speed limit for that stretch of road.

I was clueless about my need to slow down.

Simply put, I was clueless about my need to slow down.

Yes, I received a ticket. 65 in a 45 (although the speed zone changes to 55 in about 50 yards!). While the fine is hard to stomach, I have learned an important lesson.

Not so much about driving as living.

I don’t just drive too fast. I live too fast.

Today in the grocery store, it dawned on me how quickly I was pushing the cart. Was I trying to win? Who am I racing? Why do I feel the need to complete this task in the shortest amount of time possible?

Until the thoughts of my ticket and grocery cart collided, I didn’t even know I was living too fast. Maybe you can relate.

Granted, on the Myers-Briggs I am a “J,” which means that I am very time conscious, scheduled, and get irritated when interrupted. I feel the need for a plan, and get jittery and anxious when presented with too much free time. So, I fill it with things to do. With tasks to accomplish.

This is not all bad. There is nothing wrong with being wired as conscientious, scheduled, and task-oriented.

The issue for me is doing tasks with the kind of pace that allows for my heart to remain at peace and with margin built-in for the unexpected–the unexpected visit, conversation, or even crisis.

Changing My Pace

In the wake of my speeding ticket, I have started using cruise control much more often. Even when I don’t use cruise, I am much more aware of speed limits and am okay with driving within them, even when tailgated by someone who feels the need for speed (or really is in labor and headed to the delivery room).

When driving, slowing down means slowing down. Being aware of my speed and living within posted limits.

When living, slowing down for me as a J on the MBTI means planning to accomplish less each day. Being aware of the status of my heart (is it anxiously racing or at peace and rest?) and living within limits.

To use the car analogy, to live within limits is to keep the engine humming within a reasonable RPM rather than at the red line. At the red line, a car will blow up. When we live at the red line, we call it burn out.

Yes, there are times when we have to gun it. But these are exceptions and not the rule. Use the red line in emergencies only. Not for everyday driving.

For the ordinary days, we need posted limits.

Six Suggestions for Living within Limits

Here is what living within “posted limits” will look like for me:

  1. Set a reasonable number of specific, attainable tasks to accomplish each day. This is the starting place for living within limits.
  2. Build in margin between tasks and resist the urge to fill that space with more tasks. Take a break. Go on a walk. Stretch. Pray the Lord’s Prayer, slowly. Enjoy nature. Draw a leaf.
  3. Check my pulse occasionally. Not of my physical heart, but my spiritual heart. Am I anxious? Am I at peace? Do I feel behind? What is the source of the stress? Why do I feel stressed? Am I trying to do too much and too quickly?
  4. Gauge how fast I walk. Slow down. I’m not in a race. Unless I am in a race. But I’m usually not. So, slow down.
  5. Watch how quickly I type. Strangely, I have found that the pace of my typing can be an indicator of my heart RPMs. Am I having to go back and make corrections because I’m typing too fast? Slow down.
  6. Notice how I speak. Is the pace of my words controlled or are my words outpacing my thoughts, causing me to stumble, stutter, or just talk too quickly? How quickly I talk is another barometer of the condition of my heart and whether I am living within emotional limits, or driving at a reasonable RPM.

While these are helpful tips for analyzing the state of my heart and helping me to slow down. But there is a root issue that must not be avoided.

I think what most frustrated me about my speeding ticket is the fact that I could no longer say I had driven without a speeding ticket for 35 years. The truth is that I could have been pulled over and ticketed hundreds of times. Just because I had not received a speeding ticket does not mean that I haven’t been driving too fast.

I just got caught. Finally.

Now, I no longer have to worry about maintaining a perfect driving record (although for insurance purposes, I don’t want any more tickets!). So, I can slow down. Not to protect my record, but just because it is good for me. It certainly is less stressful to drive within the speed limit, not having to worry about being pulled over–even if it takes a bit longer to arrive at a destination.

I wonder how much of my red line life an attempt to establish a record? Not a driving record, but a ministry record or something that will make a name for myself if I just keep trying, pushing harder and harder, driving faster and faster.

But just like I was never a perfect driver, I am by no means perfect… in any way. Personally, morally, vocationally, emotionally, mentally, psychologically, physically, etc. In Adam, there is no other option but to admit that I am broken… in every way.

But in Christ, I am complete. Restored. Justified. Reconciled with God as a fully forgiven, perfectly accepted, and dearly loved adopted son. I don’t have to do anything to achieve that status or to maintain it.

The Gospel Empowers Us to Slow Down

Through faith in the finished work of Jesus for me on the cross, every gospel blessing is now mine, not the least of which is a new identity.

As Paul says in Colossians 2:10, “In Him you have been made complete.” Or in 2 Corinthians 5:21, in Christ, we are now “the righteousness of God.”

This is why the gospel invites (and empowers) me to “slow down.”

The cross tells me that I no longer need to establish a righteousness out of my own doing, tasks, accomplishments, and record. It has been accomplished for me by Jesus.

Now, don’t get me wrong. This slowing down and living within limits is not a promotion of laziness. As image-bearers of God, human beings have been created to work, reflecting the creative nature of God. But this labor is to be pursued within limits (as finite image bearers) and never as an attempt to earn righteousness (that can only be received as a gift given by God in Jesus).

What we learn is that receiving the gift-righteousness of Jesus as my very own is what makes slowing down and living within limits possible.

Consider this post blue lights in the rearview mirror. But you are not being pulled over to pay a fine (per the law’s demand) but to slow down, resting in God’s grace and experiencing his peace as you enjoy a new pace (per the gospel’s offer).

You are free now to merge back into traffic.

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