Book Summary: The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer
“Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life.”
1 Thessalonians 4v11.
The Author: John Mark Comer
In addition to The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, he has written numerous other books, including:
“The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry” meets at the intersection of faith and minimalism, arguing that our consumer-driven, rat-race culture leaves us stressed, sad, and separated from God.
Comer implores us to make space for God--literally and figuratively--by slowing down, spending time with God, and creating space on our shelves and in our brains by rejecting the messaging, clutter, and harried pace that comes with the endless accumulation of “more.”
Implementing a practice of simplicity is easier in some instances that others. Truly observing the Sabbath, for example, means turning off the phone and the TV and spending one day a week on being present, grateful, and narrowing our focus down to what truly matters to us.
That’s hard to do.
This book lays out why our culture leaves us distracted, distressed, and discombobulated, and shares the answers from the bible.
Summary of Key Ideas
Part one: The problem
Hurry: the great enemy of spiritual life
Comer meets with John Ortberg, a California-based pastor and writer, who shares a story about Dallas Williard, who was a philosopher and spiritual leader at USC:
But behind the scenes [Ortberg] felt like he was getting sucked into the vortex of megachurch insanity.
I could relate.
So he calls up Willard and asks, “What do I need to do to become the me I want to be?”
There’s a long silence on the other end of the line… According to John, “With Willard there’s always a long silence on the other end of the line.
Then: “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”
Then he asks, “Okay, what else?”
Another long silence… Willard: “There is nothing else. Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”
Evil in the form of distraction
We think of evil as violent and hateful acts, and that’s true.
But evil can be far more cunning and subversive.
Today, you’re far more likely to run into the enemy in the form of an alert on your phone while you’re reading your Bible or a multiday Netflix binge or a full-on dopamine addiction to Instagram or a Saturday morning at the office or another soccer game on a Sunday or commitment after commitment after commitment in a life of speed.
Both sin and busyness have the exact same effect—they cut off your connection to God, to other people, and even to your own soul.
Distraction separates us from ourselves, each other, our destinies, and God.
Hurry and love are incompatible. All my worst moments as a father, a husband, and a pastor, even as a human being, are when I’m in a hurry
All the spiritual masters from inside and outside the Jesus tradition agree on this one (as do secular psychologists, mindfulness experts, etc.): if there’s a secret to happiness, it’s simple—presence to the moment. The more present we are to the now, the more joy we tap into.
To restate: love, joy, and peace are at the heart of all Jesus is trying to grow in the soil of your life. And all three are incompatible with hurry.
As Ortberg has said,
For many of us the great danger is not that we will renounce our faith. It is that we will become so distracted and rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version of it. We will just skim our lives instead of actually living them.
A brief history of speed
Starting with sundial and then the clock, man created the artificiality of time. We abandoned our natural rhythms in the name of mechanical efficiency.
When the sun set our rhythms of work and rest, it did so under the control of God; but the clock is under the control of the employer, a far more demanding master.
Rather than becoming more efficient with time, as we measured it, we filled it with more.
A century ago the less you worked, the more status you had. Now it’s flipped: the more you sit around and relax, the less status you have.
The Internet is destroying our ability to contemplate
A recent study found that the average iPhone user touches his or her phone 2,617 times a day.
just being in the same room as our phones (even if they are turned off) “will reduce someone’s working memory and problem-solving skills.”
right now everything is being intentionally designed for distraction and addiction. Because that’s where the money is.
As Tony Schwartz said in his opinion piece for the New York Times:
Addiction is the relentless pull to a substance or an activity that becomes so compulsive it ultimately interferes with everyday life. By that definition, nearly everyone I know is addicted in some measure to the Internet.
The big question:
What is all this distraction, addiction, and pace of life doing to our souls?
The ten symptoms of “hurry sickness”
1. Irritability—You get mad, frustrated, or just annoyed way too easily.
2. Hypersensitivity—All it takes is a minor comment to hurt your feelings, a grumpy email to set you off, or a little turn of events to throw you into an emotional funk and ruin your day.
3. Restlessness—When you actually do try to slow down and rest, you can’t relax.
4. Workaholism (or just nonstop activity)—You just don’t know when to stop. Or worse, you can’t stop.
5. Emotional numbness—You just don’t have the capacity to feel another’s pain.
6. Out-of-order priorities—You feel disconnected from your identity and calling.
7. Lack of care for your body—You don’t have time for the basics:
8. Escapist behaviors—When we’re too tired to do what’s actually life giving for our souls, we each turn to our distraction of choice: overeating, overdrinking, binge-watching Netflix, browsing social media, surfing the web, looking at porn—name your preferred cultural narcotic.
9. Slippage of spiritual disciplines—If you’re anything like me, when you get overbusy, the things that are truly life giving for your soul are the first to go rather than your first go to—such as a quiet time in the morning, Scripture, prayer, Sabbath, worship on Sunday, a meal with your community, and so on.
10. Isolation—You feel disconnected from God, others, and your own soul.
We must own and direct our attention in a world that wants the opposite.
Hurry kills relationships, joy, gratitude, and wisdom.
We must consciously own and direct our attention in a culture doing everything it can to keep us from just that:
The poet Mary Oliver, not a Christian but a lifelong spiritual seeker, wrote something similar: “Attention is the beginning of devotion.”11 Worship and joy start with the capacity to turn our minds’ attention toward the God who is always with us in the now.
God is still here, but we are not.
God is omnipresent—there is no place God is not. And no time he isn’t present either. Our awareness of God is the problem, and it’s acute.
In the end, your life is no more than the sum of what you gave your attention to.
Part two: The solution
Here’s my point: the solution to an overbusy life is not more time. It’s to slow down and simplify our lives around what really matters.
Our culture screams at us to “fix” our limitations. Our performance reviews highlight where we need to improve. We try to shore up our weaknesses. And will personal improvement is fine, and important, we are designed with limitaitons we need to learn to accept.
One of the key tasks of our apprenticeship to Jesus is living into both our potential and our limitations.
The limitations include, but are not, well, limited, to these:
1.Our bodies. As I said, unlike Luke Skywalker, we can be in only one place at a time.
2.Our minds. We can only “know in part,”6 as Paul once said, and the problem is, we don’t know what we don’t know.
3.Our giftings. On a similar note as above, I will simply never have the giftings of many of the people I most look up to. Comparison just eats away at our joy, doesn’t it?
4.Our personalities and emotional wiring. We have only so much capacity. I’m an introvert. I’m actually deeply relational, but my relational plate is small. I’m also melancholy by nature. I hate to admit it, but some people have a lot more capacity than I do.
5.Our families of origin. None of us start with a blank slate.
6. Our socioeconomic origins. America is built around the myth of a classless society.
7. Our education and careers.
8. Our seasons of life and their responsibilities—like going to college or raising a young child or caring for dying parents. In some seasons we just have very little extra time to give away.
9. Our eighty or so years of life, if we’re that blessed.
10. God’s call on our lives. I hesitate to say this because it would be easy to misinterpret, but there are limits to God’s call on each of us. I think of Peter’s envy of John’s call over his own less-pleasant assignment of an upside-down crucifixion. Jesus had to lovingly reprimand Peter: “What is that to you? You must follow me.” Many of us need to hear those same words and find freedom in them.
This statement is profound, because our culture believes all achivement and self-actualizaiton comes in striving. In reality it comes in knowing our limits, so we can put our best selves and gifts forward:
All I’m saying is limitations aren’t all bad. They are where we find God’s will for our lives.
Comparison is poison:
Few things erode our joy, ramp up our stress, and damage our self-believe like comparison.
We all waste time. All of us. And that can be ok, as long we are making conscious decisions. We need recreation, too.
Long before Thoreau went off into the woods, Paul said: Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.17
The secret of the easy yoke
like every rabbi in his day, Jesus had two things. First, he had a yoke. Not a literal yoke; he was a teacher, not a farmer. A yoke was a common idiom in the first century for a rabbi’s way of reading the Torah.
But it was also more: it was his set of teachings on how to be human.
But imagine two oxen yoked together to pull a cart or plow a field. A yoke is how you shoulder a load.
To be one of Jesus’ talmidim is to apprentice under Jesus. Put simply, it’s to organize your life around three basic goals:
1.Be with Jesus.
2.Become like Jesus.
3.Do what he would do if he were you.
From Matthew 11:
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
We are being invited to stop trying to shoulder everything ourselves--to use brute force and speed to control outcomes we cannot control anyway.
We have help available.
Dallas Willard wrote this about Matthew 11:
In this truth lies the secret of the easy yoke: the secret involves living as [Jesus] lived in the entirety of his life—adopting his overall life-style…. Our mistake is to think that following Jesus consists in loving our enemies, going the “second mile,” turning the other cheek, suffering patiently and hopefully—while living the rest of our lives just as everyone else around us does…. It’s a strategy bound to fail.
We hear about his easy yoke and soul-deep rest and think, Gosh, yes, heck yes. I need that. But then we’re not willing to adopt his lifestyle. But in Jesus’ case it is worth the cost. In fact, you get back far more than you give up. There’s a cross, yes, a death, but it’s followed by an empty tomb, a new portal to life. Because in the way of Jesus, death is always followed by resurrection.
We accept God in our lives, we say we want the lifestyle, but we don’t take the steps.
Jesus’s invitation is to take up his yoke—to travel through life at his side, learning from him how to shoulder the weight of life with ease.
As Comer says:
An easy life isn’t an option; an easy yoke is.
Intermission: Wait, what are the spiritual disciplines again?
The spiritual disciplines are actually all habits of your mind and your body.
A discipline is any activity I can do by direct effort that will eventually enable me to do that which, currently, I cannot do by direct effort.
But Jesus never commands you to wake up in the morning and have a quiet time, read your Bible, live in community, practice Sabbath, give your money to the poor, or any of the core practices from his way. He just does these practices and then says, “Follow me.”
Part three: Four practices for unhurrying your life
Number One: Silence and solitude, or the “Eremos”
Because of technology, we no longer have the ability, the will, or appreciate the value of, being in silence.
We now have access to infinity through our new cyborgesque selves, which is great, but we’ve also lost something crucial. All those little moments of boredom were potential portals to prayer. Little moments throughout our days to wake up to the reality of God all around us. To wake up to our own souls. To draw our minds’ attention (and, with it, devotion) back to God; to come off the hurry drug and come home to awareness.
There are numerous instances of Jesus going off in solitude, whether in the morning to pray, or into the wilderness.
The wilderness isn’t the place of weakness; it’s the place of strength. “Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness” because it was there, and only there, that Jesus was at the height of his spiritual powers. It was only after a month and a half of prayer and fasting in the quiet place that he had the capacity to take on the devil himself and walk away unscathed. That’s why, over and over again, you see Jesus come back to the eremos.
The eremos: the “quiet place” where we reconnect to God.
In Luke’s gospel in particular, you can chart Jesus’ life along two axis points: the busier and more in demand and famous Jesus became, and the more he withdrew to his quiet place to pray.
Silence has two dimensions: external and internal.
External is self-explanatory.
Internal is our internal chatter--and we may use external noise to drown out the internal.
Solitude is not isolation--it is how we open up to God. Isolation is what we crave when we neglent solitude--the conditions necessary to nourish our souls.
When we do not create space—eromos—for silence and solitude:
We feel distant from God
We fill distant from ourselves, our identities, and our callings.
We feel underlying anxiety
We become exhausted
We turn to our escapes of choice
Weaken our resistance to temptation
Experience emotional unhealth
“Mindfulness” is silence for a secular society
We must create space. We must make room for eremos:
Here’s to tomorrow morning, six o’clock. Coffee. The chair by the window, the window by the tree. Time to breathe. A psalm and story from the Gospels. Hearing the Father’s voice. Pouring out my own. Or just sitting, resting. Maybe I’ll hear a word from God that will alter my destiny; maybe I’ll just process my anger over something that’s bothering me. Maybe I’ll feel my mind settle like untouched water; maybe my mind will ricochet from thought to thought, and never come to rest. If so, that’s fine. I’ll be back, same time tomorrow. Starting my day in the quiet place.
Number Two: Sabbath
Earthly desire is never satisfied; it is the human condition to seek and want more.
We must put earthly desires below God--it is the only way for the soul to rest.
Sabbath means “to stop.”
The Sabbath is to a spirit of restfulness what a soccer practice is to a match or band practice is to a show. It’s how we practice, how we prepare our minds and bodies for the moments that matter most.
If you’re new to the Sabbath, a question to give shape to your practice is this: What could I do for twenty-four hours that would fill my soul with a deep, throbbing joy? That would make me spontaneously combust with wonder, awe, gratitude, and praise?
Sabbath commands in the bible:
Sabbath as rest and worship.
Not the same as a day off, with errands and activities.
But resting and worship--anything to index your heart toward grateful recognition of God’s reality and goodness.
Sabbath as resistance.
Sabbath, as the Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann so famously said, is “an act of resistance.”It’s an act of rebellion against Pharaoh and his empire. An insurgency and insurrection against the “isms” of the Western world—globalism, capitalism, materialism, all of which sound nice but quickly make slaves of the rich and the poor.
The Sabbath is like a guerrilla warfare tactic. If you want to break free from the oppressive yoke of Egypt’s taskmaster and its restless, relentless lust for more, just take a day each week and stick it to the man. Don’t buy. Don’t sell. Don’t shop. Don’t surf the web. Don’t read a magazine:
One of the surprising things I learned when I began to practice Sabbath is that to really enjoy the seventh day, you have to slow down the other six days.
Number Three: Simplicity
The worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.
If you’re not on board with Jesus’ view of money, it could be that you, like many Christians in the West (myself included until quite recently and with frequent relapses), don’t actually believe the gospel of the kingdom—the good news that the life you’ve always wanted is fully available to you right where you are through Jesus. Through him you have access to the Father’s loving presence. Nothing—not your income level or stage of life or health or relational status—nothing is standing between you and the “life that is truly life.”
Jesus’ teachings on wealth run counter to American society, where achievement and accumulation are the way to happiness.
But let me say what you all know: the carrot dangling in front of our noses is attached to a stick.
It hasn’t always been this way, even in America. Yes, our nation is a social experiment built around the pursuit of happiness. But it wasn’t until quite recently that we redefined happiness as making lots of money and owning lots of stuff.
In 1927 one journalist observed this about America: A change has come over our democracy. It is called consumptionism. The American citizen’s first importance to his country is now no longer that of citizen but that of consumer.10
Rampant materialism isn’t making us happy.
So what to do? Go back to a hole in the backyard as our toilet? Give up running water? Burn our debit cards? No, that wouldn’t fix the problem. Because the problem isn’t stuff. It’s that (1) we put no limit on stuff due to our insatiable human desire for more. And (2) we think we need all sorts of things to be happy when, in actuality, we need very few.
Dr. Angus Deaton,
No matter where you live, your emotional well-being is as good as it’s going to get at $75,000…and money’s not going to make it any better beyond that point. It’s like you hit some sort of ceiling, and you can’t get emotional well-being much higher just by having more money.
Everything we buy costs you not only money but time.
In reality Jesus’ moral teachings aren’t arbitrary at all. They are laws, yes. But moral laws are no different from scientific laws like E = mc2 or gravity.26 They are statements about how the world actually works. And if you ignore them, not only do you rupture relationship with God, but you also go against the grain of the universe he created.
We cannot serve both God and money.
You simply can’t live the freedom way of Jesus and get sucked into the overconsumption that is normal in our society. The two are mutually exclusive. You have to pick. And if you’re on the fence about it, as I was for years, the next line from Jesus was the clincher for me: Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life.
We worry about what we worship. If you worship money, it will eat you alive.
Comer uses simplicity minimalism interchangeably:
Minimalism—more recently, this is what a number of bloggers and writers have been calling a secularized version of the ancient practice, updated for the wealthy Western world. I like it.
Modern design with clean lines
About organizing your stuff
What if you had only what you needed, and there wasn’t anything to organize? There’s an idea worth chasing down.
Minimalism is, according to Joshua Becker:
The intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts us from them.
“Simplicity is an inward reality that can be seen in an outward lifestyle”38 of “choosing to leverage time, money, talents and possessions toward what matters most.”
As Saint Francis de Sales, bishop of Geneva, once said, “In everything, love simplicity.”
Minimalism is about decluttering our lives, not just our stuff.
How do we define clutter?
Anything that does not add value to my life.
Anything that does not “spark joy.”
Too much stuff in too small a space,…anything that we no longer used or loved, and…anything that led to a feeling of disorganization.
How do we practice greater simplicity?
1. Before you buy something, ask yourself, What is the true cost of this item?
2. Before you buy, ask yourself, By buying this, am I oppressing the poor or harming the earth?
3. Never impulse buy
4. When you do buy, opt for fewer, better things.
5. When you can, share.
6. Get into the habit of giving things away.
7. Live by a budget.
8. Learn to enjoy things without owning them.
9. Cultivate a deep appreciation for creation.
10. Cultivate a deep appreciation for the simple pleasures
11. Recognize advertising for what it is—propaganda. Call out the lie.
12. Lead a cheerful, happy revolt against the spirit of materialism.
Number Four: Slowing
we achieve inner peace when our schedules are aligned with our values. To translate to our apprenticeships to Jesus: if our values are life with Jesus and a growing in maturity toward love, joy, and peace, then our schedules and the set of practices that make up our days and weeks, which together essentially constitute our rules of life, are the ways we achieve inner peace.
The basic idea behind the practice of slowing is this: slow down your body, slow down your life.
Twenty ideas for slowing down your overall pace of life:
1. Drive the speed limit.
2. Get into the slow lane.
3. Come to a full stop at stop signs.
4. Don’t text and drive.
5. Show up ten minutes early for an appointment, sans phone.
6. Get in the longest checkout line at the grocery store. It gives me a few minutes to come off the drug of speed. To pray. To take an inventory of my emotional and spiritual vitals.
7. Turn your smartphone into a dumbphone. Take email off your phone. Take all social media off your phone, transfer it to a desktop, and schedule set times to check it each day or, ideally, each week. Disable your web browser. Delete every single app you don’t need or that doesn’t make your life seriously easier.
8. Finally, set your phone to grayscale mode.
9. Get a flip phone.
10. Parent your phone ; put it to bed before you and make it sleep in.
Keep your phone off until after your morning quiet time. Let prayer set your emotional equilibrium and Scripture set your view of the world. Begin your day in the spirit of God’s presence and the truth of his Scriptures.
11. Set times for email. Remember : the more email you do, the more email you do.
12. Set a time and a time limit for social media (or just get off it ).
13. Kill your TV.
14. Single - task.
15. Walk slower. One of the best ways to slow down your overall pace of life is to literally slow down your body. Force yourself to move through the world at a relaxed pace.
16. Take a regular day alone for silence and solitude. I take a full day once a month to be alone.
17. Take up journaling.
18. Experiment with mindfulness and meditation.
I take a few minutes and just focus on my breathing. Very basic. I watch my breath go in and out. Then I start to imagine myself breathing in the Holy Spirit and breathing out all the agitation of the day.
19. If you can, take long vacations.
20. Cook your own food. And eat in.
Epilogue: A quiet life
I’ve reorganized my life around three very simple goals : Slow down. Simplify my life around the practices of Jesus. Live from a center of abiding.
Abiding is the metaphor I keep coming back to. I want so badly to live from a deep place of love, joy, and peace.
It isn’t simplicity : it’s freedom and focus on what matters most.
The humans live in time but our Enemy destines them to eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity …. He would therefore have them continually concerned either with eternity ( which means being concerned with Him ) or with the Present … or else obeying the present voice of conscience, bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, giving thanks for the present pleasure.
What if the day, what if time itself isn’t a scarce resource to seize but a gift to receive with grateful joy?
“Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life.”
1 Thessalonians 4v11.
That’s the goal, the end, the vision of success : a quiet life. Of all the adjectives on offer, Paul opts for quiet. Not loud. Not important. Not even impactful. Just quiet.
Try to keep your soul always in peace and quiet.