The Value of Slowness
“Not all who wander are lost.”
- J.R.R. Tolkien
Next month we are releasing a film called Summer in the Forest. It’s a documentary about a prayerful, kindly Canadian man called Jean Vanier and the organisation he founded for people with intellectual disabilities (called L’Arche, meaning the ark,’ and pronounced ‘Larsh').
Something happened to me when I watched it: I relaxed.
More than that: I let go. And somehow I became myself.
That's pretty existential, and it's a big call. Generally, I don’t go for documentaries. I know some people love them—not me. I need my arm twisted to watch one, though I always enjoy them when I do. As a rule I prefer action movies—car chases and helicopter crashes. Desperate time limits and sweaty people running.
But I was only about sixty seconds into this film when I found myself deeply settled in—soaking. The sensation was enchanting.
Why? I wondered. Why does this feel so good?
Eventually I realised that Summer in the Forest had connected me with something I seem to be learning about over and over in my life recently—one of those deep lessons God keeps gently teaching you when you don’t get it the first time.
Slow down. Enjoy the journey.
Because, like Jean and the residents of L'Arche, Summer in the Forest values the journey above the destination.
“Life is a journey, not a destination.”
Apparently this was coined by Lynn Hough in 1920. But it isn’t a new concept. I’m definitely sure God should get the credit for inventing it. Enjoying every moment—even the most ordinary of moments—taking pleasure in the simplest of things—is the joyful gift of God to his people because it reflects his own enjoyment of us and the life he has given us.
I have a friend who said to me once, “He’s a slow God.” She said it with a deep sense of satisfaction, and she wasn’t saying that he is slow to answer or slow to provide, but that he values slowness—as in, he moves at exactly the right speed, and though that speed might seem slow to us, any faster than that is rushed. And God does not do rushed. He likes it when we go slow. He likes the journey.
Rushing, even in the smallest ways, takes a physical toll on us which we were never meant to bear. If we don't feel the effects of that toll yet, then there is every chance we will as we get older. And as everyone knows, with our society accelerating the way it is, the pressure to rush gets greater with every passing year. We rush through our meals, we rush through traffic, we rush through our relationships.
But it begs the question: where are we going, exactly? Where are we rushing to? An early heart attack? An embittered marriage? A car accident?
There are lots of articles online about how to slow down, written by some admirably zen people and some minimalists and some psychologists. They suggest everything from climbing a mountain to limiting your email-checks to moving to Spain. All of them encourage you to “do less.”
But the problem with doing less is the question about who is picking up the slack. If I do less will I be able to impress my boss? If I do less will I be able to keep the weight off? If I do less will my kids grow up okay?
And I don’t know about you, but squeezing a mountain climb or a sunset into my schedule so that I can be “slower” or tick my "Enjoy the Journey" box doesn’t really work for me. It just looks like one more thing to do.
Summer in the Forest is a meandering, sweet, late-afternoon-stroll of a film. The very act of watching it made me feel like the flurry of my life had gentled to the most delightful and enjoyable pace available to me. But deeper than that, this film spoke to me about how living in that place—that slow, sweet place—is possible. And it doesn’t have to do with a rearranged schedule—it has to do with our heart.
Ultimately, it has to do with our value—and specifically, our value to an all-knowing, all-powerful God who adores us.
You see, the stars of this film—the intellectually disabled residents of L’Arche in Trosly-Breuil, France, and around the world—don’t 'achieve' much at all, in the worldly, traditional sense. In fact, some of them, if witnessed through the unkind, blinded eyes of the world, are classed as ‘a burden on society.’ "What are they doing? How are they contributing? Why are they moving so slowly? Some of them don’t move at all!"
But in every moment of this film, as it slows to join with them in their daily lives, the magnitude of their beauty as people—their ability to love, their joy, their precious worth as sons and daughters and friends—is richly evident.
And that is the point. Our value. It is something special to dwell in that atmosphere of being truly, wonderfully valued for an hour. It puts everything into perspective. Why do I rush? Is it out of fear? Fear that I won’t be enough, do enough, to merit love or respect from the people I want it from? From God?
If I stop doing things, and people lose their opinion of me, what will my value be then?
The fact is, the ability to go slow is the privilege of the children of God because we have an inalienable value in the eyes of a father we can fully trust. Nothing we do—or don't do—can change that. So we are able do less—to “let tomorrow worry about itself”—because we can put all of those things into the hands of Jesus. In fact, he wants us to. He likes it when we do. We can relax, and be slow, and enjoy this day he has given us, because he is much better at handling our things than we are. He cares about us. And he cares about our stuff.
We don’t have to memorise a long ‘How To Go Slow’ list and then follow it religiously. This is an inner transformation, a ripening of relationship.
His yoke is easy and his burden is light—he wasn’t joking about that. If you are feeling like you are carrying something heavy, and needing to achieve a bunch more things in the day to manage that burden, then clearly, there is an area of your heart where Jesus wants you to let go and find out that he is good, and that you can trust him. You can bundle your stuff into his arms (read: leave the laundry until tomorrow) and go watch that sunset.
Oh, and watch Summer in the Forest. Slow down a moment and dwell in the place where you see your own value shining in God's eyes. You won't regret it.
Summer in the Forest hits cinemas April 29
To make sure a screening happens in your area go to www.summerintheforest.com.au