Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Living Slow

My friend recently returned from a missions trip with Awaken Haiti (www.awakenhaiti.org). He told the story of a Haitian woman who recently enjoyed an improved quality of life in moving from a long-term tent home to a more permanent structure. Rustic and rudimentary, her new shelter offered protection from the elements and offered her the opportunity to make it her home. While doing so, she had decorated her walls with an array of colorful pictures from children who had crafted the drawings in a recent Vacation Bible School event. Her complete contentment was evident in the gifts of moving from long-term tenting and receiving colorful creations from smiling children. Gratitude and joy were thick and seeped from the walls of the shelter. As my friend reflected on the story, he recounted how they set out on the trip to serve Haitians in need. But, who, he wondered aloud, was really being helped and rescued in the experience? Who was poor? Who was rich in life and happiness?

A recent excerpt from the Wall Street Journal (Lahart, Justin) discussed a recent poll (General Social Survey, University of Chicago) that showed the number of Americans who said that they were "very happy" fell to 29% last year. This number has dropped since the recession began and is at the lowest level in the 39-year history of the survey. Lahart says, "... people tend to measure how happy they are not just by the impact of such [economic] forces on their lives but also by comparing their circumstances with their neighbors." If Lahart's theory is true and the happiness index of our society parallels the economy and how well we perceive ourselves to be keeping up with the Jones', perhaps we need rescued.

While I didn't have the opportunity to speak with her, from my friend's retelling of the story I'm sensing that Haitian Woman's happiness factor was fairly high, even in the midst of political instability and environmental turmoil. She had a roof over her head. She had colorful pictures birthed from the hearts of children. She had relationships. Though thousands of miles separate, Haitain Woman's thankful heart illuminates the dark places of my ungratefulness and arrogant self-focus; as I write the conviction grows.

In news from the same day, the Wall Street Journal also reported that News Corp. sold Myspace to a small ad-targeting firm for $35 million. News Corp. purchased Myspace for $580 million six years ago. I'm guessing that News Corp.'s happiness factor is low. Perhaps Myspace is registering a "not too happy" on the scale as well because they certainly haven't kept up with their neighbors at Facebook. Pity.

In this column, we discuss wellness. Often, this includes prescriptions for more activity, exercise, and increased attention to improving our positions of health. When the discussion ends there, we have a tendency to file and pile these well-intentioned tasks on top of our to-do-lists, already bursting at capacity. However, we're remiss if the conversation about wellness doesn't extend to our mental health as well. And the dichotomy between physical and mental wellness is in the pace. While improving our physical health involves increasing our pace of activity, the fog of our mental health is best cleared by living slow.

Author Ann Voskamp (One Thousand Gifts), illustrates this idea well. In a recent blog post she writes about her reflections during a train ride with her family. "Living slow never killed time like hurrying does; hurrying is what races fast, catches up and kills time. Who thinks that doesn’t wound eternity? I’m the one who speeds up the train. Do I have the courage to just slow down? Life’s blurring lull too often sways me into drowsy apathy. But as the train lurches, I am jolted awake, aware: Go slow to see."

Haitian Woman's joy isn't drowned by the state of her circumstances, it's bubbling up within them. Living slow, she finds happiness in the abundance of gifts that surround her daily. Shelter. The Creator's creation: bright sun, blue sky, rains of grace. Children's imaginations drawn carefully careless, smudged with laughter. Do we really desire more out of life than the happiness found by Haitian Woman? Could we really race past her state of affairs to seek the sweet sap of life from our sour position to our neighbors economic condition? Rescue is in order and is found in the simple, wonderfully complex life.

In writing this piece, I'm reminded of the countess blessings that I'm immersed in every day. So many gifts. And the weight of my mental health tangibly lightens, brightens.

As you consider wellness, be encouraged to increase your physical activity and make healthier choices daily. But, do it in tandem with living slow. Be awake, aware, and see.

6 comments:

Bellawhoop said...

A great reminder to slow down, count our blessings, and find joy and contentment in doing so!

Jennifer @ GettingDownWithJesus.com said...

Thank you for the healthy reminder. I found you by way of The High Calling's featured posts tonight!

Carlisle Family YMCA said...

@Bellawhoop and @Jennifer - thanks, I remind myself of this daily... to slow, to pace, to recognize, to value...

Ann Kroeker said...

Thank you for these thoughts woven together about finding happiness in slowing down and realizing what--and who--matters most.

Glad to see your post highlighted through The High Calling. May your words help us put on the brakes and live not so fast in this high-speed world.

Carlisle Family YMCA said...

@ann, thanks for your comment

DenaDyer said...

I love this! Thanks for sharing with us about the Haitian woman. I do think that we have much to learn in the US about what true joy is. Congrats on being featured at THC! Well deserved.