“I am discovering that our traditional measures of success are arbitrary, man-made ideas and have nothing to do with spiritual transformation.”
One of my favorite Aesop’s Fables is The Tortoise and the Hare. With five kids, I have read my share of books over the years; the stories are timeless and profound. Several years ago I was in a group where the facilitator asked us to look through magazines and pull out pictures that represented where we were spiritually, emotionally or practically.
For some reason, a picture of a tortoise and hare drew me in.
I am a natural hare. I can work my tail off like there is no tomorrow. I am a sprinter and like to get to the good stuff as quickly as possible. Build, build, build. Faster, faster, faster. I set unrealistic goals that I can never meet. I have extremely high standards and am way too hard on myself. Over and over again, I restart my diet, my workout plan and my commitments to be more organized. The joke in my family is that when I die, my headstone will say: “Kathy Escobar – I’ll start my diet Monday.” I have been taught and trained that faster, quicker, bigger and smarter is always better.
Learning from the tortoise is difficult for hares like me. The tortoise is dedicated to one step at a time, slow and steady, with one foot in front of the other. A little movement is better than nothing. Chip away at it instead of trying to knock it all down at once. Do what you can to stay on the path. Celebrate any movement. Stay the course. Stop and smell the roses. You’ll get there eventually.
Small, stable and simple is beautiful.
When I see that list of tortoise-like thoughts, I have a natural urge to say, “Yeah, right, but that’s not how things work.” That’s not what wins games, awards or the worldly things that make us feel good about ourselves. That’s certainly not how most ministry leaders or church planters have been trained. That’s not what most of the bestselling books tell us about life, relationships or reaching our goals.
Yet I keep learning Jesus seems much more like a tortoise than a hare. When the wind is howling, Jesus is asleep. When the crowd is clamoring for his presence, he’s nowhere to be found. When the Empire is ready to strike, Jesus is silent.
The hare-tortoise dichotomy shows up in many areas of our lives. Subtly, it becomes about “getting there, arriving and figuring it out,” instead of enjoying the journey, noticing the beauty, embracing the ugly and hard when it comes up and celebrating the process.
In downward living, tortoises win.
Hares won’t last.
The hare will burn out, become discouraged and frustrated, and get angry with God and themselves for not “succeeding” in the way they thought they might. Tortoises will stay the course, weather the storms and keep plodding along at a steady, slow pace. They will succeed by finding God in the midst of the journey, not just at the end.
In the past, I would never have said, “Slow is good,” but I’m beginning to lean into it. I am learning that nurturing and developing authentic, lasting community takes years upon years; there aren’t any shortcuts. I am discovering that our traditional measures of success are arbitrary, man-made ideas and have nothing to do with spiritual transformation.
I am finding that when I slip and trip, I can get back up and put one foot in front of the other. I can keep walking instead of expecting myself to sprint to make up for my misstep. I am learning to live in the paradoxes of my own life and the lives of others. I am developing resiliency and the ability to bounce back from conflicts, instead of letting them pull me under.
I am slowly giving up the desperate quest for a quick God-high and am noticing the beauty and power of a day-in and day-out rhythm of a simple, no-gimmicks, spiritual walk on the downward path.
It is beautiful, hazardous work to faithfully walking this new direction without really knowing where the road leads.
To rise slowly, instead of expect ourselves to spring to our feet and take off running.
To embrace that one foot in front of the other is all God asks of us.
Image credit: Sébastien Wiertz