In the suburbs we accrue fast-food fixes to our deep soul hungers. When we’re hungry, we often keep doing laps around the drive-through in a fit of rush and hurry. But we are often left with meals that do not satisfy, with plastic toys that break, and the smell of French fries that won’t leave our minivans. So it is with our souls. We settle for the quick route to satiation, the fast-food gods of the suburbs such as busyness, and then find ourselves with a stomachache in the bathroom.
Rather than practicing the rest we crave, rather than living out of a storehouse of belovedness, rather than confessing our sin, we substitute leisure for rest. Surely the vacation (or the weight loss, or my children’s success, or my promotion, or my granite countertops, or even all my volunteer activities and an obsession with coconut oil) will satisfy. We measure “the good life” in miles driven, productivity hacks, and checking off our to-do lists. We slow down long enough so we can check out and then again serve the machine. So when leisure doesn’t satisfy, we keep on the go. By staying busy, we imagine our movement will save us.
Moving from busyness to unfettered leisure never brings restorative rest. The liturgy of busyness does not save us; it does not stave off anxiety, sadness, or insure financial success. It springs up from a well of worry, a deep-seated feeling that we must ceaselessly work to take care of ourselves and our children. What begins as a protective impulse morphs into the tail wagging the dog: we are run by our schedules, by our too-full calendar, and by extending a story of self rather than joining in what and how God is already at work. When there is no space in our schedules to meet with God’s people or open our homes to others, we cannot expect our deep hungers to be filled.
When the Israelites wandered the desert, God met their hungers with manna. When Moses complains to God about the burden of the people and their desire for meat (“Did I give them birth? . . . Where am I to get meat to give to all this people?” [Numbers 11:12‑13]), God provides quail. Our human knee-jerk reaction is to circle the wagons around our plans, to see our days and our time as so scarce that it must be dissected, divvied up, and our plans executed so we can continue on the path to progress. We think we’re responsible for providing for ourselves, and we can’t begin to imagine manna or quail, or how bread and fish could feed five thousand people. We can’t conceive of how our time could be multiplied, that there could be rest after the weary work week. We don’t yet have a hunger to see how our time could be used to feed others and not simply parceled out in small mouthfuls so we all have just barely enough.
Like the disciples, we must go to desolate places. But in upwardly mobile, often largely white suburban contexts, we’re scared of desert spaces. They don’t fit the pattern of the good life. We shy away from discomfort and act like God is our faith multivitamin, but our lives are largely unshaped by the gospel. For anything to shape us, we must commit to the hard desert spaces of unknowing. Marlena Graves writes of these desolate spaces, “All these giants of the faith spent time in the physical desert but were also intimately acquainted with the interior desert. Eventually, God sends all who truly seek to know him into a spiritual wilderness.” But instead of trusting in a God who is with us even in the wilderness, in the suburbs we use our busyness to stiff-arm God. We’re scared he’ll bring us to the desert. If faith in Christ is to be life changing, we can’t bend God to our suburban whims—we can’t fit him into a life of hurry.
If these wilderness spaces don’t find us through tragedy, failure, and loss, we need to seek them out. We need to forcibly remove ourselves from the rat race and allow our souls to flex and breathe. When we go to desolate places (whether that’s slowing down enough to be in nature or those desolate places inside of ourselves we find when we stop moving), we’re likely to become a bit annoyed like the disciples or angry at God like Moses. Everything we’ve pushed down in order to be productive will probably bubble up in anger, grief, disappointment, envy, sadness, or confusion. The good news is that the God of the universe can take our “It’s not fair” feet-stomping tantrums and sadness. We worship a God who can deal with our disappointment, confusion, doubts, and questions; a God who will be present when we put down our phones or stop driving.
Jesus always, always meets us with himself. There is abundant food for the weary, worn out, and sarcastic among us. Jesus gives the disciples (and us) space to complain when we’re met with needs and hungers we can’t fulfill on our own. Our deep hungers—for food, rest, or meaningful work—won’t be filled by taking time into our hands like fishes and loaves, pulling off tiny pieces, and hoping a small morsel will satisfy. No, the only way is to come empty-handed; to question God, to wrestle with him. When the need is too great, then we have no choice but to be gently led by our compassionate Shepherd. Curled there where his rod and staff comfort us, we find real rest. He sees we do not seem to have enough time, compassion, or resources to provide for ourselves, let alone others. He sees and he provides. God is never in a hurry.
When we rush around, running our lives like a cruise director, we fail to see that our resources, like loaves and fish, are not our own. They were never our own to manage as we saw fit. Our time is not ours to micromanage. Our time is a precious gift that will be multiplied only when it is corralled by the good story of the gospel.
Like loaves and fish, there will be enough. More than enough.
*Adapted from Finding Holy in the Suburbs by Ashley Hales. Copyright (c) 2018 by Ashley Hales. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
About the Author:
Ashley Hales holds a PhD in English from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. She’s a writer, speaker, the wife to a church planter in the southern California suburbs and mother to 4. Her writing has been featured in such places as The Gospel Coalition, Books & Culture, and Christianity Today. Her first book is Finding Holy in the Suburbs: Living Faithfully in the Land of Too Much (IVP). Connect with Ashley at aahales.com or on social media at @aahales.