The Grace of Slowness
Pr. William M. Cwirla, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Hacienda Heights, CA
I decided to improve my handwriting, which had deteriorated to the point where even my pharmacist couldn’t read it. Years of banging away at the keyboard had taken its toll on my penmanship. Even my printing had become illegible. I could not decipher notes I had scribbled to myself the day before yesterday. Writing a card was a chore, a hand-written letter unthinkable.
I found a great calligraphy website with a special module for folks who wanted to improve their personal handwriting. No fancy fonts, just practical and personal cursive and print styles suitable for all occasions. I once dabbled in calligraphy while at the seminary. I have class notes written in all kinds of fonts, including Gothic. I wasn’t looking for another diversion this time. I simply wanted to make my handwriting legible and maybe even beautiful, if that were possible. I’ve always envied those whose penmanship is fluid and expressive.
I thought my poor handwriting was the result of my having skipped third grade, when penmanship was taught, or my years of keyboard composition. I’m a very fast typist, having learned touch-typing skills in high school on a Smith-Corona manual. Maybe it was just that I was getting old and losing motor skills one at a time.
I made a discovery. My poor handwriting was due to two simple factors – tension and speed. My hand was uncomfortably tense, and I was trying to write much too fast. I needed to relax my grip and slow my pace. I was rushing through letters to finish the word, often skipping letters entirely. I wasn’t writing, I was scribbling, pushing the pen as fast as I could in what had become my own personal, and quite illegible, shorthand. The very moment I slowed down and relaxed, my old handwriting returned like an old friend dropping in for lunch. Yes, it could use some improvement, but it’s all there. Improvement is just a matter of a little patient practice, appreciating each letter for its own sake, and watching how they all join together to form words.
Speed and tension define our world and workday. We are constantly in a hurry and tense. We rush to make deadlines and quotas, checking off things to do on our “to do” lists. As a result, we make mistakes. We don’t pay attention to the details. We don’t check our work, and so the quality of our work suffers. We are perfunctory and rude to each other, neither listening nor caring. Who has time for that? We are perpetually in a rush to be somewhere else, do something else, think something else. Not only does our penmanship suffer, we suffer, and those around us suffer too.
I have lived most of my life with the notion that one starts the day like a drag race car at the starting line with wheels spinning and tires smoking. But life isn’t a daily drag race; it’s a much longer journey that calls for something other than hurry up and get there. There are moments we miss, beauty not seen, conversations not had, care not given, because we were looking to the next thing on our list of things to do. We don’t write our life’s story in a relaxed, flowing hand, but we scribble it in haste and tension.
I read somewhere that the former president of General Electric had all his executives throw away their day planners and to do lists. Instead, he had them write down two or three things that needed to be done that day. That left enough margin for unforeseen interruptions and conversations. He wanted his managers to slow down, pay attention, and think. He wanted them to have enough time to listen and daydream. I don’t know if it made GE more successful or profitable, but I’m sure it made for a better day at the office.
Are we trying to do too much? Do we expect too much from the day? Consider how little God did in His creation work week. He just said a few words and called it a day. Have we become slaves to our list of things to do, the expectations we lay on ourselves, the expectations others lay on us? Are we missing moments of grace and beauty that fill each day because we are in a hurry to be somewhere else? Are we scribbling the story of our lives instead of taking the time to form each letter and word with the care that it deserves?
Maybe we need to slow down a bit, expect less, pray more, and trust that God’s grace is sufficient to meet our insufficiency. We might find a little time at the end of the day for that card or letter written beautifully with a relaxed hand.
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.” – Matthew 6:34