Being in One Place at a Time

From the printing press to the smart phone, every technological innovation is built to give us time. We used to have to wash clothes by hand, but now washing machines give us back those hours. We used to have to go to a library and look up information in a book, but now the internet gives us back those hours. At work, Excel spreadsheets accomplish in seconds what used to take days. Cars deliver us to our destination in a fraction of the time it would take a horse. Planes reduce weeklong trips to a single day or less.

Technology has given me what probably amounts to an extra year or two of what is, by definition, free time. Compared to most humans who have ever lived, I am swimming in extra time. So why doesn’t it feel that way?

We tend to take technology that exists to give time and use it to fill time. I can do way more loads of laundry in a day now. So I do. There are more articles to read, so I read them. I can access my email in the grocery store, so I do. I can text and tweet and post and task manage. So I do. (Except the tweeting part.)

It’s as though we are ingrained with a desire to do as much as possible, so technology that’s meant to save time is pulled into the orbit of our need to maximize production in our lives. It’s not just that we can do more. It’s that we long to do more. And that hunger for more production, more activity, more efficiency, is hard to satisfy.

Reading the gospels is jarring because Jesus seems to have none of that hunger. We want to go fast, but Jesus went slow. And he didn’t seem embarrassed by it, or worried about the inefficiency of it all. Jesus seemed present in every moment, and not in a pop-psychological “wellness” sort of way. He wasn’t stopping to smell the roses because everyone needs to slow down sometimes. It wasn’t a technique he leveraged to live his best life. He just liked roses. And people. And boat rides. And teaching. And prayer.

In taking on human form, Jesus found himself in one place at a time. He could only be with some people and not others. He could only teach to one crowd, in one city, at a time. He could only have twelve close disciples, and only three of them especially close. He could only visit some houses, only attend some weddings, only calm some storms.

There are times when Jesus moved quickly, but the gospels never present him as hurried, needing to make sure he’s on time to something, pressing towards a deadline or hustling to get his ducks in a row.

This is a piece of what it means to be human. Being finite limits us: we can be in one place at a time. Many of us fight that, as though being fully human means transcending those limits, or at least squeezing out as much from that one place as we can. So we check our email everywhere, listen to a podcast while we drive, read articles while waiting in line, take any spare moment to put our minds to work on some item on our to-do list.

There’s nothing wrong with checking email throughout the day or mentally working through a problem we’re facing. It’s not automatically godlier to eschew podcasts and listen to Christian music or drive in contemplative silence. The question boils down to why: why are we so prone to stay active, to stay efficient, to stay productive?

Why are we so excited to be doing something other than what we are doing right now?

Original sin was tied directly to the desire to be “like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5). The temptation was towards omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence. By eating of the fruit of the tree, we could transcend our limits. At least that’s what the Serpent said. It only makes sense then, that when Jesus redeemed us from the curse, he wanted to restore our humanity, not make us something bigger than human. In other words, Jesus did not die for us so we could become the thing Satan promised.

Sanctification doesn’t look like a Christian version of maximal efficiency. It looks like Jesus. If he is the author and perfecter of our faith, then growing in Christlikeness is not the process of getting more and more productive. Of course there will be times when our laziness or apathy will be confronted. But the goal is a contentment that comes from faith, and pushes us to embrace—not fight—our finitude.

Sanctification often looks like being excited to be doing whatever we are doing right now. This is what Jesus did, and what he taught his disciples to do.

God has placed you somewhere, for today at least. An office, a home, a relationship, a city. The Serpent tells us that those locations are limitations to be fought against. Transcend them, he says: maximize and produce! Jesus tells us those locations are limitations to be enjoyed. Embrace them. Take a deep breath today, and be in one place. God cannot be with you somewhere else. He can only be with you where you are.