Three sisters, eight days, 6300 kilometres. It was the trip of a lifetime, a spontaneous decision to pack our bags and trade Sydney’s bleak winter for lush greenery, ripe humidity, and some of South-East Asia’s most exceptional attractions. The destination was Singapore and my sisters and I were ready to holiday hard.
We rode bikes along the city foreshore, ate dinner atop Marina Bay Sands, sat mesmerised by the light show at Gardens by the Bay, and shopped ’til our bank accounts said “Absolutely not”. We drank freshly squeezed orange juice from vending machines, ate some of Singapore’s best vegetarian food and scraped the flesh from fresh coconuts almost daily.
It all sounds idyllic—and, in many ways, it was—yet something wasn’t right. Through it all, I felt a sense of impatience and discontentment, like I was itching inside my own skin.
A profound lesson
I’ve always been a highly-strung person. As an eldest child and stereotypical “high achiever”, something I’ve really had to work on in my adult life is my tendency to rush. My progress in this area is strong evidence of God’s work in my life and I frequently mention the “slow living” movement and spiritual implications of hustle culture in my writing and social media presence.
But I have a confession to make. I’m a fraud.
One of the reasons I love travelling is the profound lessons you learn about yourself.x And this one hit me hard.
As I stood on a street corner in the middle of Chinatown, surrounded by the scent of durian and freshly baked pandan cake, I realised that for all my philosophical growth in the area of slow living, I was still the same, flawed human: because there, lagging 20 metres behind me, were my sisters. For what seemed like the 50th time that day, I’d walked ahead, impatient to get to our next destination and had to wait for them to catch up.
Feeling frustrated, I checked my watch: a quarter-past-two. If we didn’t visit the hawker markets now, we wouldn’t have time to . . . to . . .
Despite having nowhere to be and no expectations on us whatsoever, I was in a hurry. And in that moment, I became acutely aware of my overwhelming sense of urgency to do absolutely nothing at all.
A learned behaviour
It’s no secret that today, our world is more connected and fast-paced than ever before. Multitasking, side hustles, habit-stacking and productivity culture are all praised, while the word “slow” is vilified and synonymous with being boring, useless, lazy or even intellectually challenged.
Most of us aren’t aware of the profound impact that this narrative is having on our perceptions, values, expectations and thought processes.
I think of my dad, who often hurried us out the door to church on Saturday (ironically our “day of rest”), reminding us that we were “running late” to leave for holidays, and who—to this day—likes to walk ahead of the pack. Clearly, the apple doesn’t fall far.
But regardless of where the behaviour is learned—through family, friends, teachers, productivity books, movies, social media—we’ve all been lied to. From instant noodles to instant messaging, we’ve been led to believe that hurrying will make us successful and improve our quality of life. But in truth, being in a hurry doesn’t get you anywhere faster.1 Take it from me:
Hurrying to finish my degree didn’t help me “get ahead” in my career; it robbed me of friendships and a rich university experience.
Hurrying to get married didn’t get me down the aisle faster; it made me stay in the wrong relationships for too long.
Hurrying to build my business didn’t make me more successful; it made me neglect my health.
And now, being in a hurry to see everything in Singapore made me neglect the real reason I was there: quality time with my sisters.
so . . . what’s the fix?
You might say: “Well, can’t you just walk slower?” Though that’s a water-tight argument in theory, the issue flows much deeper. At its core, this is a conversation about compassion and shame.
What bothers me most about my Singapore trip is how ironic it was. Going there, I was acutely aware that this holiday was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for my sisters and I: all able to take time off work, all still without kids, all healthy. I needed to make the most of every moment. And yet, this mentality made me trade the things I could replace—sightseeing, good food, material items—for something I couldn’t. As it turns out, activity is a terrible trade-off for intimacy.
Realising this started me in a shame spiral of unhelpful thoughts: “Being so uptight makes you a horrible person”, “You’ll never overcome this, it’s who you are”, and worst of all, “God hasn’t really changed you, you’re a fraud of a Christian”.
In life, one of the most difficult things we can navigate is this tension between self-improvement and self-compassion. On one hand, we need to be compassionate when we fail to meet a goal or standard (after all, hating ourselves never leads to lasting change), but we also don’t want to be so compassionate that we lose motivation to change in the first place.
Luckily, Jesus offers a solution.
A biblical answer
My experience reminds me of a famous story about hurrying in the Bible: the tale of Mary and Martha (Luke 10). Mary sits at the feet of Jesus, while Martha runs around anxiously, showing hospitality to her guests.
Standing on that Singapore street corner, I felt like Martha.
Just like I was living a once-in-a-lifetime experience, Martha had Jesus in her house! Both Martha and I felt the need to take charge. Both Martha and I wanted to maximise the experience for everyone. And yet, both Martha and I totally missed the point.
I’ve always resonated with Martha’s busyness and read Jesus’ response to her as a rebuke: “Mary’s right, Martha’s wrong, end of story.” But looking closer at the text, Jesus’ response is actually one of compassion.
In Semitic languages, the repeating of someone’s name—in this case, “Martha, Martha” (verse 41)—is seen as compassionate. Jesus wasn’t scolding Martha. In fact, the Greek word used to describe her hospitality is diakoneo, which is used positively in every place it shows up in the Bible.
Jesus wasn’t saying that Martha’s work wasn’t helpful or important, or that being responsible, organised, efficient or taking charge is inherently bad. Rather, He was highlighting our human tendency to prioritise what’s important over what’s most important: Him.
Jesus was reminding Martha that her worth was not dependent on her work; her value was not determined by her hospitality, efficiency or output. Rather, it was inherent. As a child of God, infinitely loved and created in His image, she had nothing to prove. Just like Mary, she was allowed—and safe—to sit at Jesus’ feet and just be.
In our modern world where work equals worth, and where busy schedules build busy souls, this reality that Jesus offers can feel unfamiliar and even uncomfortable. Under the guise of “urgency”, we might prioritise work over family, service over spirituality, cleaning over connection—and in my case, seeing Singapore over quality sister time—just to satisfy the discomfort of our busy souls.
In the words of one of my favourite authors, John Mark Comer, “We must learn the unforced rhythms of grace”.2 In our modern world, rest is an act of resistance against existing powers and social structures. It’s not something that comes easily, or naturally. And that’s okay.
If Jesus can show compassion to Martha—a hurried and anxious woman trying to prove her worth and do the right thing—then we should also show compassion to ourselves, and others. While I sometimes find this challenging, I also take courage in this promise: “That he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).
After all, being in a hurry to stop hurrying doesn’t make much sense. So I’m trusting God’s timeline instead.
Maryellen Hacko is an artist and illustrator living in Sydney, Australia.
1. With the exception of running to catch a plane or bus. Perhaps this should read: “anywhere meaningful”.
2. Comer, John Mark, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry: How to Stay Emotionally Healthy and Spiritually Alive in the Chaos of the Modern World, Waterbrook Press, 2019.