The Danger of Living a Mile Wide and an Inch Deep
Maybe I just forgot what May felt like outside of quarantine. That made slamming into it all the harder in 2021. I’ve long held the personal belief that two months in the calendar pose a special kind of susceptibility for living frazzled and rushed for days on end: May and December. Just this month, I watched myself go from hosting a Sweet 16 birthday party to a college dorm move-out to our 25th wedding anniversary to a death in the family to a car insurance claim to checking my blood pressure every other day at the HIGI station in Publix. Duh, it was high –– but dealing with it was not on the docket for May. Neither was time alone with God. Or going out to lunch with friends. Or reading a book. It was just one day blurring into another into another into another.
Living Wide and Shallow
I share these personal details not because they are special or unique, but because they supply snapshots of a hectic lifestyle that has become embedded in the very fabric of our society. Absurdly, living wide and shallow in America is not only accepted as normal, but it’s actually celebrated in our society. We wear busyness as a badge of honor, reward the workaholic, and regard the mastery of multitasking as a necessary skill set on our resumés.
But at what cost? Have we taken stock of where we are spiritually, physically and emotionally after allowing the norms of our crazy-busy culture to not only run our lives but run us into the ground? Or have we become comfortable compromising the serenity of our souls as we chase down lives that create content for Instagram but bankrupt our peace? Do we truly understand the ramifications of living a mile wide and an inch deep?
A Depleted Soul
For me, symptoms were easy to pinpoint. Physically, I could feel my heart racing at different times throughout the day, especially late afternoon when the cares of this life seem to pile up. Emotionally, it was hard to cultivate spiritual fruit like patience, kindness and joy in a soil of the soul deprived and depleted of rest. But most concerning was what this shallow, hurried, and eternally-pointless speed of life did to me spiritually: it made me feel numb. Dull. Hollow. Disconnected. Unable to focus on God or the things of God. And that terrified me.
In his book, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, author John Mark Comer states that, “Not only does hurry keep us from the love, joy, and peace of the kingdom of God — the very core of what all human beings crave — but it also keeps us from God himself simply by stealing our attention. And with hurry, we always lose more than we gain.”
What I Gained in Quarantine … and Then Lost Again
When the whole world shut down in March 2020, the circumference of my life — our lives — shrunk exponentially. Far-flung plans became cross-outs on the calendar and life’s daily chaos uncommonly calmed down. As I found myself day after day sitting on my back porch staring at the lake, something profound began taking place deep inside me. I rediscovered the power of going small but deep. When my world went smaller, I was able to redirect surplus energy and go deeper. Though the world was reeling, I was not reeling. For the first time in a long time, I felt inner peace, clarity and calm. I could handle what was on my plate for that day, and in the forced quiet of the shutdown, my ability to hear God came alive again.
Perhaps that’s why slamming into May of this year was so personally shocking to me. The something precious I gained in a global lockdown was lost again when the world opened up. The “opening up” opened me back up to distraction, busyness, and hurry –– old patterns that were too easy to fall back into.
I longed for what I gained in 2020, which in one word was “presence.” God’s and mine. The takeaway is simple: I must be present to be changed in and by God’s presence. I cannot fling my affection and attention far and wide — incessantly and without reprieve — and expect to be filled with the knowledge of God or connected to Him like I am connected to my breath.
In Psalm 86:11, when David asked the Lord to “unite my heart to fear your name,” he was, in fact, imploring the Lord to help him “concentrate its affections.” It’s here at the intersection of presence, attention and affection that an all-out war is being waged for our very souls. It’s a war for an undivided heart –– and its victory is won in the “all” of loving God and choosing His presence.
The Secret of Sanctuary
David knew the secret of going to God’s sanctuary — a place set apart and sacred where the greatness and glory of God come into greater focus. A place so holy and enclosed that not everything or everyone is there. But God is. In Psalm 96:6, David declared, “Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.” It’s the splendor of who God is in His sanctuary that commands our attention, shifting our affection from lesser things (and everything in the presence of God is a lesser thing) onto the might, power, security, glory, and ability of the Lord God Almighty himself.
Here the scales fall from our eyes and, just like Isaiah when he saw a vision of the Lord high and lifted up in the temple, we become acutely aware of our lost state without him (Isaiah 6:1-6). We are changed from self-orientation to God-orientation. It becomes not about our ability, but his. Both relational and intimate, meeting with God in His sanctuary is a place of deep soul rest that is anchored in the knowledge of who God is and how much He desires to prove himself strong on our behalf.
This is why the enemy of our souls uses distraction and busyness to divide our hearts and captivate our attention. He knows if we can keep us from living out of the secret of sanctuary, it will numb our need for God and cause us to think that something outside of His presence will satisfy the longing of our souls. But like so many other truths in God’s kingdom, perhaps the truth is the opposite of what the world feeds us. What we are looking for is not found in living a mile wide and an inch deep, but perhaps an inch wide and a mile deep.
Annemarie McLean is a four-girl mom, freelance writer, and co-founder of Brave & Beautiful, a ministry focused on challenging young women to live purpose-driven lives full of courage and character, while developing Christ-centered inner beauty. Annemarie holds a journalism degree from Oral Roberts University, with graduate work in organizational leadership at Palm Beach Atlantic University.