Hurry Sickness – Diagnosis and Cure

Oct 17, 2019

Let me introduce you to Paul. Paul has Hurry Sickness:

A disproportionate amount of his emotional energies are consumed struggling against the normal constraints of time. “How can I move faster and do more and more things in less and less time?” is the question that never ceases to torment him. Paul hurries his thinking, his speech and his movements. He also strives to hurry the thinking, speech and movements of those about him; they must communicate rapidly and relevantly if they wish to avoid creating impatience in him. Planes must arrive and depart precisely on time for Paul, cars ahead of him on the motorway must maintain a speed that he approves of, there must never be a queue of persons standing between him and a bank clerk, a restaurant table, or a rail ticket office. He is infuriated whenever people talk slowly, when planes are late, cars dawdle, and queues form.

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We smile, but unfortunately I identify with Paul rather more than I generally care to admit, and so do some of you. We may not have the disease as badly as Paul, but we can feel tyrannized by the urgent: we collapse exhausted in front of the TV with a list of chores still on our ‘to-do’ list, and we anxiously spend time reading books on time-saving techniques and multitasking opportunities. Best seller lists are filled with such ‘optimistic’ titles as How to Have a 48 Hour Day, or More Time for Sex; publishers provide parents with ‘one-minute bedtime stories’; while lifts have nonoperative ‘close door’ buttons to give impatient executives the illusion that they are in control.

In The Australian in February 2001, Rosemary Neill reported that, in Tokyo, there is an ‘all you can eat’ restaurant that charges by the minute. It has proved so popular that office workers actually spend their brief lunch-breaks lining up to ‘eat as much as possible as quickly as possible’.

Hurry Sickness is highly contagious and it has the curious side-effect of the sick thinking that they are well, whilst those without the disease are given the impression, from those infected, that there is something very wrong with them.

Although Hurry Sickness is a disease that affects our minds and our bodies, it is primarily a disease of the spirit. In order to understand this disease more fully, we need to investigate the sources of infection.

Source 1: The scarcity mentality

Many of us share a deep-seated belief that we don’t have enough time. All humanity has not succumbed equally, of course. Sociologists in several countries have found that increasing wealth and increasing education bring a sense of tension about time. We believe that we possess too little of it: that is the myth we now live by. Delegates on time management courses give a standard reply to the question “How many more hours a day would you need to make your life work?” – their answer: 2-3 hours. How many more do you need?

Time is now a negative status symbol – the more time you have on your hands, the less important you must be. In “It Boosts the Credibility” (Forbes ASAP, November 30, 1998), Michael Lewis points out that this inverted status has odd social consequences:

It boosts the credibility of things that happen quickly. It also infuses with wonderful new prestige any new time saving device. After all, who most needs such a device? People who have no time! And who has the least time? The best people!

Source 2: Entrainment

‘Entrainment’ is the concept that we pick up our rhythms and pace from those around us. David Kundtz describes it like this:

We are all riding on a very fast train that is travelling down a predetermined track, gathering speed as it goes, and we have been on it for a long time. Many of us want to slow down; some want to get off the train. Others are so used to the speed that they don’t notice it. The few who love the speed are the only ones who get their way. Most of us stare blankly out of the window, barely seeing the world flying by and feeling helpless.  (Stopping (Newleaf, 1998)).

We all talk a great deal about being individuals, but just how much have we been conformed to the pattern of this world?

Source 3: Orphan spirit

Christopher Banks, hero of Kazuo Ishiguro’s When We Were Orphans (Faber and Faber. 2000) summarizes his life like this:

But for those like us, our fate is to face the world as orphans, chasing through long years the shadows of vanished parents. There is nothing for it but to try and see through our missions to the end, as best we can, for until we do so, we will be permitted no calm.

This ‘orphan spirit’ is a spirit of drivenness – the attempt to justify our existence and prove our acceptability through achievement and activity. It leads to an unending cycle of grief – unending because no achievement or amount of activity can fully satisfy our need for acceptance.

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In our society, increasingly ‘you are what you do (and get paid for)’. We all too easily draw our identity from our work, and our need to succeed in this context, particularly as many jobs are currently under threat, creates a drive to be accepted. We may talk about wanting to get off the bullet train of Western society, but the reality is that we are afraid – afraid of being a nobody. Who are you, who am I, when we stop? Until we can find a satisfying answer to this question, our Hurry Sickness will persist.

Channels of healing

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. (Matt 11:28-30, from Eugene Peterson, The Message, 1993)

If Hurry Sickness is a disease of the spirit, only a truly spiritual cure will bring healing.


If we are to challenge and dethrone the belief that there isn’t enough time, then we have to take a good look at the character of God, who created time. In so doing, we see all around us that God is a god of abundant blessing. Millions of seeds, but only a few may be germinated. Millions of stars, but only one may be inhabited. Five thousand fed, and twelve baskets left over.

Is it possible that this abundantly generous God should be stingy in one area of his creation – time? That he should have deliberately withheld those much needed extra two hours a day? That he should have ‘prepared in advance, good works for us to do’ (Eph 2:10) and yet not given us enough time to do them? No! God has given us more than enough time – even time to waste! But can we believe it and start to live it?

Working from rest

In the Old Testament, we learn that God followed up his work of creation by resting on the seventh day. In the New Testament, our day of rest, our ‘Sabbath’, changed to the first day of the week – in another example of his abundant provision, God has given us time to stop before we begin! This is time in which we can regain his perspective on who he is, our redemption and who he created us to be, and what it means to be channels of his blessing into this fallen world. What better way to start the week?

Adopted as children

In practice, it is also the time when we have the opportunity to lay the forthcoming week before God and seek his wisdom and guidance – only then can we say ‘Yes’ without reservation and ‘No’ without guilt. But are we guilty of rushing into the week, too anxious to fulfill our own agenda and so failing to seek his?

In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength…(ls 30:15)

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry ‘Abba, Father’. The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. (Rom 8:15-16)

The knowledge that we are adopted as God’s children through Christ’s death and resurrection frees us from having to earn our acceptance through achievement and activity. Again, God’s blessing and mercy precede everything else: we start from a place of acceptance, belonging and security.

As we sustain our relationship with God through worship, prayer, Bible reading and fellowship we become secure in the knowledge of God’s love for us – and this is our true identity. As we remain in that love and obey Christ’s commands we cannot help but be fruitful, for ‘This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.’ (Jn 15:8)

The Great Physician brings healing for Hurry Sickness. As we live in the knowledge of his unconditional love and look out at the world from the security of his embrace, then we hear the pace of his heartbeat and learn the unforced rhythms of grace.

Written by Beverley Shepherd, a management training consultant. Used by permission of the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity. Content distributed by > Used for non-profit teaching purposes only.