How to Slow Down
About the Guest
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Ashley HalesAshley Hales (PhD, University of Edinburgh) is a writer, speaker, and host of the Finding Holy podcast. She is the author of Finding Holy in the Suburbs and her writing has been featured in Christianity Today, Books and Culture, and The Gospel Coalition. Ashley is married to a pastor and the mother to four children.
Wondering if there’s more to life than the daily grind of expectations and demand? Podcaster Ashley Hales shares how to slow down and escape the hustle.
How to Slow Down
Dave: How long was it after we got married that you realized I’m not the amazing guy you thought I was? [Laughter] Please don’t say like an hour!
Ann: Uh, actually, do you want to/are you really asking me this?
Dave: Yes, I’m asking you this. I mean, I know it—and our listeners know it—at the six month mark, you said, “Marrying you was the biggest mistake of my life.” [Laughter] So I know it happened at month six, but did it happen before then?
Ann: Okay, I just have to—this is what happened.
Dave: I’m sensing that it did—
Dave: —like honeymoon?
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Probably a month in, we are driving to staff training for Cru®. We’re driving cross country in our car. It’s this old Saab; it had broken down three times.
Dave: We call it the “Saab story.”
Ann: The first two times, we’re like, “Oh, Jesus, You’ll take care of us; we trust You.” Then we had spent the night somewhere in nowhere Nebraska.
Dave: And they supposedly fixed our car.
Ann: The next day, it breaks down again. I’m like/I turn to Dave—we had just been married, maybe, three weeks—I’m like, “Hey,”—
Dave: I did not think you were going to tell this story.
Ann: Yes—like, “should we pray about it?”
He goes, “Pray! You think there is a god that hears us! He doesn’t hear us! He doesn’t know what is going on!” He gets out of the car. He takes his pants off on the highway—because we took a shortcut, we are in nowhere/anywhere Nebraska—
Dave: We’re in a desert.
Ann: —and he takes his shorts off. He is in his underwear, walking down—
Dave: No, no, no; I put on shorts. I took off my jeans and put on shorts. You’re acting like I’m walking down the—
Ann: He is walking down the highway, yelling/yelling at God.
Dave: So that was the moment?
Ann: I am sitting in the car—I’m 19 years old—and I’m thinking, “Is this really the man I married?” [Laughter]
Dave: The reason I bring it up—
Ann: Did you think I was going to go there?
Dave: No! Obviously, I did not think you were going to go there.
Ann: Every married couple has a story like that.
Dave: You know what? Someday, we’re going to tell the end of that story; because it ends pretty good. But yes, I was thinking every—not just married couple—every person, I think,—
Ann: —in life.
Dave: —has an expectation about what life will be: what their marriage will be; their job—
Dave: —you can put anything you want in that blank—and usually, if not always, it doesn’t match up.
Ann: —to the expectation.
Dave: Then you are like, “What do I do now?” That’s universal.
Dave: We’ve got the woman in the studio today to help us with this universal problem. [Laughter] She has written a book about—in fact, who cares about the book?—you’ve lived this out in your life. I would just say, “Welcome to FamilyLife Today, Ashley Hales. Thank you for being here.”
Ashley: Thank you. It’s such a pleasure, and I do want to hear the end of that story. [Laughter] It sounds amazing.
Dave: Well, you’re over there, laughing at the whole thing. I mean, is that similar to a story or two in your life?
Ashley: Well, we had a story—my husband and I went to Aruba—with like our/for our honeymoon. We had this cool jeep, and then the seatbelt didn’t work appropriately.
Ashley: The next day, he’s like, “I’m going—I’m the husband—I’m going to take care of this,”—like go do business in there and try to get an upgrade. Then, he came back; and he was feeling really proud of himself. I was like, “Why do you have to be such a jerk?!” [Laughter] So that started off our honeymoon; so there you are.
Ann: He went in like the tough guy, like, “I’m going to get this to happen.”
Ashley: Yes; I’m like—right; yes.
Dave: Here is the thing that a lot of people don’t know about you—how long ago was that?—how long have you been married?
Ashley: We have almost been married 20 years.
Dave: 20 years, 4 kids later
Ashley: Yes, and here we are!
Dave: You’ve got one of your/your oldest, Ezra, is on this trip with you to Orlando.
Ann: You have your doctorate.
Ashley: I do.
Ann: Maybe, we should call you Dr. Ashley.
Dave: In what?—PhD—
Ashley: —in English Literature.
Ashley: Yes, I thought I was going to be a professor and do that whole thing and, then, had lots of babies and lots of moves with my husband’s ministry position.
Ann: He’s a pastor.
Ashley: Yes; he is a pastor in Colorado. Yes, God tends to give us different things than we planned. Wendell Berry says, “We live the given life and not the planned life.” I’ve held onto that because it gives me some hope in the midst of, when we have all these expectations, and they are dashed often.
Dave: Yes, let’s talk about that.
Dave: You’ve written a book called A Spacious Life: Trading Hustle and Hurry for the Goodness of Limits. You start the book with sort of your story of what you hoped and expected and what you got, and how you deal with that. Tell us that story, because it has something to do with limits. As I read it, I thought, “We’ve all experienced this in a different way.”
Dave: And it’s hard.
Ann: I totally related to it. I’m starting the book, like: “Yes,” “Yes,” and “Yes!” [Laughter] So share; take us back to Scotland.
Ashley: Yes; so a year after my husband and I were married—after we’d gotten through the seatbelt incident—well, we went off to grad school in Edinburgh, Scotland. He did seminary there, and I started a PhD program in English Literature. We kind of felt like: “We are amazing Americans. We are like cool enough to live outside of America, and we’re obviously smart enough to get into these programs. We can travel around very cheaply, and we have friends from all over the world.” Even though we were eating like ramen, we just kind of felt like, “Okay, life is about to start.”
Then we move back home, and we found ourselves pregnant with Ezra—which was a delight—but also not exactly my plan. We tried to figure out: “Okay, how are we going to live this kind of adventuresome, gospel-oriented life with…”—we end up having four children in pretty quick succession. I just was hit again and again with my limits: the limits of my body, the limits of my time.
I know so many different things God uses—not necessarily parenting—but it could be marriage; it could be a place you live; or a career—so many things bring us to the end of ourselves. The question is: “What are we going to do with that? Is that a doorway into a more spacious life, or are we going to blame God?”
Ann: I was right there with you. Dave and I were married six years before we had kids. We were doing ministry together; we’re thinking, “We are going to change the world together.
Ann: “We are going to impact this world for Jesus.” We’re like, “Having babies—we’ll just do it [impact the world] with our babies.”
Ashley: Right; “We’ll like just pull them along.”
Ann: Dave kept doing it, and I was left at home. Here, I am, raising these kids—like it’s an amazing gift from God—yet, I kept looking outside,—
Ann: —thinking, “I wish it could have looked like I thought it was going to look.” I didn’t just become a mom really naturally; it was hard for me.
Ann: I think a lot of people, as you said, maybe, it’s their job—it’s not what they thought—their career path; maybe, it’s friends; maybe, women thought, “I thought I would be married by now.” There are so many things that are disappointing; and when you say, “a spacious life,” what does that mean?
Ashley: You know, I love—one of the psalmists in Psalm 18 talks about—“He has brought me out into a spacious place. He rescued me because He delighted in me.” I just—I love that verse—because really what it/it communicates that there is this sense of spaciousness that is born from God’s rescue, and it’s not something that we create.
Often, you know when we think about a spacious place or a spacious life, we can tend to think: “Oh, well, that will happen if I ever get to go to Fiji and stay in one of those huts above the turquoise water; that’s a spacious life,” or “…when I get this promotion,” or “…when my kids leave the house,” or “…when my marriage is really thriving and flourishing.”
But what I think is so beautiful about the gospel is that it is actually in our limits—as we press into who Jesus is and we are connected to God—that we can experience that spaciousness.
Dave: The question would be: “How?”—because when limits come in—and I don’t know if this is universal or not, but I think it is—no person I know wants limits. We sort of/we rebel against them, like: “Give me space,”—
Dave: —“Give me freedom to accomplish everything God has called me to do,”—and yet, life limits; pain limits—we’ve talked about kids; you name it—which are a gift from God—but you feel like: “I’m sort of pressed in.” It isn’t spacious.
Dave: So how do you find a spacious life in the middle of a limiting life?
Ashley: Yes; I think there are lots of different ways that we tend to deal with our limits. We can kind of try to control them; or we can ignore them and escape from them; we can try to hustle past them; we can fall into shame, often, if we hit a limit, like something is deeply wrong with us; or we blame other people in our circumstances. Those are all really unhealthy ways of dealing with our limits that really started in the Garden of Eden.
But what is so beautiful is that our limits are actually built into creation. Before sin entered the world, there were limits; right?—like planets have orbits/they couldn’t just go wherever they wanted; and the ground had cycles of fallow and flourishing. These were natural, good God-given limits for creation.
I think part of how we learn to live with our limits well is to realize they are good; they are part of God’s good creation. He said it was good.
Ann: —which is a great point; because a lot of people would say, “God’s limitations are because He is not a good God,”—
Ann: —like, “What kind of God would give us limits?”
Ashley: But really, it’s so fascinating—the word, “transgression,” that sometimes we use for sin—actually means to go beyond, to move past something, to bypass limits. One of the first sins—really, Adam and Eve—they are bypassing/they are transgressing their limits; because instead of choosing to submit to God’s authority, they are taking it into their own hands. We do that all the time every day.
I think we first have to realize that our God-given limits are good. They are intended for us to flourish. I think we have to remember that limits are good; and that, also, Jesus being both God and man, dealt with limits. As we look at the life of Christ, we can look at the way that He embraced His limits as a pattern for our own lives too.
Ann: What do you mean by that? What kind of limits did Jesus have?
Ashley: Well, He was human; so He is leaving heavenly glory, and He is born into flesh. He is a man with a body, living in a place, and among particular people, and in a particular historical moment in time. When He is tempted by Satan—He goes into the wilderness—Satan is like, “Feed Yourself; turn these stones into bread.” He is like, “No, I’m actually going to choose to wait on God,”—right?—“because that is who I trust, not Myself, to like hurry and hustle past.”
I think there are so many lessons in the life of Christ that just remind us that, if we actually live God’s way, we will live much more free, much more joyful, and having so much more purpose, even when those limits pinch a little too.
Dave: Why is it that we—and maybe, I’m just talking for me, but I think I’m talking for most of us—we resist limits? What is it in our DNA/in our soul that says, “No, limits are not good”?
Ashley: I think, since Adam and Eve, we have been rebelling against God’s good limits. We want the power and control; we want to orchestrate our own lives; we want to be the sovereign masters and monarchs of our own lives. But we know that that always leads to exhaustion; it leads to destruction.
Ashley: —addiction; I mean, a million different things.
Even if we have a “good life”—where we’re happily married and things seem to be successful—it’s like we’re on this moving walkway at the airport that just keeps going; right? You can never get to the thing that you think will satisfy you; you know, the goal posts always continually move back. Until we really find ourselves in God’s story, with God’s good guard rails kind of hemming us in, we won’t begin to really experience that kind of joy and peace.
Ann: I thought it was interesting that you say, “I wish someone had told me to begin to pay careful attention to my limits, that there was a spacious life in there too.” Take us back to—you’re a mom; you have four kids; you have your doctorate—but you were feeling so limited. What happened to make you realize, “Oh, wait! Maybe, this isn’t a limited life”?
Ashley: I think, like you were saying earlier, I had so much attachment to what our
21st century American life says is a good life; right?—that you are productive; that you are contributing to society in really visible and measurable ways, like you’re earning money. Here I was—not earning money—I was staying home with our four kiddos, not doing the things that I thought I was supposed to be doing.
But in those years, particularly, God was inviting me into communion with Himself. All of those times, where I would be praying with a girlfriend—tearful prayers about: “What are we doing? Are we messed up on parenting?” or we can’t seem to get our house clean—those were formative years to remind me that Jesus is enough, and His church is enough; and I will never really solve my identity problems by being productive, or more efficient, or having certain letters after my name. That, really, all of our limits are an invitation to know God and to make Him known; that’s the point.
Dave: One point, early in your book, I was reading this paragraph; and I thought, “So many people relate to this feeling.” You said/the questions you were asking: “Where had the good life gone? Where had I gone? Sometimes, I railed at God about why the options had dried up; but more often, I just ignored Him. I’d go to church but not read my Bible. My perfunctory prayers were more out of duty than interest in God’s response. I felt constrained, boxed into a new role.”
Man, I’m reading that; I’m like, “That sounds like a majority of us—or a majority of people in the church—it just feels like I’m either mad at God or, maybe, I’ve even gotten beyond it; I’m just numb. I’m ignoring Him, because I feel like this is all His fault.”
Dave: Talk about that.
Ashley: I think, particularly, being that we don’t tend to value things like caregiving—whether it’s for young moms; or caring for elderly parents; or even teaching; or other professions, where other people are offering care to the same extent—as you know, maybe, the executive in the corner office, who is jet-setting around the world, to the extent that we are not valuing that type of work—those people, especially, can feel invisible in society.
Maybe, it’s just our busy lifestyles; but we haven’t done a great job, as the church, to like provide that sort of safety net and kind of thick community that would allow people to feel seen. I think, maybe, that’s the call of the church—is to be that thicker, tighter woven net to begin to value those things that our culture might not value—I think that would be beautiful movement forward.
Dave: I would add that I think—when we were where you were—and I’m not saying we won’t be there in the future;—
Ashley: Yes; right.
Dave: —because there are days, and there could be months or seasons in our life where it just feels like we’re being limited again; or we’re in a valley, and He’s not there—yet, I think, even in your experience, and I know in our experience—He often shows up in people/—
Dave: —in a person to remind us: “Oh, I’m here. And these limits: I actually know all about them. There is a spacious life actually in them. It may not turn out how you think, but I’m here.”
It’s really interesting. If you go back to a highway in Colorado,—
Dave: —where I’m ripping off my [jeans] and screaming at God. Literally, I start walking down this desert road. There is nobody coming, because we—
Ann: There are snakes.
Dave: —we actually thought, “The car’s fixed, so we’ll just take a shortcut.” We get off the main drag, which was the worst decision in the world, and it breaks down again. I look back, and Ann is literally sitting in the car, looking at her newlywed husband, who is screaming at God as I walk away. Nobody is going to hear me anyway.
Dave: Long story short—and it’s a long story—is I start to calm down. Again, I’m out there by myself; and then I pray. I’m like, “Okay, God;—
Dave: —“I know You’re here. I don’t know what’s going on. We’re supposed to be [there] at a certain time, or we have to pay a late fee.” I’m Mr. Tight Wad; so I’m like, “Okay, I’m going to trust You. Somehow, you’re going to show up.”
Ann gets out of the car.
Ann: It looked like we were very limited. That’s what it looked like; there were no options.
Dave: There were no hopes of—
Ashley: Right. [Laughter]
Dave: —and there is nobody driving down this road; so it’s like, “Okay; so we have to just start walking.”
Dave: A car comes by about—
Ann: We are hitchhiking on the highway.
Dave: We stick our thumb out—30 minutes between every car—and all of a sudden, this one car comes by.
Ann: And we prayed.
Dave: We probably walked several miles; it’s a hundred degrees. This guy pulls over and gets out, and goes, “Hey, is that your Saab back there?”—like he passed it—“Yes.” He goes, “What’s up?” We go, “We don’t know. The car is broken; it won’t start.” “Where are you going?” We are like, “We are going to Fort Collins, Colorado.” It’s two/three hours away.
Dave: He goes, “Ah! That’s where I’m going!” “Really?!” He goes, “Where are you going in Fort Collins?” We have to go to the Student Union at Colorado State University. “Huh?! That’s where I’m going!” I’m like, “You’re on staff with Cru”; because that’s where staff training is going to be. He goes, “No, I’m a professor at Colorado State University. I need to stop there to get another car.”
Dave: He goes, “Hey, I’ve got a tow rope. How about I just tow you to the Student Union at Colorado State University?” We’re like, “Are you serious?!” Long story short, he towed us there. The best thing about it was it was no gas money; it was free. [Laughter]
Ashley: See, God’s even got that part. I love it.
Dave: Then he tows us into this parking spot, and we show up five minutes before the deadline ends. You look back on that moment—again, I’m not saying every Saab story in your life, every limit, every valley you’re in, God does it like this—
Ann: But I would say, Dave, too—
Dave: —but He did that day. It was just a reminder: “God was there. He’s got us.”
Ann: It was a great reminder to me; because I was looking at my husband, thinking, “Is this who I married?” Yet, that is where we go a lot of times when we feel like we are limited: “I’m limited by this spouse that I married,” or “…this job that I have”; but when you change your gaze,—
Dave: —go vertical.
Ann: —and you look to God; you go vertical—all of a sudden, you see everything in a different light. It’s the spacious life—
Ann: —where God is saying, “I am your Provider. I am your Redeemer. I am your Comforter. I am the One who offers grace”; it’s the gospel.
Dave: “I’m going to show you who I am,”—
Dave: —“right here, right now.”
Ann: When I see God that way—then I look at Dave in a different way, and I look at my circumstances in a different way—because He is a God who redeems us if we will only look to Him for that spacious life.
Bob: It is so important for us to look at the events of our life from God’s perspective rather than from our perspective to—as much as we are able—see God’s hand in what it is we are going through. One of the things we talk about, regularly, at the FamilyLife Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway is that our spouse is God’s perfect gift to us. We don’t always see it that way in marriage. We can think that our spouse is our enemy; but in fact, God has given us a gift in our husband or our wife. We need to embrace that gift and see God’s goodness in that gift.
This is a subject that Ashley Hales has dived into with her book, A Spacious Life. The subtitle is Trading Hustle and Hurry for the Goodness of Limits. It’s a book that we’ve got in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com to request a copy, or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, the title of the book is A Spacious Life by Ashley Hales. Order your copy from us online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, I want to get you ready for a change that is coming next week. To do that, I want to introduce a friend to you, who is with us, Shelby Abbott. Hello, Shelby.
Shelby: Hey, Bob, how are you?
Bob: Shelby has been a guest on FamilyLife Today with us in the past. He is an author/a speaker. He has been on staff with Cru, formerly Campus Crusade for Christ®, for—how many years?
Shelby: Twenty-two-and-a-half; that’s a long time.
Bob: You are doing a podcast. What’s the title of the podcast?
Shelby: It’s called A Real Life Loading, and that is with FamilyLife.
Bob: In the weeks ahead, you are going to be the one who is taking over the responsibility of wrapping up this daily program/this podcast, and talking with listeners about what we’ve just heard and providing whatever show notes we need to provide for the program.
Shelby: That’s right. You are passing the baton into my metaphorically sweaty palm. [Laughter] Hopefully, I will not blow it. [Laughter]
Bob: Well, I hope listeners will get a chance to get to know you. In fact, you and I took a few minutes recently and just visited and got a little bit of the background and the details—your history—so if listeners are interested in that, there is a link on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com where they can hear our conversation. When they hear you next week, and don’t hear me, that’s normal; that’s the new normal; right?
Shelby: Yes; what will you be doing from here on out now that you are leaving FamilyLife Today?
Bob: Many of our listeners know that, in addition to the work I’ve done on FamilyLife Today, I have been a bi-vocational pastor for more than a decade now. I will be spending more time in the ministry of our local church, where I am the one who does the preaching regularly—still writing, still speaking—but I’m happy to hand this off to you and look forward to you taking things forward. So glad to have you here.
Shelby: Thank you so much my friend. I really appreciate it, deeply.
Bob: Tomorrow, we hope you can be back with us. Ashley Hales is going to be here again—but wait—you’re going to be doing this; do you want to take it from here?
Shelby: Yes; I’m happy to try—sure; why not?—I mean, it’s going to be my job.
Bob: Tell everybody what’s coming up tomorrow.
Shelby: Now, tomorrow, Ashley Hales will be with us again and talking about the expectations we have in life never really matching up with reality. How do we meet God in the mundane?—because He is there and present just as much as in the exciting moments.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife, a CruMinistry.
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How was that? What’d you think?
Bob: That was outstanding; I can leave now.
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