the tortoise and the hare

remember this aesop’s fable?  with five kids i have read my share over the years…the stories are really timeless and profound in more ways than one.   a few weeks ago the story of the tortoise and the hare came back onto my scan, and i have been thinking about it a lot.   at our house of refuge jose asked us to look through magazines and pull out pictures that represented some form of a check in, something about where we were spiritually, emotionally, whatever.   the picture i was most drawn to was a tortoise and a hare.   i put the picture by my kitchen sink so i see it every day:    i want to become more tortoise than hare. 

you see, i am a natural hare.  i can work my tail off like there’s no tomorrow. i am a sprinter.  i like to get to the good stuff as quick as possible.  build, build, build.  faster, faster, faster.  i set unrealistic goals that i can never meet.   i have really high standards.   i am way too hard on my self.  i start my diet and workout plan and commitment to be more organized again and again and again and again.   (the joke in my family is that on my headstone it will say kathy escobar – ‘i’ll start my diet monday”).  i have been taught and trained that faster, quicker, bigger, smarter is always better.  

i have a lot to learn from the tortoise who is dedicated to one step at a time.  slow and steady.  one foot in front of the other.  a little movement is better than nothing.  chip away at it instead of trying to knock it all down at once.  do what you can to keep on the path.  celebrate any movement.  stay the course.  stop and smell the roses.  you’ll get there eventually. small and stable and simple is beautiful. 

when i see that list of tortoise-like thoughts, i have a natural urge to say “yeah, right, but that’s not how things work.”  that’s not what wins games or awards of other dumb worldly things that make us feel good about ourselves.  that’s certainly not how church planters have been trained.  that’s not what the bestselling books tell us about life or relationships or reaching our goals. 

but that is just my distorted thinking, my weird christian-and-life-history baggage that i am beginning to shed. that’s just the bill of goods a lot of us have been sold that really contradict the simple upside down ways of Jesus. 

the hare-tortoise dicthotomy really shows up in all kinds of areas of our lives.   spiritually, i hear others share hare-thoughts a lot:  “what can i do to get to God the easiest, fastest, quickest?”  “what new book do i need to read?” “show me the Christian finish line/bar/expectation, whatever it is, and i’ll figure out how to get there.”  “i just need to get healing from this so i can move on, start serving God.”   tortoise spirituality isn’t results-oriented at all.   in fact, it can’t really be measured and it’s not the most marketable.  it’s way slower, unperceptable to the human eye.  sometimes no one can tell we’re even changing and others might even question our faith, our commitment to God, and certainly think we’re taking the hard road. 

emotionally, i see people looking for the short-cut to new ways of doing relationship, thinking they’re just one technique away from intimacy.  others are looking for the pill that will make the pain go away with one easy swallow, the shake that will help them lose weight quicker, the new financial venture that will get them out of debt within 3 short months.  

oh i see hare-like thoughts everywhere i look.  i think it’s part of the human condition.  let’s just blame it on adam and eve.  or maybe on the apostle Paul. i know his intentions were great, but some of his words have unfortunately contributed to a lot of weird “faithful-people-get-it-done-right-and-quick” thoughts. 

it’s under my skin, whether i like it or not, my hare-likeness rears its ugly head all the time–sometimes subtly, sometimes directly. i see it in my parenting.  financially.  spiritually.  physically.  relationally.  subtly, it’s all about “getting there, arriving, figuring it out” instead of “enjoying the journey, noticing the beauty, embracing the ugly, the hard. celebrating the process.” 

it’s not like this is brand new information to me, but i am beginning to feel a real shift in this area despite my natural resistance.  in the past, i would never, ever say “slow is good”, but it’s become my new mantra and i’m beginning to lean into it.  i am learning that nurturing and developing a real community like the refuge takes years and years and there really aren’t any shortcuts.  i am discovering that the things i used to measure success by–ministry-wise, personally, professionally–are really arbitrary man-made things and have nothing to do with real spiritual transformation.  i am finding that when i slip and trip, i can get back up and just put one foot in front of the other and keep walking instead of expecting myself to now have to sprint to make up for my mis-step (aka, grace, like the real kind).  i am embracing that good stuff is in the bad stuff and bad stuff is in the good stuff and it’s never all one or all the other.  i am slowly giving up the desperate quest for a God-high (although i admit i miss it sometimes) and am starting to notice the beauty and power of a day-in-day-out rhythm of a pretty simple no-exciting-gimmicks spiritual walk. 

i recently experienced a lovely-to-me but probably not-too-exciting-for-others example of how i am thankfully becoming more tortoise-y.   i use food all the time in weird ways. it’s a battle for me to eat healthy & take good care of myself.  it does not come naturally in any way shape or form.   i had been focusing on no bread or crazy sugar stuff for a good solid 3 weeks just to try to feel a little better physically.   it was going well.  then, in true kathy sabotager form, i started feeling a little too good and had to screw it up.  i was working late and ate the frosting off 8 amazingly fabulous carrot cake cupcakes someone left at our house.  one after another after another.  i went to bed feeling all-too-familiar shame and condemnation for my chronic lack of self-control.

my hare-likeness would usually look like this:  i blew it.  so why don’t i just quit and give up and i can start again at the first of next month (or next monday!) and work extra hard and not screw it up again (and until then, why not eat as many donuts as i can?)  this time, i did what more balanced people do:  i laughed at myself.  i said it out loud to jose and then did what i could to get back on track the next day (yes, that was after i ate two more first thing in the morning).  and just to top it off i didn’t get God’s approval or disapproval all mixed up in the whole thing.  i felt a weird crazy grace that has seemed to linger. for some of you, you’re probably saying “what’s the big deal?” but honestly that kind of steady is fairly foreign to me.  

i’m learning.  “slow is good.”

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

8 Comments

  • Hehe, I’m a tortoise, naturally. Hares drive me crazy! 😉

    Actually, my husband is a hare and we balance each other pretty well. Sometimes his drive and ambition and inability to sit still make me nuts! OTOH, my so-called “laziness” is often a huge issue for him.

    Reply
  • i think i have bunny parts and tortoise parts. and for that comment to make any sense at all go read my book review of Middlesex. And you’ll see why I think I can describe myself as a “BunnyTortoiseaphrodite.”

    🙂

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  • I have almost the opposite problem, I’m a natural tortoise, but I’ve been taught and trained my whole life to be more hare like. I’m only just now recovering from 13 plus 4 years of public hareducation… and learning that I work slow and intentionally.

    Which as a youth pastor, drives some people nuts because they want results and programs and numbers, and they want them ASAP.

    But for me, it all comes down to the simple, “no gimicks” ministry. I’ve been trying to do it for 3 years, and I’m almost there (and about to leave, so it goes) But I’m knee deep in a high-energy/ high-emotion/ high-gimmick ministry culture. And it makes me sad.

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  • I love this post. I of course am a turtle. This emcompasses so much this turtledom I walk in. Your blog spoke of action and doing (very harelike I might add)…my turtleness touches all areas. My walk. My job. My relationships. In your blog you wrote this: it’s all about “getting there, arriving, figuring it out” instead of “enjoying the journey, noticing the beauty, embracing the ugly, the hard. celebrating the process.” To be a turtle in my shell is all about the whole thing. Getting there slow but purposeful AND enjoying the journey. The trick is to keep my little turtle head OUT of my shell and going on no matter what. There are a million stories about how my life as a turtle unfolds…but the most important part of it is that it DOES unfold. As for the frosting….turtles do that too.. : )

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  • I’m with J.Ted Voigt….I’m a natural tortoise, but have been brought up to be a hare…and therein lies much frustration.
    I am a slow processor, and like to take time to evaluate any given situation…..but have been often made to feel like I’m not intelligent because if it.
    And don’t get me started on the whole educational system and it’s inbred push to ‘be a hare..get things done’ approach….
    I’m glad for articles like this…..makes me feel like maybe my approach is okay after all…:)

    Reply
  • first of all, so interesting to hear from all the natural tortoises! it makes me feel a little guilty, hahah, but the idea is i admire you and am watching, learning. thanks.

    erin – i know, i drive people crazy! and sometimes tortoise-like stuff is soooooo hard for me. i am like “come on, initiate, get it done!”…that’s why team leadership is so good for me because it forces me to not do my craziness so much!

    pam – okay that made me laugh! (if you read middlesex, you’ll know what we’re talking about!)

    ted – i can see how tortoise-in-a-hare’s-world must be so tricky but it is really cool to hear that you are continuing to pull the plug on gimmicks and focus in on what matters. but man is it hard to do when everything around you is quick, better, smarter, faster. swimming upstream is tiring so i hope you know you aren’t alone out there in longing for the real thing.

    tara – thanks for stopping by. i like what you are saying, that sometimes the turtleness prevents movement, from getting out there and experiencing and that some action is good because it sort of forces us into “life”…the balance is key, isn’t it? and recognizing our natural tendencies and how they can help us and hurt us in different ways.

    che – i’m jealous of you tortoises, really, so i am glad this encouraged you!

    Reply
  • Kathy – I didn’t necessarily mean you, per se. I’m married to a hare…that is the one who drives me crazy.

    Reply

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