Superficiality is the curse of our age. The doctrine of instant satisfaction is a primary spiritual problem. The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people or gifted people but for deep people.
This is one of my favorite all-time quotes. I read this from Richard Foster at just the right time – at a pivotal time in my leadership journey. It is like I could see a fork in the road and a choice to make. I sensed I would be loved by God either way I chose but that the quality of fruit would differ based on the path I chose. I had this picture that people would take and eat fruit from my life on both paths, especially those close to me. What do I want to offer them: tree-ripened fruit given over to the natural, sweetened process of abiding or shallow, early, hastily plucked produce that may be technical sustenance but was sort of ‘meh’?
I never interpreted this word picture as an ultimatum or threat but as an invitation to the good life – counter-intuitive to me but a better way. Newport in his book Deep Work references various researchers and case studies to assert that the good life is the deep life.
I hear this call – live a deep life. Don’t just skim on the surface, consuming and moving on constantly. And my observations and imaginings from Jesus’ life challenge me, as He models perfect depth. Lack of hurry; enough margin to be interrupted; and roughly thirty years of anonymity before beginning his public ministry shout to me.
All this example, insight and research and still I struggle.
What is the pull, the allurement, for me to live busied and hurried? Is it not an over-identification with productivity? Is there perhaps a subterranean part of me that is more infatuated with utilitarianism than being human and having limits? But I also am realizing that focusing and “going deep” feels too constraining, too narrow. It hits on a fear of missing out or living with regrets for choosing the wrong focus.
It has been one year of not being an executive pastor and it has been harder than I probably care to admit. On quieter days, I have moments when I pine for the back to back to back meetings. I miss the sense of being in demand, of being needed and of making decisions. My days in this new season are full but they are not frantic. Frantic can be a real addiction.
High-level executives are given a pass from Newport on his theory of deep work. There are certain roles at certain organizations that require frequent, fast, strategic decisions. Deep work does not make sense. These people should hire people to think deeply on behalf of them.This is a helpful exception he offers. While I don’t consider myself to have been remotely in the same category as Newport is referring to, it did highlight for me the fork in the road decision I made earlier in life and the natural implications it now has in my current vocational reality.
Is it possible to have both deep and wide in life? I wonder. I spoke with a counselor this summer who, after listening to me, challenged me to focus and narrow. Exactly what I was afraid of! He was adamant that no one has experienced real success in life that did not focus or narrow at some point. He used the image of an upside-down funnel and told me I need to get in a chokehold. Ugh.
We may argue with the counselor’s assertion that success only comes with focusing. But I think one airtight statement we all can agree with is that no doctoral student ever finished their dissertation without focusing. It appears I will have no choice but to go deep if I want to finish.
I do believe that deep is productive. What Richard Rohr posits about the relationship between contemplation and action is helpful. Good, deep contemplation of the love of God leads us not to inaction; it leads us to right action.
Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline: the Path to Spiritual Growth(San Francisco, CA: HarperOne, 2018), 1.
Cal Newport, Deep Work(London: Piatkus, 2016), 46-7.