Tranquility for the Frenetic Soul: a book review

Life is hectic. We  are often over busy, internally wound-up and overextended. Just writing that last sentence stresses me out. Pastor David Henderson wrote an earlier book called Culture Shift (Baker Books, 1998) when evangelical Christians were still trying to be relevant to postmodernists. In Tranquility: Cultivating A Quiet Soul in a Busy WorldHenderson addresses the angst, stress, and our prevailing sense of 9780801003219never-having enough time.

Henderson’s book is divided into several sections. After a brief introduction which contrasts our parceled out time (chronos) with God’s time (kairos), Henderson retells the rich-young-ruler story (Mark 10:17-31), rechristened here as ‘the busy young ruler.’

Part one, Two Hand Fulls of Toil And Chasing After the Wind, is diagnostic. Henderson describes how our experience of time keeps us going at our frenetic pace, “Our culture breeds unceasing motion. There is always something else to do. We need, we want, we crave more time” (13).  He describes our crazy-busy existence and overbooked lives and explores how industrialization has changed our idea of time and what time matters (i.e. the authority given to our workplace). And yet below the surface we deal with an inner hurricane–the experience of being always connected but never getting away, overextended and anxious and on entertainment overload. Henderson proposes a tranquility solution: “Do what God wants you to do and trust him with the rest “(54).

The rest of the book unpacks his tranquility solution.  Where chronos has made us obsessed with time management and productivity, kairos opens up for us to encounter God (67). This doesn’t mean that we don’t manage our time, make the most of our time, take care not to waste our time, etc. It means that we cultivate an awareness of God and his priorities within our time. Part two, One Handful With Tranquility, divides into three subsections.  In chapters six through ten, the section ‘While there is time,’ Henderson helps us to cultivate mindfulness: to where God is at work in time,  to the trajectory of all time in God, our own mortality, and how to keep God our focal point.

In the next subsection, ‘Making the Most of Time,’ Henderson  points us to invest ourselves and time in things that matter. We live in the time between Christ’s comings and therefore ought to live in light of eternity and invest ourselves in Kingdom mission now. Secondly we ought to use our time to invest in relationships (which are inherently inefficient), especially in cultivating our prayer life with God. In the final subsection, “Trusting God with the Rest” describes the rhythms of rest and activity which ought to mark our lives. This includes times for silence and solitude, Sabbath, and daily rest.

This is a really good book. Henderson doesn’t talk about ‘communicating to the postmodern mindset’ as he did in Culture Shift, he practices the principles he laid out there. He describes our culture, and recaptures it with the biblical story and offers hope through the gospel of Jesus Christ. He focuses on the experience of busyiness and proclaims a gospel of tranquility and mindfulness (two words borrowed directly from Buddhism and New Age Spiritualism  but here loaded with Christian content).

I appreciated his full-orbed description of time. He isn’t content to simply say stop being crazy busy. He acknowledges there are good reasons to be un-rested and over busy (new baby with sleepless nights, a personal crisis, caring for someone in need, etc) but he points us away from needlessly stuffing our schedule with activity for activity’s sake. Instead he  helps us to consider God’s purposes for our time and for us in time. T I give this four stars.

Note I received this book from Baker Books in exchange for my honest review.

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