Relationship Killers Part 1 with Jen Pollock Michel

Relationship Killers Part 1 with Jen Pollock Michel

We're talking about relationships from a lot of perspectives this month, so for the next two weeks, we want to explore things that we have an unhealthy relationship with that really harm our relationships with people. Today's relationship killer is hurry. We'll have a great conversation about how hurry is affecting our relationships.

Do you ever feel like there's never enough time and never enough of you to go around?

Today we're joined by Jen Pollock Michel, speaker, coach, podcast host, and award-winning writer of five books. Her latest book is called, In Good Time: Eight Habits for Re-Imagining Productivity, Resisting Hurry and Practicing Peace. Many of us don't realize just how much of a heightened state of hurry and rush we live in. It's a very fast-paced world. We know it's not good for our minds and our bodies and especially our relationships.

How can we have a better relationship with time? Because time is the only thing in our lives that we cannot get more of.

How can hurry can be a relationship killer?

We all recognize the experience of when we hurry, we actually don't even look at people. Have you ever had a day like that or a moment like that where you're just rushing through the day and before it, you haven't even looked at your kids?  You haven't looked at your friend. You haven't looked at the person at the register. You're getting your groceries because you need to be on to the next thing. Seeing people is one of the ways that we love people.  Love is certainly not a thing that can be hurried. I've recognized in myself and in so many other people, not only do we want to be seen, which means that you have to be fully present in the moment, but you want to be listened to.

And listening is a task that takes time and can't be hurried, especially when someone's going through something really difficult or suffering. I'm thinking about a moment that I had with my neighbor across the street who is going through some difficulties with her marriage. There was this moment a couple of weeks ago when she just starts to tell me everything that was happening. That's the moment. You can't hurry through that. You can't say, “Actually, I'm on my way out.” You have to sit, stay, and be present. Love is really so often about those moments, about seeing people and listening to them. Seeing and listening is a way that we love people really well.

What made you want to write on this topic?

I wanted to write about time because it has been such a deep source of anxiety for me. The sense of time is always slipping away and there are so many things that I want to be a part of and that I want to do. I would even say do for the Lord, do for the kingdom. There's never enough time, how do I prioritize and how do I make difficult choices in time? Because we all know that we have a limited amount of time. It’s honestly anxiety that drove me to write the book.  And a real sort of sense of a frenetic passion for managing time that has been a part of my personal history for a long time up until the pandemic. And that's when everything changed. I really started to self-examine, asking myself, “Where is this anxiety coming from? What does the Lord have to say to me about some of my own fears about time?”

Could you talk to us a little bit about a historical perspective?

Well, time is really interesting. You could go down a very deep rabbit hole just about how we've measured time. We really didn't start measuring time by the hour at least until the 12th or 13th century. This idea of where we are now, how we try to manage our minutes, our seconds, we've only been able to measure them more recently. In ancient times, obviously, they weren't measuring the hours necessarily, but there still was a lot of anxiety about time. The book About Time by David Rooney is really helpful and interesting. He examines the historical ways that we've changed how we think about time and how we measure time through different instruments, like clocks.

He talks about the first sundial that came to Rome and how one of the Roman playwrights at the time said, “I used to eat just because my stomach rumbled, but now I look at the sundial and I know it's midday.” So, it's really interesting. Where we are now as modern people.  We think we have a lot of control over time because of the way we can measure it, because of the way that we can experience it—that we can speed up how productive we are. Productivity is a huge thing to examine as we think about time itself. We are now able to create more material output within an hour than people were one hundred years ago or 500 years ago.

This changes our experience of time. We generally have a sense that we can manage time, that we can control it. Of course, though we all know that time is limited, we still haven't beaten that game. Oliver Berkman wrote a book called 4,000 Weeks, and he has, like me, been very interested to write about and read about time management, until more recently realizing we can't manage time. We're all faced with a limited number of days, which Psalm 90 tells us.

It seems like no matter how much more efficient we become; we still don’t have enough time. We just keep adding things to the things that we have to do, which just creates terrible anxiety for all of us—which is why we really wanted to explore this.

How did the pandemic change the way you think about productivity?

Initially in the pandemic, I was certainly one of those people who thought productivity was going to be the answer to all the anxiety that I was feeling. Like everybody else, just to have your routines completely disrupted. You're not leaving, you're not going to church, you're not driving your kids to school, and you're not doing any activities. You're left with these hours that are so malleable and shapeless. I felt the anxiety of that and thought, well, I'll do all the things that the articles are telling us to do. These shapeless days, you can't leave, so clean your closets and organize your garage. The consolation of that productivity was very short-lived. Eventually, I realized, and there was a lot of reading that I was doing at the time where people were saying, “How can we get productive?” Why is that the answer when honestly people are dying and the whole world is in crisis? The question that it really forced upon me was, “Why do I rely on productivity to feel good?” And “Why is a good day the day I get things done?”

“What is it about productivity that makes me feel like I'm okay to take up space in the world?” “What is productivity?” In essence, is productivity really a Christian idea? How do we think about this as Christians?

I'm thinking about the whole idea of having this false sense of control over time. It's almost like we're trying to be more productive so that we can have more time. Being productive almost makes it feel like we have more time when in actuality we don't. It’s finite and it is what it is.

For people who are looking for more time, what’s your response?

There are two kinds of people. It's great to delineate this for an audience like yours. There are some people who choose busy and there are some people that busy really choosing them. The answer I would give would be different for different people. If you choose busy, i.e. people who jam pack their schedule because, like me, they have discretionary time, they choose to fill it up because it makes them feel good. It makes them feel good to be busy and productive and out and about in the world getting things done. I would say to that person, you could have more time if you had the courage to make some different choices.

Maybe if you got really honest about the reasons that you need busyness to feel good—I’d put myself in this category because my kids were older and at the start of the pandemic I wasn't sitting beside a first grader helping them with online school.  Or I wasn't with preschoolers early in the pandemic. I could exercise. Maybe have more courage and make different choices and not choose busy as often as I did. But I think there are a lot of people for whom life is just necessarily busy. Like when you're talking about solo parenting, there's just a lot of plans and pressures and probably not as much freedom to just choose your way out of that.

One of the chapters in my book is about belonging. Individualism is one of those dead-end modes of being. When we take responsibility for every burden in our lives.  Individually alone, then we're going to be crushed by life. But when we can confine ourselves in communities, communities of faith where your burden becomes my burden, my burden becomes your burden, then we relieve some of these pressures. That's what I would say to the person who feels like they don't have a lot of choices. You might not. Maybe you have the kids full-time.  Or you have certain demands and pressures. You're working two jobs to pay the rent for the month. How then could you look within a community of people that you could belong to, to start relieving the pressures for each other?  I think that's how God really made us to live.

Here’s a great example. This past weekend was my son's birthday and I somehow pulled off this massive birthday party, but it wasn't without the help of our community. Other parents got involved and helped me. There's absolutely no way I could have pulled it off without the community around me.

That's part of your habit, your solution to find the belonging, find the community. Now, I don't know that I could necessarily go ask all those neighbors who help with the birthday party to come to take out my trash and do my dishes, but I do feel like there are other people in my community for who I could be accountability partners with finances or for the things that feel overwhelming.

There's a real sense for single parents of the urgency of everything at the same time. And that's why in talking about relationships, whether it be relationships with friends or with our kids or with God even, hurry can really crush our relationships.

Give us a high-level look at all eight habits you lay out in your book.

The first habit is begin, and the second habit is receive. Receive is about the habit of receiving your life. So often, it's not even imagined that you could be a single parent. Receiving your life is so important because it means receiving the limits and the constraints, and also the opportunities of your life. It's not all limits, it's not all constraints. There are gifts, there are opportunities, but we really have to think about our lives. If we're going to be realistic about the wisdom that we need to exercise we go to Psalm 90, teach us the number of our days that we can gain a heart of wisdom. Wisdom is what we exercise in the unique particularities of our lives. I can't just give principles like getting up at 5 a.m., that's not going to work for a single mom who's been up with the newborn by herself.  

As Christians, we can receive life because we know that there is a God who is sovereign over all things and wisely upholds the universe with His words. Even in the unique particularities of my life that seemed difficult and hard, I receive them from the Lord, and I say, “Lord, You're sovereign over all things. If this is the life that You've given me, then you have to give me wisdom for living it well.”

The first one is just begin. One of the things I talk about in the beginning chapters is remember that God is ultimately the good and faithful Beginner. So much time management advice tends toward the heroic ideals of if only you were savvy enough and only if you got up at 5 a.m. and if you had the right calendar or digital app on your phone, you would be able to manage time, and everything would fall into place.

All of the plates in your life, you would be able to spin and balance. That's so much pressure on the individual. It doesn't turn us to the Lord, to trust Him, to surrender to Him, and to put our faith in Him. I think about my friends whose marriages have ended or who never married and are single parenting, and they may feel weak, but God is strong, and some trust in chariots, and some trust in horses. But we trust in the name of the Lord our God, the God Whose every good work, He begins, and He completes. The first part of the book is about turning our attention to God, the God who is in control of every hour, every minute, every second, the God whose energy will get His work done in the world.

We're not trusting in ourselves. We're belonging, we're waiting. There's a chapter on waiting, which nobody wants to do.  In the modern world, and especially when we act under the impulse that time is mine to control, the worst thing is the second, the hour, the week, and the year that feels suspended in time. Like nothing's happening. You're like in between the before and the after. I talk in that chapter about how God often puts us in seasons of waiting, because waiting is the thing that again, returns us away from trusting in our own efforts and abilities and trusting in God the maker of heaven and earth.

Those are four habits: begin, receive, wait, and belong. Another habit is enjoy. If we're working and operating under a productivity mindset, there's so much drive to work, work, work relentlessly.  I know I'm speaking to people who may be working two jobs, be working far more than they wish they had to work because of the financial constraints on their lives. I recently wrote an article about leisure and rest and fun and play and amusement for Wheaton College, where I went to college, and I was interviewing one of the professors and he was talking about communities participating together to allow every member in the body of Christ to rest, to have a Sabbath rest.

We could dream of that, a dream of every solo parent being able to experience some form of Sabbath rest when I'm talking about weekly rest. Now I don't know if that would be an entire day. Even in a two-parent household, it was difficult to rest on the Sabbath. Rest is a part of the habit to enjoy. It means time isn't just about getting things done. Allowing ourselves to be present with people, to see them, to listen to them, and to enjoy their company.  

The last habit and I'm skipping a few, but the last habit is the most obvious one. Psalm 90, the Psalm of Moses and monastic wisdom, which is remember that you die, remember that time really is short. That's why Jesus says to us, seek first the kingdom of God. It’s righteousness. And all these things will be added to you. I think about all that anxiety that has churned in me for decades about time. And if I could more fully give myself to that of the Lord, that if I could seek Him first, that He's going to give to me whatever is needed and sufficient for the day. And that my time really will be limited. It's going to run out. We don't know when. But if we're living well, fearing God, then I think that's how we know the days are really going to matter.

The antithesis of Hurry is the Sabbath. I've been really reading up on, historically what's happened to our attention span, what's happened to our lifestyle since 2007, since the cell phone came out. Everything has become more efficient, and we do not know how to Sabbath. We don't know how to stop and sit in stillness. I think God is very intentional in Genesis about setting aside the day. He blessed three things. He blessed mankind, He blessed the animals, and He blessed the Sabbath in the creation story.

There's something significant about that, we think that we don't have time to rest. But the truth is, if we don't rest, we will run out. We're not as efficient as we think we are because we are not refilling our tanks. It doesn't have to be a whole day, but taking a second and you could do that while you're waiting. We have to wait for things. Use that time to recharge.

Tell us more about the habit of enjoy.

Well, joy is the theme of the Bible. We could probably start at the end and work our way backward. Basically, you get to the new Jerusalem, and it is just unadulterated, pure undiluted joy. Every sadness and sickness and sorrow is ended and wiped away. When Jesus had His final meal with His disciples, He says, you're going to experience my fullness of joy. In Genesis this impulse that God exercises to bless these people, to bless creation and to bless the Sabbath. God is a giver of blessing.

This is really just another way to say that God is a giver of joy. And we often don't think of the Christian story in that way so often because sin is the counterfeit of joy. In every human being is the pursuit of joy. Are we going to find it in the true well of the living water or the broken cisterns of our own imaginations?  I don't think that I'm automatically assuming that God wants to give me joy. I think God wants me to make good use of my time, produce something worthwhile and useful with my life.

He wants me to work really hard. There's a history of that idea. There's never an hour to waste. In that mindset, joy can sometimes feel a little bit wasteful. It’s wasteful to do something like listen to music or attend a concert or take a hike. You think about the ways that we can use our time, and at the end of it, you have nothing to show for it because it wasn't an hour of work.  It was an hour of enjoyment. The cool thing that I learned in my research is that those hours of enjoyment are the hours that actually feel the longest to us.

It's like where time stretches out and you lose all sense of hurry, of urgency, of scarcity, of time.  And so, when we want to escape from this sense of there's so much to be done, I have to hurry, hurry, hurry. We can't just say, well I'm not going to think like that anymore. We have to give ourselves to practices of joy that allow us to experience non-anxious hours. And not even thinking about the clock. This is a real spiritual discipline.

We feel like we have to earn it. We can't do it. There's a whole level of God, of pleasure. Not in a bad way, but to really be enjoying His creation or enjoying each other. We think, well, we don't deserve to have a break unless we are productive. I think that's counter to Scripture. And I'm not saying don't be productive. There's a place to do a job, but we link that to joy, or we link that to Sabbath. You can't have time off unless you've worked incredibly hard and then you deserve something. But that's enjoyment, pleasure. Those are gifts from God. Sabbath is a gift from God because He knows we need it. It's not just a selfish thing. It really is something that He built into us as a need.

Tell our audience where they can find your book and your website.

You can find it wherever books are sold. One of the things that I've been doing recently on my website,, is leading people through writing their own rule of life. It's actually the idea of receiving your life, living in faithful response to God's voice in the unique particularities of your life, in your relationships and in your work. It’s an ancient monastic practice, but I think it has a lot of resonance for us today since we experience so much anxiety, around time and decisions. People can sign up. I also have a couple of workshops in the fall.  I write a Monday letter to anybody who wants to read them. I'm taking a break for the summer, but you can also sign up for that on my website.


This idea that we measure our value or our worth on our productivity, I don't know where that came from. Just this weekend I really chilled, I didn't do much and I felt so guilty. I should be doing something. There are a lot of things that need to get done right now in my house, but I didn't, and I battled this productivity voice in my head that I don't deserve to watch TV or sit in silence. This idea that productivity somehow defines my worth.

How time has changed—the historical perspective. How we got to where we are today.

Purpose rather than productivity.


Listener Question

Hi, this is Maddie. I'm a single mom. What Bible verse or verses got you through your toughest times? Which ones continue to get you through?

One verse is Zephaniah 3:17. It says “For the Lord, your God is living among you. He is a mighty Savior. He'll take delight in you with gladness, with His love. He will calm all your fears. He will rejoice, rejoice over you with joyful songs.” And that's been a life verse for me since September of 2017 when a spiritual director told me she wanted me to concentrate on it and hear and receive.

Another is the verse we say every week, Isaiah 41:10. This one is important, because before my mom passed away she made a video and filmed messages for her kids and grandkids. I’d heard it before her video but it's been an anchor for me.  And it still is. It's become foundational. What it says to me is not just that God is mighty, but He is here to help us. He's here to strengthen us. He's here to uphold us. Don't fear. He's with us.


Jen’s book, In Good Time can be found HERE.

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