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Author Jefferson Bethke on Reclaiming Your Life in an Overconnected World

Chris Carpenter - Director of Internet Programming

Our culture makes constant demands of us: Do more. Accomplish more. Buy more. Post more. Be more.

Despite our innate desire to be known these demands can often overwhelm us to point where we are more anxious, unsettled, and dare I say it ... depressed.

New York Times bestselling author and YouTube sensation Jefferson Bethke believes that we have forgotten the fundamentals that make us human, anchor our lives, and provide meaning.

In his latest book, To Hell with the Hustle: Reclaiming Your Life in an Overworked, Overspent, and Overconnected World, Bethke challenges readers to proactively set boundaries in your life and to push back against the negative influences of contemporary life.

I recently sat down with Jefferson to discuss why the hustle of life is killing us, some simple ways to live a life of purpose and meaning, and why it’s critically important to say no.

To Hell with the Hustle is an interesting title for a book to say the least.  It definitely caught my attention.  What was your inspiration for writing it?

It was really was born out of my own story. I just turned 30. When I was writing it, I was 28 and 29, so it is Millennial at heart. I was thinking about my peers in the same space. And I think we are all having this burden of realizing that all the things we thought we should be doing and following, all the advice we see online, and hitting all the benchmarks we think we need to be doing, we're bringing the level of peace, beauty, and goodness into our lives to realize this big promise. And so, then I went back to the Scriptures and came back with this question of okay, I'm doing all the right things, which are the commands of Jesus but what if there's actually something else that isn't a supplemental factor to that? The way I talk about this in the book is what if Jesus doesn't have rules for our life but actually has a pace for our life, a cadence for our life? And what if those two actually have to go together? That Jesus himself actually had a speed at which He walks, a pace at which He communes with you. A lot of us are missing that. A lot of us are halfway past Him, speeding past him. We're buzzing, we're frantic, we're anxious. And so that's the heart of the book. It’s how do we get back to that. How do we actually combine not just the way of Jesus, but also the pace of Jesus to actually create a full picture of what it means to walk with Jesus.

Why do you think the hustle is killing us?  What do you think is the root of the problem?  Is it Mark Zuckerberg’s fault?

That’s a good question. At some level that word is a scapegoat, right? We're trying to pick an image that can capture this feeling. I do think that word is hustle. I think it’s a buzzword today. Hustle more, grind more, stay up late, work harder. I talk about an article by Derek Thompson in my book. He wrote a brilliant article in The Atlantic called “The Religion of Workism”. It’s about how we are actually in a very unique space these days where our work itself has undertones of religious idolatry. Derek is a secular journalist by the way. And I think that the best way he put it or that I paraphrased was for all of human history, up until just recently, work was about making things. And now work is about making us, meaning work itself. It's not even about what we actually do, it's about forming ourselves and what it does for us. That's kind of the bullseye of that spirit that really kind of leads to a lot of discontentment and pain, anxiousness and all those different things.

What are some helpful ways people can shift their focus from the hustle of overconnectivity to living a life of purpose?

Good question. That's really what the book covers. I kind of diagnosed the problem in the first couple of chapters, but then the remaining 80% of the book is basically spent on what can we do about it. Each chapter is a reclaiming of a really rich, beautiful, deep spiritual discipline that we are at risk of losing because our culture is pushing them to the side. I have a whole chapter on silence and if you want to be a faithful and a deep follower of Jesus, you have to be able to cultivate silence in your life. This is not because silence is magical, but silence is a really rich soil for you to enter into communion with God, connection, and actually hearing His voice. There's a chapter on sabbath, a chapter on obscurity.  These are very opposite from what the culture actually deems as worthy. Work is the peak. Fame is the peak. Noise is the peak. The things that the culture sees as curses is actually what Scripture leans into as blessing.

For some, the idea of becoming less connected means some deep sacrifice when it comes to career, finances, and relationships.  How can these types of people be encouraged that it’s ok to “let go” a little bit.

I think it's exactly that. It's a process and a journey.  It’s an incremental growth of practice over many years, not overnight. You need to take off the pressure of needing to change by tomorrow. No one goes to the gym thinking they're going to be ripped by tomorrow. And so, it's very much an incremental practice, but that's why they're called spiritual practices. They are not called “spiritual done overnight” and I'm changed. I think that's a huge part of it. And then number two, I think the feedback loop of fruit starts to become a really big blessing to you, where you realize when you step into this you do become more human. You do become more how God created you to be. You become more in line with the vision He has for you. That keeps you on that path.

In Chapter 5 of your book you write about “The Power of No”.  What can you tell me about that and why is it so important in our lives?

It’s just pure math. There's a pure math where a person living in 800 A.D. might know seven people and lives in a tiny village. They have no phone or Internet and don't know anyone basically outside of their close sphere. We have no more time than them. Time can't be bent. It can't be extracted, changed or grown more. Twenty-four hours is what everyone in all of human history has had to submit to. Now, clearly in our culture we are more connected. Though we are more in relationship, we are more able to be reached. We are more able to be talked to. We're more able to not be bothered, etc. ...

If our time is not allowed to grow each day, but yet the incoming messages and engagement is, then the only option we have is to say no more. That's the only option we have because we're not able to stretch our day any more than people in human history. So, if the signals are growing but our actual bandwidth isn't growing, unless we want to go crazy, we only have one option. And that's to say no. That's just inherently built into our culture.  That is what I'm trying to argue in the book. You have to just say no more simply because you could be asked to play way more due to technology. We should be saying no more than ever in human history simply because we can be reached more than ever in human history. And if you don't, you will go crazy.

The slowness of life that you have been talking about is depicted in the Biblical model of Jesus Himself.  Please describe how Jesus’s teaching applies to this dilemma of the 21st Century?

I agree exactly but it was still very busy back then too. With Jesus himself, I think we sometimes can romanticize and think that there was just no pressure in those days. He had more pressure on Him than anyone else in human history. Who else has sweated blood, right? The mission, the pressure, what he had to achieve, it was all still there. No one was just hanging out and had no mission, goals or purpose. So, we can still draw from Jesus. He seemed to go about his life very faithfully and very intentionally. He was always headed towards Jerusalem in the Gospels.

He was headed toward His mission. He would tell people where He was going, but He was also going slow enough to be interrupted. People were able to interrupt Him which is really interesting. More than half of His healings were based on interruption. This means he wasn't planning on it. It was the people that said, ‘Hey, I need you right now. So, you had space to interrupt Him. But He would also like to retreat and build an anchoring with prayer. I think all that combined shows that you have to be able to have these boundaries that help mitigate and hold you in.

So, where do we go from here? After people have read To Hell with the Hustle, as an author and speaker, what would you like your audiences to take away from this book.  What is your greatest hope for it?

I just hope that people would return to a more deep, faithful presence and a more robust, fruit bearing walk with Jesus that's more slow, methodical, dense and that can actually pull us through. That this would become the thing that gives us our life as we need and go forward in in our days. That's really a big thing. A lot of us are kind of living flimsy Christian lives, ones that are right on the edge and not strong, not robust and not appropriate for our cultural moment. This is not just because it's a good idea but good because there's more of Jesus there. When you get more Jesus, it's good for all of us.
 

Watch a trailer for Jefferson's latest book, To Hell with the Hustle: Reclaiming Your Life in an Overworked, Overspent, and Overconnected World

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