Over the past few decades, I’ve watched the speed at which we live our lives shift from second gear into overdrive. But since few people these days have driven a stick shift, how about this analogy? We’re running at mach 2 with our hair on fire.

While counseling individuals and couples, I’ve observed at least seven characteristics that mark hurried families. Separately, these characteristics are toxic. Combine them and they’re deadly. They kill the faith, joy, and love needed for a family to stay calm and connected.

I’d like you to join me for a stroll down a street in a typical suburban American neighborhood. The houses are cloned by architects; the families, by a hurried culture.

We’ll stop by seven homes for a closer look. As we peer through the windows, don’t be too surprised if you catch a glimpse of your own family.

The Baileys: Can’t relax

Meet the Baileys … if you can. It’s hard to get to know them because their schedule doesn’t allow them much time to cultivate close friendships. But they do have a lot of acquaintances. They meet them through the numerous projects that make up their day.

Frank, a salesman, sets the pace. He’s so used to a crowded schedule that he feels guilty when he isn’t in motion. He belongs to two civic clubs (they’re great for networking), oversees the United Way fund drive every year, coaches soccer, plays racquetball twice a week, trains for an annual marathon, teaches junior high Sunday school, and maintains a beautifully landscaped yard. His latest toy is a cell phone that also gives Frank constant access to his text messages, e-mail, family photo albums, and 40 gigs of rock and roll.

His wife, Leslie, works part-time. That way she has plenty of time left over to be busy. Leslie is always creating new projects. It’s interesting to visit their house once a year to see all the changes she has made. “Redecorating is the way I relax,” she says. Like her husband, Leslie is committed to physical fitness and civic improvements. She works out every day, publishes a blog on important political and social issues, and volunteers several hours a week with her political party. The only time her neighbors get to visit with her is when she knocks on their door with yet another petition.

The Bailey kids are busy being president of this and captain of that. They seldom have time to get in trouble. Most parents would love to have them as their children.

The Baileys are the envy of the neighborhood. On the surface they look ideal, but their industrious veneer hides one of the standard marks of a hurried family: they can’t relax.

It’s not that they don’t relax; it’s that they can’t, even when they try.

The Grahams: Can’t enjoy quiet

You know when you’re nearing the Grahams’ residence because of the sounds blaring from behind their walls. It’s hard to tell exactly what the music is, however, because of the way the various styles collide as they emanate from different rooms. The Grahams’ house is a confluence of conflicting entertainment.

As you walk in the front door, you notice the television talking to itself in the family room. Nobody’s watching it. The latest video game blasts from their 13-year-old’s room while rap music keeps up its nonstop cadence from somewhere deep in their 16-year-old’s bedroom. Janet Graham is talking on the phone through a wireless headset while tossing a salad for tonight’s dinner. From her vantage point in the kitchen, she keeps an eye on the HDTV blaring from the wall behind the dining room.

Gordon Graham loves romantic jazz. You can usually hear Diana Krall before you can see Gordon’s car. He likes to eat as soon as he arrives home. Tonight will be no exception. The family will gather in the dining room for supper. As usual, they will find out more about the lives of the characters on some reality TV show than their own.

Every Graham sleeps with his or her iPod on. Their bodies slumber, but their spirits do not rest. They’re a sad example of the second mark of a hurried family: they can’t enjoy quiet.

The Joneses: Never satisfied

You can’t help being impressed by the two-story plantation-style house about halfway down the street. It’s the largest and most beautifully manicured home in the community. That’s the Joneses, You know them—they’re the ones everyone is trying to keep up with.

Brian Jones is a professional landscaper. Sharon Jones is a professional shopper. She boasts that she graduated magna cum Visa. She also sells real estate. Both husband and wife enjoy the same hobbies—reading catalogs and shopping online. Sharon’s best friends are her two daughters, Molly and Mindy. They spend most of the time working on their friendship at the mall, and they never come home empty-handed.

Michael, their youngest child, is preoccupied with upgrading. He is upgrading his bike, his computer, his skateboard, his image, and his friends. He’s a chip off the new and improved block.

The Joneses telegraph the third mark of a hurried family. But contrary to what you might think, it’s not materialism. With the economic blessings the average American family enjoys, most homes today would be considered materialistic. The Jones family is badgered by a far more serious and subtle enemy: the Joneses are never satisfied. They aren’t satisfied with what they have, where they are, or who they are.

The Gardners: An absence of absolutes

The only thing you can be certain of with the Gardners is their uncertainty. They display an overwhelming lack of permanence in their family, and they have a hard time imagining life beyond the moment. Their home is a collection of unfinished projects, cluttered with unneeded items bought on impulse and often in dire need of repair. They are great at

  • starting but poor at finishing
  • pursuing ideas without a plan
  • searching but never finding
  • consistently confusing yes and no

Both Steve and Millie have had lapses into infidelity. Steve has rationalized them as passing indulgences; Millie was getting even the first time … and just adding a little flavor to her routine existence the second time. Each marital betrayal has pushed them light-years apart.

Steve is being scrutinized by the IRS. They’re sure that he keeps two sets of books. In time he, like all men with his problem, will get caught. People with shifting standards fail to see that the piper always gets paid.

Their children are the unfortunate wounded. Take Jeremy, for instance. He’s trying to graduate from high school. It has become a real challenge since he’s a habitual cheater. He lacks basic skills and therefore lacks confidence. He copes by regularly getting high and watching Internet porn.

His 16-year-old sister is an even sadder commentary on the wishy-washy Gardners. She developed early. Her father encouraged her to dress in a way that accented her figure. She has big problems now. Two months ago she got pregnant. Her parents are demanding that she abort the baby, but she wants to keep the child and rear it herself.

It hurts to watch the restless, wandering Gardners. They refuse to recognize an absolute set of standards in their lives and therefore never feel sure of themselves.

The Moores: Suffering servants

When the church lost its Boy Scout leader, Mitchell Moore came to the rescue. When a family from Sunday school had their house gutted by fire, the Moores immediately took them in. If you need your car fixed, your house painted, your kids watched, you call the Moores. They have time to nurture everyone else’s marriage and family life—except their own. Their marriage, their kids, and their spirits feel the neglect.

They are great people who do wonderful things for others, but they’re unhappy. Why? Because they’re righteousness addicts: they do good things for wrong reasons. Their sympathetic gift is more often a cover-up for their own insecurities. It’s also a noble way to keep from having to address their own inner problems.

And what might those problems be? They need approval. They need to hear compliments in order to convince themselves that they’re valuable.

The Newberrys: A storm beneath the calm

As you get to know the Newberrys, you are impressed by the calm, controlled way they move through life. Most of what they do appears to be done with relative ease.

Norma, in particular, comes across as one of the most “together” friends in her group. She never seems to be in a rush. Her car is usually moving a couple miles under the speed limit. Perhaps the best word to describe the way she has decorated her house is tranquil.

Beneath Norma’s calm smile, however, she hides a little secret. Her smile masks a plaguing problem that she successfully shrouds from her family and friends. Norma Newberry is a confirmed, card-carrying worrier.

Daily she worries that her husband, Ken, will lose his job. Who cares that he has been secure in his position for over 18 years? She’s certain that one day he’s going to come home carrying a cardboard box filled with personal belongings from his office. She worries that her children are going to be in an accident. If they’re late coming home from school or an appointment, she’s ringing their cell phones.

The Newberrys’ home is one you’re excited to enter but can’t wait to leave. Fear has such a choke hold on one person living there that everyone feels edgy.

The Evanses: World-class overachievers

We’ll drop in on one more home on Hurried Street: the residence of Allen and Minya Evans. An all-American family, they fail to enjoy rest because they are overachievers. They are the by-product of a competitive society that seems to whistle and applaud only for winners.

Allen’s love affair with winning started as a child. His father didn’t have much time for him. He even hinted that Allen lacked the raw talent needed to be successful. Allen countered by excelling in school, Little League, and student government. He was pleased to see his father’s unabashed approval. Once he realized what it took to be accepted, he honed his talents and skills. He quickly became a textbook overachiever.

His wife, Minya, is the daughter of immigrants. She was born after her parents had already established themselves in America. They were blessed by the land of opportunity but never forgot what it was like to live where there was little hope. They pushed their daughter to be the best. They meant it for good, but they inadvertently robbed Minya of rest. She married a male clone of herself, and they’ve been winning ever since.

Well, almost.

Allen and Minya don’t flaunt their wealth, but it’s obvious that they have it. And they know their marriage would be in peril if they lost it. The reason they know this is because they nearly lost the majority of their fortune—and their relationship—about six years ago. Allen made what most stockbrokers would consider a shrewd purchase of three dif­ferent and promising new e-business stocks. Unfortunately, these three were all promise but no punch. He had transferred the money to his broker without consulting Minya. When things went bad and there was no other choice, he informed his wife. That’s when World War III broke out in their home.

To be fair to Minya, it was a substantial loss. For a long period of time, Minya’s confidence in Allen was shattered. Even more surprising was the depression that over­whelmed Allen. He couldn’t believe he had come so close to losing it all.

The Evanses aren’t able to rest because they don’t know how to lose. They are happy only when they are succeeding.

A visit to your home

With the tour over, I wonder what we would see if we looked in on your family. Did you see yourself in any of these families?

The truth is that I don’t need society, a job, the media, or even the church to create a hurried home. I can do a great job of it on my own. The selfish human ego hungers for an overloaded life.

Our hurried lifestyle is a result of taking shortcuts in life. Since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, sin has refused to let us rest. Stripped to its core, sin is the desire to have it now. It takes time to communicate meaningfully. It takes time to develop intimate friendships. It takes time to build character in a child. But sin is the enemy of time. Warped by a misguided sense of need, our egos look for cheap shortcuts. And we end up restless and dissatisfied with life.

Yet God offers hope. The exciting truth for the modern family is that genuine rest can be enjoyed today. It’s God’s gift to the contemporary home, which is in desperate need of a break from the rat race.

Adapted from Little House on the Freeway © 1987, 1994, 2008 by Tim Kimmel. Used by permission of WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc.  Excerpt may not be reproduced without prior written consent.