Why You’re So Busy (and How to Stop It)

Our culture is obsessed with busyness. I can’t count the number of e-mails I get that basically say, “Sorry I didn’t respond to your message, I’ve just been so busy.” (Or how many I’ve written) Everyone used to answer “How are you?” by saying “good,” now everyone answers it by saying, “tired” or “busy.”

I’ve fought this tendency for most of my adult life, but over the last few months I gave in.

In the past 9 weeks I have spent one weekend at home.

I travelled a few times for family events, a few times to photograph weddings, once to speak at a youth event, and once for a funeral.

In addition to that Paige has been teaching, I’ve been working on a project I’ll share right here pretty soon, and we’ve both been discerning.

Oh also, there’s the small children in constant need of something.

This is the busiest I’ve been in a while and I keep finding myself putting off things I wanted to do in favor of things I feel like I have to do.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my own busyness. Is busyness good? How did I end up so busy? Do I have to stay this busy?

In his book The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction (that’s an afilliate link), Eugene Peterson gives two reasons we allow ourselves to become busy.

We become busy because we are vain

I am guilty of this. I want you to think I am important, and so I let you know that I’ve got a lot going on besides playing legos (even if I don’t). No doubt, this is the ego at work. The more important I am the more I’ll have going on, right?

And I also want to convince myself I’m important. Am I wasting my potential like my High School English teacher thought I would? Am I going to die without leaving any real legacy?

Of course not! I’m busy!

mary-martha-and-lazarusIn Luke 10 Jesus stays in the home of two sisters, Martha and Mary. Mary sat with Jesus to listen to him, but Martha rushed around taking care of everything that had to be done to host Jesus and his disciples.

Frustrated, she says to Jesus, “Don’t you see how busy I am because my sister won’t help me? Tell her to help!”

And Jesus responds:

you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.

In Matthew 6, Jesus tells a crowd:

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Only one thing is needed: to seek the Kingdom. Once you do that, everything else will come.

There are lots of things we can chase around to feel as if we are doing important work. But Jesus praises the one who is willing to just sit and be present.

This is not, however, a license for laziness. Its the opposite, in fact.

We become busy because we are too lazy to discern

Its hard to decide what is important. Each morning I sit down with a cup of coffee and a planner to make my to-do list for the day. This prioritizing and organizing and deciding is one of the most complex parts of my day.

Do I call this person back during Soren’s nap or do I write this post? Or do I sit on the porch and pray? Or do I clean the kitchen? Or do I read some fiction?

When I’m being lazy I choose by asking a simple question: “Who will be the most angry at me based on what I choose?” Then I do whatever it is they want.

Lazy people let someone else set their agendas. They don’t do the hard work of saying no and as a result they become over booked.

Sometime after Jesus left Martha and Mary’s, their brother Lazarus became sick so they sent for Jesus. But Jesus delays for a few days and Lazarus dies. Jesus tells his disciples,

I am glad I was not there [to save him], so that you may believe.

And then when he gets there, Martha and Mary say to him, “If you had been here, our brother would be alive.”

And Jesus wept.

Because they’re right. If he had just come when they called him, he could have fixed this.

But Jesus is about more than immediate needs. He’s about showing people that he can conquer death, so he allows Lazarus to die so that he can raise him from the dead.

If Jesus had allowed Mary and Martha to dictate his schedule they would have never seen what kind of Kingdom the Messiah was bringing. When we allow our priorities to be set by what seems most pressing, we miss out on the deep work of redemption God is doing in our work, our communities, our churches, and in our families.

Given these two causes of busyness the way to stop the cycle is evident:

I must seek humility.

I must learn to discern.

But being evident doesn’t make it easy. Fighting the culture of busy is going to be hard work. If we learn from what Jesus taught us, fighting the culture of busy will have people begging you to step in, calling for your help, and blaming you when things don’t work out.

But it will also have you honoring the commandment to rest. It will help you to see the redemptive work of God in your every day life. It will enable you to “seek first the Kingdom.”

I am going to do the hard work of avoiding over-working.

Will you join me?