The warm cup was comforting on a day when the temperature dipped just below freezing. I studied the people around me in Starbucks as I waited for a friend. As she sat down in a flustered hurry, she brought the chill from outside with her.
“How are you doing?” she asked after shedding her layers.
I felt the unwanted words regurgitating out of my mouth robotically.
“I’m good. Busy, but good” I said without thinking, as if “busy” or “good” are adequate adjectives to describe how a person is doing.
I feel important when I say it. I feel necessary when my inbox has emails, when there are assignments I need to complete, or when I have missed phone calls and text messages I need to answer. It feels like people need me, and this drive keeps me saying “yes” in a world of options.
We live in a culture that operates like the fastest setting of a treadmill. The list of important things to do adds up until we find ourselves struggling to stay on the conveyor belt. Some days we hate this endless stream of always doing, always going, rarely stopping, and we long for days of greater simplicity. Other days busyness is a badge of honor we wear, sometimes to the detriment of our health.
Why Are We So Busy?
I’m not the only one who uses the word busy to describe how they are doing. It’s become the common response of most people I know. I caught up with a friend recently and one of the first things she did was apologize for not calling sooner because “things were crazy [another word for busy] lately.”
I’ve begun to see ‘busy’ as the excuse most of us love.
It’s the excuse that makes us feel justified and superior in a way.
And the truth is, we are busy. The mom of young children, the pastor who shepherds his people and works a full-time job while taking care of his family, the university student who is paying their way through college… each of them go to bed wishing they had more hours in the day or fewer demands to squeeze into the hours. The responsibilities of life are real, and we feel them baring down on us.
We live in a time where, with the advancement of modern technology, we can do more, we expect ourselves (and others) to do more, and we do do more. We have more options, more access to information, and easier accessibility to one another.
Christians try hard to “make the best use of the time” (Eph. 5:16) while swimming in what feels like endless options and obligations. In his book, Crazy Busy, Kevin DeYoung explains,
“We have more opportunity than ever before. The ability to cheaply go anywhere is a recent development. The ability to get information from anywhere is, too. Even the ability to easily stay up past sundown is relatively new. The result, then, is simple but true: because we can do so much, we do, do so much. Our lives have no limits…In all of our lifetimes we’ve seen an exponential expansion in the number of opportunities for children, opportunities for seniors, opportunities for leisure, opportunities for travel, opportunities for education, opportunities at church…, opportunities in our local communities, opportunities to make a difference around the world. No wonder we are so busy.”
In some ways, our busyness is a part of life’s responsibilities, but other times it is self-imposed. We simply say yes to too many opportunities, and when we fail to follow through we protest that we were too busy.
But perhaps a more truthful statement would be that we did not prioritize that which we said we would do.
Jesus and his disciples felt these demands too. Jesus sent 72 of his disciples out in pairs to preach about the kingdom of God and perform miracles (Mark 6:7-13). He sent them out to do hard work which likely left them tired at the end of the day. When they returned, Jesus debriefed with them about what they had done. He said to them, “come away by yourselves to a remote place and rest for a while,” (Mark 6:31). Jesus was inviting them into his rhythms of ministry: working hard and resting well in the Father’s presence (Mark 1:35; 6:46; Luke 6:12-13).
The Cost of Our Busyness
Our busyness will eventually catch up to us. Left unchecked, it can cost us emotionally and can lead to burnout and depression. It can cost us physically if we neglect our physical health and succumb to common colds or something more severe. Even more subtly, our busyness can even lead us down a road of spiritual numbness.
Our busyness can crowd our hearts and distract us from seeking to love God and love others. We forget the necessity of the ordinary habits of grace that allow us to encounter God in our day-to-day lives (communing with his people, studying God’s Word, prayer, evangelism, etc.). Unfortunately, these practices are the first to go when our lives become crowded with new and necessary tasks. Over time, our souls become parched, and we find ourselves in a wilderness that we didn’t realize we’d meandered into.
Our busyness causes us to forget that we are human beings with limits. There is a pride in busyness that presumes we can neglect the emotional, physical, and spiritual necessities and function at optimal strength. But our bodies have limits, and we are weaker than we let on. We grow weary of the ever-constant grind.
With a heart posture of humility, we must ask God to “teach us to number our days so that we may have a heart of wisdom” (Ps. 90:12). We need this heart of wisdom to instruct us to say “yes” to the best things and to not neglect our spiritual health. We are finite, and we will die.
We must not neglect to invest in that which will last forever: our walk with God, our ever-growing knowledge of him, and our relationship with his people.
“As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
But the steadfast love of the Lord is from
everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,
and his righteousness to children's children,
to those who keep his covenant
and remember to do his commandments.
The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,
and his kingdom rules over all.”
Next time you’re spending time with a friend or you find yourself contemplating your incomplete tasks at the end of the day… when you feel yourself reveling in this busyness badge of honor… remember that you are but human and the true badge of honor goes to the one whose steadfast love endures forever.