The Idol of Busyness

Have you ever had one of those moments where you realize that something you thought you’d mastered was actually still a struggle?

Well, I certainly have. And let me tell you, it came as a surprise to me this time.

Some of you might remember a while back when I wrote about boundaries. I shared about how I was getting to a healthier, more balanced lifestyle where I wasn’t too far on the extreme of either doing too much or resting too much. I really did my best to implement some strategies, change some habits and be more self aware. And in a lot of ways it worked. Fast forward five months later… I had a moment today where I literally went “What the heck! I totally thought that was behind me, but here it is rearing it’s ugly head again.”

Busyness. In our culture we equate it with efficiency. Effectivity. Significance. We even wear busyness as a badge of honour.

It’s an idol. An idol is anything to which we attribute worth and regard with admiration, adoration, or devotion. It is that which is high and lifted up in our life. I could certainly say that God is at the centre of my life, but is it possible that I’ve allowed busyness to creep up and take its place up on the throne alongside Him…?

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How many times have you had a conversation with someone lately where, when asked how they’re doing, they respond with “BUSY!” Oh man, I’m totally guilty of it myself. I don’t remember the last time I could honestly say I didn’t have a busy week. Well actually, you know when I had a restful and slow week? A few weeks back when I was hit hard with a strep and inner ear infection at the same time. It totally SUCKED, and yet I also don’t remember the last time where I just had five days straight of not being busy. Isn’t that sad? I got sick in order to slow down.

I felt convicted that I haven’t been living in a way that’s really truly paced by God’s grace. I’ve been rushing from one thing to the next, and when I’m doing one thing my mind is already on the “next thing”. This is the beginning of me trying to do something about that. I want to be vulnerable and share it with you today, because maybe you’re struggling with the exact same thing and this is exactly what God wanted you reading today: a message of grace in the midst of your busyness.

To start off with I have a question for you. If you had to write down the three ways that your busyness most affects you, what would you write down? Take a minute to think about that and write a list.

For me they would be the following:
1. My ability to listen
2. My ability to observe
3. My ability to feel

Did those answers surprise you? Maybe you were expecting me to say my physical health or my work performance, my friendships, family or marriage, or even my time with God… well let me tell you that all of these things have been impacted in some way, but I just had the realization today that it all stems from the three points I listed above. They’re merely symptoms of a deeper rooted issue. I’ll elaborate on the three points more as we go.

So what exactly am I busy with? Well, the areas of evangelism, mentorship and discipleship are pretty important to me. You could say that they’re even topics that I’m passionate about. I’ve spent a great deal of time in the last two years studying books, scripture, engaged in conversations and taking every other opportunity to learn. I love the work that I get to do working with vulnerable youth in our city and sharing the hope of Christ with them. I enjoy serving my Church family in numerous informal ways. I love spending time with my husband, friends and family. I also (obviously) love writing. None of those things are bad, right? In fact, you could even say they’re all good things. So then is it really a problem if I’m just busy with good things?

I have to admit that I find it pretty ridiculous that I’m just now coming to realize how much my ability to share the gospel, mentor, disciple, love, support and serve are hindered when I’m too busy. In my mind those were some of the very reasons that I was so busy in the first place- I saw these things as important priorities, and therefore a great deal of my time was invested into them. But was I invested in them in such a way that I was actually making the most of each opportunity, or always with my mind on the next thing?

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My mind is constantly running a million miles a minute. I’m seriously not kidding. At any given moment I probably have three self reflective thoughts, six new blog ideas, two grand revelations, five new ideas and four action steps running through my mind. I exaggerate slightly for effect, but you get the picture. I have a busy life and a busy mind. Both of which don’t actually make for the most effective ministry.

Now here comes my dilemma: I can’t exactly change the amount of hours I work per week. I can’t exactly just stop going to Church. I can’t run away from the daily chores and responsibilities of adulthood. So how do I get less busy? I realized that it’s not so much about cutting things out as it is about slowing down my mind. It’s not so much about changing my routines as it is about being more intentional in each moment. 

I’d like to share this quote I read by Randy Reese:

“Nothing quite erodes our capacity to pay attention and invest deeply in another’s life than day after day, month after month, year after year of hurried and hectic overactivity. Such a pace shrinks our imaginations, forfeits our joy and forces a defensive posture in all our relationships…The number one enemy of Christian spiritual formation today is exhaustion. We are living beyond our means, both financially and physically. We are simply not designed to flourish at this pace. And if we never challenge this do-everything-faster assumption, then any effort that involves a deepening of relationships will appear to be a waste of time.”

If you weren’t impacted by that, go back and read it again. I probably read it three times in order to fully grasp how my busyness is impacting not only me, but also my relationships.

Guys, what is our purpose in this life? What is our goal? What is our role as believers of Christ? It’s to live like Jesus and love like Jesus to see lives transformed for His glory. How are we supposed to effectively live for His Kingdom if we’re constantly running from one thing to the next?

I had to ask: Could our activities be more effective and have more Kingdom-impact if we learned how to slow our minds down and lay down the idol of busyness? What would happen if we started looking at our weekly planner as people we’ll encounter in our “grid”, rather than activities and tasks? 

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Here’s another quote from Randy Reece and Robert Loane’s book:

“Jesus’ way with others always offers an alternative to our culture’s dominant ways of relating, one that seeps into every crevice of our relationships with one another. In our relational life today we simply miss one another- whether it is because we are moving too fast, we are fixated on our own agenda or any other variety of reasons. Whether conversing over a cup of coffee with an acquaintance, discussing plans around a conference table with coworkers or sitting at the kitchen counter with our teenage daughter, how are we paying attention to each other in a manner reflective of Jesus’ way? How are we noticing the people around us?

So this leads me to (hopefully) the more practical part of this post. What can we learn from the life of Jesus? How do we become more intentional with the various items and tasks that unavoidably comprise our daily schedules? How do we lay down the idol of busyness?

  1. Learn from Jesus.“The Gospels reveal a person who was intimately involved in the lives of the people he encountered. Whether it was the crowds that swarmed him, the enemies that challenged him and ultimately killed him, or the friends and followers who stuck with him, Jesus was immersed in a network of relationships. Jesus was with people. His life touched theirs. His head, hands and heart were available to those he lived with. He walked the journey with them as a friend. He was not distant, but lived in their stories, and he invited them to live in his. In considering how Jesus lived out his mission by forming and developing his learning community of disciples, we must not overlook this most obvious element: personal relationship. He had many other options available to him, but he chose to live out his purposes by being with his followers, life upon life.”

    So this is where I’ll refer back to my three previous points: busyness affects my ability to listen, my ability to observe and my ability to feel. I can’t avoid most of the things that make up my daily and weekly schedule. Most of it is just simply not able to be changed or removed. I’m even thinking ahead to the Fall when I’ll have even more tasks on my plate- but what I’ve realized is that my ability to have impact hinges more on how intentional I am in paying attention in the momentJesus was so incredibly intentional. Everywhere he went he paid attention. I have no doubt that he had a busy life as He fulfilled his mission here on earth, so then how did he manage to have such great impact and influence?

    Everywhere Jesus went he was observing, listening, and allowing His heart to be engaged in such a way that He felt empathy, compassion, grace and the drive to inspire change. I’ve recognized that when I allow myself to get swept up in the moment, I massively miss out on opportunities for these things. When I go into my day with my set-in-stone schedule, I miss opportunities. When I get caught up in to-do’s, I forget to pay attention. When I think that getting things done quickly or efficiently is the most important thing, I lose sight of the Kingdom work that’s right in front of me- sometimes in the form of a lonely neighbour, a hurting stranger, a confused teenager or a struggling coworker.
    busy blog pic11*Check out some more passages to learn from the life of Jesus. Luke 10:38-42, John 4:7-42, John 5:1-15, Mark 5:24-34, John 8:1-11, Luke 19:1-10, Mark 5:21-43, Matthew 19:13-14, Matthew 9:35-37 Ask yourself these questions as you read: How did Jesus have a seeing heart? Did his encounters seem scheduled or planned? How were his methods counter-cultural? How would each of these scenarios have been different if he’d been too busy to stop or notice?

  2. Surrender it to God and ask his Holy Spirit to do his sanctifying work. I think the important place to start with this is to first ask, “What are the motives behind my busyness?” Is it because I feel like I have no choice? Is it because I’m afraid of disappointing or not meeting certain goals? Is it because of a competitive spirit? Or maybe out of a mindset that believes that “works” make me a better Christian?These are some attributes of unhealthy busyness that require MORE than just developing a seeing heart. If you haven’t yet taken any steps to do a heart check and de-clutter your schedule, this would really be the first step. If things like social media, not being able to say no, overcommitment etc. are your real issues, that needs to be targeted first. Whatever the motives might be for your busyness, God’s power and grace are big enough to overcome.

    Those unhealthy types of busyness aside, the reality is that we’re always going to be busy, and in some seasons even more than others. For example, we just came out of a really busy season of buying a house and doing an overhaul of renovations. In the Fall we’ll be in another busier season as I go back to school part time while continuing to work full time. Those are (for the most part) unavoidable busy seasons. Like I already said, work, Church, quality time with friends and family, the daily grind of laundry, dishes and meal prep are all necessary parts of life.

    So now that I have that out of the way, the focus is on those “unavoidable’s” of the daily grind. I’d love to encourage you to take a look at your typical weekly schedule- literally each part of how you spend your hours from the time you get up to the time you go to bed. Once you’ve done that, surrender each part of it to God. Ask God how you can be intentional with each task that’s part of your week. Ask the Holy Spirit to do His sanctifying work in you so that you begin to look, act, speak and think more and more like Jesus. This will flow into every activity of your week. 

    “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him!” Colossians 3:17

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  3. Find prompts that work for you. I have no idea how you like to do things personally, but I have a few ways that I find are helpful to remember to be more mindful and self aware, and how to live in a way that’s reflective. Here are some ideas that work for me:
    1) Phone reminders. Sometimes I’ll make a note in my calendar to remember to touch base with someone or to make time to intentionally spend with someone so that lots of time doesn’t go by as I fill my calendar with other things.

    2) A well-placed note. Whether it’s on a mirror, in a planner or on the dashboard, it’s helpful to have a note or scripture card that will remind me to take my thoughts captive, slow down, and re-orient myself to Christ. It helps me to not miss an opportunity by being totally lost in my own thoughts.

    3) An accountability partner. It’s nice to have someone to keep you accountable to goals you have or challenges you might be working through. If an accountability partner can help you stick to a Bible reading plan or not miss Church, then they can certainly also spend a few minutes texting or calling you each week to ask how you’ve been doing with slowing down in the moments of the day.

    4) Journalling. Being self aware is one of the first steps to change. I know that some of my least successful attempts at being more “present” throughout the day have been during weeks where I’ve taken no time to reflect and talk to God about it. When I make time on a weekly or bi-monthly basis (whatever works for you is fine) to really reflect on how I’ve been doing at being present in various situations and with various people, I’m so much more likely to be able to make positive changes or adjustments.

  4. Pray for opportunities. Begin to practice the art of noticing. Have a seeing heart. This is where I’m at right now. I’m far from perfect and still learning, but I’m realizing that God isn’t asking perfection of me- He’s asking for a willing and yielding heart.busy blog pic2The very same day that I had God put His finger on this particular area of my life an opportunity arose for me to practice having a seeing heart. I sat down with one of the teens at the Youth Centre that I work with and I felt God tell me SO clearly that it was almost audible: You are Jesus to this girl right now. Stop. Look at her through my eyes. So what did I do? I slowed down to see her pain and struggle in the moment. I stopped myself from rushing to do the task I had my eyes on and instead allowed myself to sit with her, be quiet and listen, and slow to speak. I had the opportunity to share truth with her and sincerely love her. And I felt such joy in that moment, knowing that this was God’s design for a seeing heart at work for His glory.

    I share this moment with you because I want you to see a glimpse of what God has in store for you. I want to encourage you that there will probably be opportunities that you miss, or there might even be opportunities where you fall short because you end up defaulting to your rushed approach…and that’s okay. But God can also provide these beautiful victory moments when you allow Him to pull on your reigns and slow you down. The opportunities to love, connect, serve, teach and encourage will come. You just need to have a seeing heart.

    So what about you? Maybe you have a friend who’s been feeling like they’re on the back-burner. Maybe your husband or wife has been struggling. Perhaps that cashier at the grocery store or teller at the Bank could use a word of encouragement. Maybe that person at Church could use the gift of hospitality or a prayer from you. Or your coworker could be in need of words of hope and salvation. Whatever it might be in your own life, my prayer is that you develop a seeing heart, so that amidst the busyness you’re able to do incredible Kingdom Work. It’s the little moments that count.

Remember, God’s grace is sufficient for you, and His power is made perfect in your weakness. 

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