I'm Busy Because...
Updated: Nov 2, 2021
It probably sounds crazy to many of you, but until recently I never recognized chronic busyness as a sign of personal and spiritual unhealth. For years I’ve felt my busyness lead to areas of unhealth, but what escaped me was that the inverse is equally or more true: often my unhealth leads me to busyness.
I used to think I would be more healthy and whole if I just learned to better handle my crammed schedule. Now I know that when I’m closer to whole, I’m actually less busy.
To be clear, sometimes busyness is more a state of how we do things than how much we do. I can do almost nothing some days yet still feel busy because my inner being is hurried and busied.
Of course there are times when life calls us to be busy. You have a family and two careers. You’re in the first year of law school. You got called in to work a week’s worth of someone else’s shifts because someone got sick. It’s harvest season. Someone really needs your help at an “inconvenient” time. You’re starting a business. Your best friend is in town the week before you have a big deadline.
More often than not, though, I’m finding that my areas of unhealth (such as worry, emptiness, fear of being irrelevant) leads me straight into busyness. Obviously I’m filling some sort of void. Only recently have I started to really understand why it feels so difficult to narrow my busy lifestyle.
I should start with someone far smarter than me: Eugene Peterson, author of The Message. He says: “I am busy because I am vain. I want to appear important. What better way than to be busy? The incredible hours, the crowded schedule, and the heavy demands of my time are proof to myself - and to all those who will notice – that I am important. If I go into a doctor’s office and find there’s no one waiting, and I see through a half-open door the doctor reading a book, I wonder if he’s any good… Such experiences affect me. I live in a society in which crowded schedules and harassed conditions are evidence of importance, so I develop a crowded schedule and harassed conditions. When others notice, they acknowledge my significance, and my vanity is fed.”
Vanity is hard to swallow but easy to understand. Counter-intuitively, Eugene then adds: “I am busy because I am lazy. I indolently let others decide what I will do instead of resolutely deciding myself. It was a favorite theme of CS Lewis that only lazy people work hard. By lazily abdicating the essential work of deciding and directing, establishing values and setting goals, other people do it for us.”
Eugene is wise, but these didn’t seem to capture all the ways my deeper, spiritual unhealth can lead me to busyness. So I sat down and expanded my list:
I’m busy because I want to feel gratified now. If I pour more of myself into something now, the sooner I get the results I want or need.
I’m busy because I want security later. This is mostly about finances and work. If I fill the barn, just maybe I will be secure – whatever that means – in the future.
I’m busy because I forget that I’m limited. I forget that my limitedness is baked into it – I’m finite. I think I can do or be more than I actually can.
I’m busy because I have a weird relationship with the brokenness in my life. I know it’s there, I know I’d be more whole by dealing with it, but I don’t see it as a built-in mechanism to entice slowing down; I see it as a reason to stay sped up.
I’m busy because I forget God is stronger than me. I have lots I want to accomplish, but leaving real room for God and having faith it will happen is hard.
I’m busy because disconnecting in a digital age takes a lot of self-control. Multitasking and being connected are cultural values, and cultural values are the hardest to challenge.
I’m busy because I really want to matter. Sometimes I don’t trust that I already do.
I’m sure there are dozens more reasons I have had a hard time slowing down. Instead of pulling up my calendar and just deleting stuff, what I’m finding is that I need to pull up a chair, grab a cup of tea, and let God lead me to places, perspectives and truths that bring me restoration and spiritual health.
You’ve probably noticed the Peaks post authors sometimes recommend resources they’ve found helpful. As awesome as they are, I rarely get to them, but one that I have found truly helpful in my quest to narrow is a 40-day devotional called Day by Day by Peter Scazzero from the Emotionally Healthy Spirituality series. Many of the Peaks authors have had their own journey with this little book, and I invite you to check it out if you’re interested.