Most people feel frazzled and overwhelmed much of the time. We’re distracted and preoccupied in the same sorts of ways—struggling under a crushing weight of work, family, exercise, bills, church, school, friends, and a barrage of requests, demands, and desires.
It’s safe to say that on a typical day for most of us, our responsibilities, requirements, and ambitions add upto more than we can handle, whether we admit this or not.
THE REAL THREAT
The biggest dangers arising from this hectic and frustrating modern life aren’t what we might expect. The most serious threats are spiritual. When we’re crazy busy, we put our souls at risk. Few of us are as safe as we may think.
An immediate and obvious spiritual threat is that busyness can ruin our joy. When we’re frantic and frenzied, we’re more prone to anxiety, resentment, impatience, and irritability.
Busyness also robs spiritual vitality from our hearts, like seed-growth choked out by thorns in Jesus’s parable in Mark 4. Those thorns, he said, include “the cares of the world” (Mark 4:19).
Another danger is in how busyness covers up the rot in our souls. As Christians, we ought to understand deep down that the problem with extreme busyness isn’t just with our schedules or the world’s complexity—something isn’t right with us. The chaos is at least partly self-created. Things aren’t as they ought to be because we aren’t what we should be.
ROOTED IN PRIDE
Our understanding of busyness must start with the one sin that begets so many others: pride.
We’re busy because we try to do too many things; we do too many things because we say yes to too many people. We say yes because we want these people to like us and pat our back; we fear their disapproval.
Busyness also springs from such prideful factors as our tendency to overestimate our importance, our ambition to prove ourselves, or poor planning resulting from our refusal to seek help. How can we tell when pride has made us frantic and overwhelmed? Here’s a self-diagnostic question you may find helpful: Am I trying to do good—or to make myself look good?
WHAT DOES GOD EXPECT?
For some people, because of pride as well as other reasons, opportunities we encounter often feel like obligations. We end up trying to do what God doesn’t expect us to do. Even Jesus in his life on earth didn’t meet every need coming his way. He didn’t try doing it all. He did, however, do everything God asked him to.
Jesus stayed resolutely on mission. He was busy, but never distracted by lesser things. He knew his priorities and stuck with them.
If Jesus is our example, we’ll know God expects us to say no to many good things so we’re freed up to say yes to what’s most important. Otherwise, we can’t serve others effectively. Setting priorities is an expression of love for others and for God.
BUSY IN THE RIGHT WAY
Turning away from pride and clinging to right priorities will mean, for example, that we won’t get caught up in overparenting our kids in the all-consuming way that’s dominant in our culture. It will mean we won’t let digital devices strangle our soul in screen addiction. It will mean our acceptance of the pattern of Sabbath rest as God’s gift for our good—and our opportunity to trust his work more than our own.
We’ll also accept the truth that we’re supposed to be busy—but in the right way. The antidote to over-busyness isn’t sloth and indifference, but rather rest, rhythm, death to pride, acceptance of our own finitude, and trust in God’s providence. It isn’t work itself that’s bad busyness, but working hard at the wrong things: trying to please or control others, trying to do things we haven’t been called to do.
YES TO JESUS
At the end of Luke 10 we find the closest thing Jesus gave to a sermon on busyness (though it’s only two sentences), in a story about the sisters Mary and Martha. While Mary sat listening to Jesus, Martha was “distracted with much serving.” Jesus told her, “One thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion” (Luke 10:38–42).
For us, taking time to be with Jesus and learn from him must be the priority in life. It isn’t enough to let “God-stuff” fill in the cracks during the day. With the problem for so many of us being busyness, we must re-orient our lives toward our Savior. By placing our hope in salvation through Jesus, rather than the things of this world, we will find rest for our souls (Matthew 11:28–30).
If you’re sick and tired of feeling so dreadfully busy, this could be the best advice you’ll find anywhere: devote yourself to the Word of God and prayer. No single practice brings more peace and discipline to life than sitting at the feet of Jesus. This is the place to start, because being with Jesus is the only thing strong enough to pull us away from crazy busyness. We won’t say no to more craziness until we say yes to more Jesus.