Five years into my marriage, my wife met me at the door with her bags packed.
I should have seen it coming. I had packed my life with jobs and positions and commitments out of my deep-seated need to be needed. I was too busy, and the gentle, calm woman I’d married five years prior had decided she would rather be single than be married and do life all alone.
“Pam,” I said, my voice low and my words slow, “if you will stay here tonight—if you will agree not to leave tonight—I will walk in tomorrow and resign.” The red rims around her eyes told me she’d been crying all afternoon. “No, you won’t,” she challenged. “You won’t.” I asked for 24 hours, to prove that I’d make good on my plan. And by that time the following day, I had resigned every last role.
That was one of the first times I realized I have a problem: I’m addicted to being busy.
And it’s not just me. Every problem I see, in every person I know, ultimately is a problem of moving too fast for too long in too many aspects of life. Every problem. And I’m a pastor, so I see a lot of problems.
We think if we can keep going, keep busy, keep plowing ahead, our conscience won’t have time to catch us because—ha, ha!—we’ll already be long gone. And the reality is this approach actually works. But only for a time. “Life is like the breath,” writes Brother David Steindl-Rast. “We must be able to live in an easy rhythm between give and take. If we cannot learn to live and breathe in this rhythm, we will place ourselves in grave danger.” Maybe even the literal grave.
Because it’s easy for me to chase after the tempting buzz of busy living, I’ve learned to recognize the signs that my addiction has kicked in again. If you lean toward over-scheduled and under-rested, consider these danger signs of a busyness addiction:
You Feel Like You’re in Your Glory When You’re Busiest.
This really should be the first clue that something is amiss. You see, I like how success feels. I don’t want to unplug. I don’t want to relax. The last thing I crave is rest. I’m a recovering speed-and-wild-success junkie who never wants to come down, and to allow any semblance of white space is to cause the undesirable effects of withdrawal.
You’re More Fascinated With Gadgets Than With God.
I got to work a few days ago and realized I’d left my phone at home. The all-out search that proved futile and the ensuing overwhelming angst I experienced were significant. I think I was more distraught than if I’d misplaced one of my children. How am I going to get through this day without my phone? I thought.
A different kind of call was coming in, even as I searched for the device. It was a call from God: “Come to me, and I will give you rest.” Of course I didn’t pick up.
God tried again: “Lay your burdens down, child. Walk with me, and your walk will be burden-free.” To which I didn’t respond. Again.
God stays the course: “I want you to be fascinated not with trinkets, but with me.” Still, no response.
Ever-patient, ever-persistent, God went for it a fourth time: “Slow down. Look up. Linger here with me.”
It was then I thought I heard something. Wait. Was that the voice of God?
But then, I hear a subtle ding from my phone, which had been in my laptop bag the entire time. The ding was alerting me to a text message that had just arrived. My thumb couldn’t help itself—it was itching to swipe. As I reached for my phone, all attention focused on that new text, I simultaneously scored one for the enemy of my soul.
Technology is not a bad thing in itself, but when we’re more tuned into our iPhone alerts than to our Creator, it’s a problem.
Your Favorite Compliment Has Become, “Wow. You’re Always so Busy.”
Behind the” I’m-so-busy-it-would-blow-your-mind” conversations is the motivation for all my busyness. I have a theory on this, which is that busyness is our means to impress. If I’m busy, then I’m important, and if I’m important, then you’ll be impressed. That’s the reason I spend so much time being busy: to impress you, so perhaps I’ll feel like I matter. Impression management becomes a full-time job, and it’s exhausting.
You Don’t Have Time for the Ones You Love.
These days, years after that day of packed bags at the door, I don’t let things get that far. But still there are times when I can see in my wife’s weary gaze that I’ve been pushing and driving too hard. It’s the worst warning sign of all, I think, the one that says, “You’re hurting the ones you most love.”
For some people, it takes a world-rocking tragedy or the loss of everything they hold dear in order to finally learn how to slow down, to tend to their souls, to rest—it takes some sort of death. I hope that won’t be true for you. I’m determined it won’t be true for me. I’m resolving instead to go down a different path, a path paved with rest and peace.
Consider this: God is not merely a peaceful person; God, in fact, is peace. When you and I sit in God’s presence, we’re sitting in the presence of peace. And when we sit there—actually stay there, quiet, still—we come away breathing differently. We come away with steadied souls. From there, astoundingly, we can become people of peace. We can become more like God.
This is why God’s invitation is so profound, the invitation to come to Him to find our rest: He can actually deliver on what He promises, something the world never will be able to do.
I want this type of restfulness. I want to say yes to this.
We slow down—to rest, to contemplate, to lollygag with God—because slow can pay serious dividends, for our bodies, for our minds, for our souls.