We had just emerged from another evening meeting, but I wasn’t ready to emerge back into my life. 

“I don’t know how I got so busy,” I confessed to a friend. “I hate living like this. It’s as if every hour of my day is planned before I even step out of bed.”

Spreading myself thin with numerous volunteer commitments, I was getting more anxious by the day. With each new request to organize, lead, or simply get involved, I found myself surrendering my time. And then resenting it.

I’m sure you’ve been there, too. You want to live purposefully and make a difference. You want your life to matter. But the more you do, the more you’re asked to do. Somewhere along the line, opportunities morph into demands, and the urgency of it all distorts your motivation. Guilt drives you to say yes. You begin craving others’ approval more and more and finding your worth in productivity.

“Just because an opportunity is good doesn’t mean it’s from God,” my friend challenged.

I accepted her challenge and begged God to eliminate from my calendar all that wasn’t from Him. Here are a few things I’ve learned about how to clear out unnecessary commitments when you find yourself getting overly busy.

1. Keep the Big Picture in Perspective

Reclaiming your schedule starts with understanding how small you are. We’re immersed in a culture pursuing greatness, and we can get a rather disillusioned view of ourselves. The workplace, the way we do church, even our Tweets—there’s a drive to stand out and be noticed.

But by reflecting on the largeness of God’s Story, we better discern our role in something greater than ourselves and our desire to be known. As this awareness influences our decisions, we eventually find relief from our social marathons.

Knowing how small we are gives us the courage to say “no.” I had thought too highly of myself, believing so much rested on my shoulders. I assumed the world—or at least my corner of it—would fall apart if I didn’t intervene. It’s a terrible way to live. Yes, you’re important and your work matters, but you don’t have to do everything.

Having the courage to say “no” to some opportunities (even if they are good) allows us to say “yes” to what God truly intends for us to do.

2. Follow Wisdom, Not Fear

Proverbs 4 personifies wisdom as one who watches over us—protecting not only our emotional health but also our ability to live in authentic community. Taking a stand against busyness doesn’t lead to isolation or forever missing out. We don’t say “no” to remove ourselves further and further from people. Rather, we give ourselves space to hear God wooing us toward our unique purposes.

Solomon writes, “Get wisdom… Do not forsake her, and she will keep you; love her, and she will guard you” (verse 5,6). “Keep hold of instruction; do not let it go; guard her, for she is your life” (verse 13). As we guard wisdom and filter our decisions through her, she guards us from over-commitment and stress-inducing decisions. She shields us from pride, insecurity and the fear of being left out.

Wisdom also protects us from the comparison game. We’re created to have a redemptive impact on our generation, and we’ll have even greater influence when not trying to imitate the talents we see in others. Imitation only leads to exhaustion. And more busyness.

As we stop trying to replicate other’s gifts, we can celebrate talents God has given others without always feeling the need to join in. We’ve got our own callings to tend to.

3. Invite Spontaneity

Trading discernment for obligation frees us to spontaneously care for others, a rare occurrence in today’s world. We don’t wake up hoping to be self-centered that day. But the busier we are, the more we’re blinded to the needs of those around us and those we love the most.

We’re a people who must “pencil in” friends. It’s tragic. Rarely does pain and disappointment in other’s lives come at appropriately scheduled times. When we’re overly busy, we can see a friend in need as an inconvenience—throwing off our carefully planned schedules—but when we invite spontaneity, it becomes an opportunity to show Christ’s love to another person.

When we’re no longer slaves to our calendars, we can meet a friend impromptu simply because we’re more available. Think about it. Uncluttering our schedules and setting boundaries doesn’t precede becoming a hermit, nor does it evoke loneliness. Instead, it helps us determine and run to what’s important.

Paul summarizes the entire Law into one challenge—love others as much as we care about ourselves (Galatians 5:14). Protecting our calendars helps us stop ignoring the people God has brought into our lives. Depth and meaning over chasing after the wind? I’ll take that any day.

We’re made for community. With intentional planning, we can preserve our schedules to love others better. And the next time a friend is struggling and wants to meet for coffee, you just might have the time to say yes.

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