The Busy Trap
Does it matter to our faith how we spend our time?
You know the drill—you exchange a phone call with an old friend for a frantic tenth trip to the grocery store between appointments, or a peaceful evening with your husband for another small group meeting. Work becomes menial and inconvenient because you are too busy with a thousand other commitments to enjoy it.
There is something deceitfully empowering about being busy. Americans have made it, at least in practice, one of our nation’s crowning virtues—life, liberty and the pursuit of perpetual busyness.
We wear our busyness as The Great Burden, our mouths proclaiming we wish to be free of it, our hands grasping desperately to keep it within reach and on display.
And we’ve certainly done it well. We are masters of to-do lists and schedules. We are organized and efficient, effectively planning and blocking each hour of the day so that we can “get the most done.”
But I can’t help but wonder if all this busyness is keeping us from the things that are most important. Furthermore, I can’t help but think that some of us are busy because that is all we think there is, and others of us are busy because we are afraid of what we’ll discover about ourselves if we’re not.
But how does busyness fit into the life of a Christian? Does it matter to our faith how we spend our time?
The Bible has a lot to say regarding the question of work and time, and even speaks of the pleasure both can bring us, above and beyond the efficiency of checking something off a list. Ecclesiastes 3:13-14 says, “There is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.”
The Bible also stresses the importance of spending our time well, even affirming that it is good for people to work and that this can be for the glory of God. From the very beginning, God created work for men and women:
“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28).
In other words, God’s task for us is to bear good fruit—to bring beauty, order and goodness into the parts of the world where we most spend our time. We are designed to find joy in our work, as His gift to us, and to work with the understanding that our efforts honor a higher purpose.
But this is a high calling, and in daily life, it can be hard to embody or remember.
More often than not, I find that I am too busy to think about a purpose as high as all this. I’m not so much a bearer of fruit as a skeleton determined to make it through another hectic day. I have turned my time into a stomping ground, a place to compete with others rather than glorify God.
It’s strange how busyness tends to take from us the things we cherish most, often without us even noticing. When we are very busy, we lose sleep. We stop exercising. We stop spending time with friends. We are short and irritable with our family. We forget to pray. The beauty and sacredness of a new day is cheapened by how many tasks we are trying to pack into it. We are called to be sanctuaries, peaceful harbors to the lost. I think that, too often, we are more like tilt-a-whirls, spinning in every direction and still going nowhere.
But what would happen if we cut some of the noise in our worlds to listen to the fuller, deeper melody of the Gospel? What would happen to our friendships if we stopped trying to out-busy one another and made ourselves more available? What would happen to our souls if we stopped dragging them through storms of grueling schedules and let them dwell in waters of peace? What would happen if we recognized that our greatest achievement in life is not to have the most recognition, to be in the most clubs, to have the best grades, or to tire ourselves out, but to “Glorify God and enjoy him forever,” as the Westminster Shorter Catechism declares?
In the parable of the talents of Matthew 25, each of us is warned about using his or her time well. Yes, we are meant to use our gifts and abilities in an effective and productive way. But we should not become so busy that we exchange order and beauty for panic and stress. Our minds should not become so consumed with the trivial that we cease to think about the eternal. Our consciousness should not be so focused on self-promotion that we have no time for self-reflection. And we are not meant to become so consumed with busyness that we are drained of joy.
God cares about the state of our hearts and how we spend our time. He cares that we rest; that we are balanced and bearers of peace. He cares that we find joy in our work, and that we are not numbed by the burden of busyness. He cares that we come to him as we are, ready to “Be still, and know that he is God” (Psalm 46:10).
Now that is time well-spent.