“How’s your week been?” “Oh you know, it’s been busy…’.
Without fail, no matter who I talk to, whether I ask the question or answer it, I have this conversation many times per week. And you know what this says about us? We are all busy.
In my first few years of my medical degree, I was busy. Really busy. And it got to the stage where it would annoy me when other people told me they were busy because they couldn’t possibly be as busy as me; they had no idea what sort of hours I worked, how much I had to learn, what sort of pressure I was under – they didn’t understand busy.
And maybe you’ve been in a similar situation. That uni student saying they are busy when you are a mother trying to raise 3 children, and you think, ‘they have no idea.’ Or that friend who works 9-5 when you have to work so much overtime, yet still they manage to be ‘busy’. Or maybe it’s ministry; you attend conferences, lead the children’s ministry and play in the band, sit on a church sub-committee, and someone tells you they are really busy trying to balance both work and a commitment to a weekly small group, and you wonder; just what are they doing to make them busy?
We can be quick to compere ourselves to others when it comes to how busy we are, and busyness can easily become something that we pride ourselves in because we think it shows how well we are managing things, how dedicated we are, how much good work we are doing for God.
For me with my degree it became just that. I wanted people to understand how busy I was because then they would see what a great commitment it is for me to still be serving at church, leading at youth group, mentoring younger people and being on the roster for Sunday services. I wanted people to see how disciplined I was, that I was such a hard worker, putting God’s gifts of time management and problem solving and learning to such good use. And even if for you it hasn’t been to this extent, it may be that you just want people to see that you are not lazy, that you are doing valuable things with your life, or as a reason why you can’t do that thing that they asked you to do. Or at an almost subconscious level, we compare ourselves to others in our busyness to make us feel better about ourselves.
Now this is certainly not to say that everyone who says they are busy are doing so for these reasons. In fact, I am sure I still say I am busy very frequently, both due to habit, and because my days are often full of tasks and activities, so in a way it is true, I am busy.
But I want to take a moment to think about what we are actually saying when we say we are busy. What are we portraying to others when we automatically respond with this word? Is it helpful and up-building to others to express how busy we are when we meet?
the good fruit of ‘being busy?’
In some ways, yes, it can be. When we are in a state of chaos and have little time to rest, this can provide the opportunity to allow others to generously bless and support us. In preparation for our wedding, my husband and I were busy. And a member of our church said they wanted to shout us to a date night in the lead-up to our wedding, as a time for us to rest and get away from all the planning and organizing. For us, this was some take-away Indian eaten on the floor of our new rental (as we had no furniture) watching a movie. It was so wonderful for us to be able to be aided in getting away from the busyness and the givers glorified God as they expressed such thoughtfulness and generosity. However, I think this positive aspect of expressing our busyness is the exception rather than the norm, and even so, it has it’s flaws.
For starters, if we are always ‘busy’, this provides no indication of when we are really busy. And whilst this example was obviously a great outcome, it probably could and would have been achieved without the explicit expression of being busy, due to the recognition of wedding planning usually being a busy and potentially stressful time. In addition, we should not be seeking these opportunities simply for the sake of allowing other people to serve. Our aim should be to serve others first and to seek their good first, and allow God to provide the opportunities for both us and them to live in a way which glorifies Him.
The Dangers of ‘Being Busy’
So in light of this, is expressing our busyness loving to those around us? In most cases, probably not. Here’s why:
1. It can inadvertently breed a culture of being the ‘most busy’
Just as expressed in my example from my early years of studying, when we are always busy, we can allow this culture of internal comparison to go unchecked. Now of course I am not saying that us reporting being busy frequently is the cause of such things – all sin starts at the heart, and we cannot excuse it with circumstances. However, I think this ‘everybody, everyday busyness’ certainly doesn’t help this thought process.
2. It Promotes discontentment
Busy is a word that oozes negative connotations. It brings thoughts of un-enjoyable tasks, lack of rest and energy depletion. The word busy doesn’t mean these things, but is often associated with them. How often do you hear someone say, ‘Oh my week and been fantastic thanks! I’ve been so busy, and it’s just wonderful, I’m so thankful it is like this every week!’? More often than not, busy is reserved for the less enjoyable and more draining seasons of life, in comparison to terms like ‘productive’, ‘fruitful’, and ‘restful’, which are used positively.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul talks about contentment:
“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:11-13)
Notice that Paul, who was in prison at the time of writing this, was not looking to his earthy circumstances as the source of his contentment, but finding strength in Jesus (Phil 3:8).
When we focus on our busyness, when we share with an air of exhaustion or exasperation that our week has been busy, we allow ourselves and others to focus on the earthly circumstances which drag our focus away from the prize of Jesus. We can intentionally or unintentionally express discontentment, simply by using the word busy, making our time of sharing how life is going a time of expressing dissatisfaction rather than contentment in Jesus.
3. It normalizes the idea that we don’t have enough time in the day
If we are to believe that God, in his grace, provides everything we need to achieve the good works he has set aside for us, then this includes providing us with enough time. God in his perfection provides us with the perfect amount of time in each day, in each week, in each lifetime.
Now of course, we do not use that time perfectly. I will be the first to admit that these past few days, as I have been studying for my final medical exams, I have done some unnecessary baking, watercolour painting and have probably spent too much time on social media. And then I sit down and think ‘there is not enough time to study everything I need to know!’.
However the Bible tells us we are to wise with out time:
“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” (Eph 5:15-17)
Being ‘too busy’ is not some unfortunate circumstance we have been unfairly dealt that deserves the sympathy of others. It is actually a failure to be good stewards with our time. If we do not have time to spend in sweet communion with out Lord regularly, or to serve our Christian brothers and sisters, this is not because God has not given us enough time to do so. These are failings on our part, either failing to trust God that he provides adequately for our needs, or failing to view our time as God’s time that is to be stewarded well.
Whilst we must strive to use our time wisely, we must also be aware of how normalizing busyness only encourages this mindset that there is ‘not enough time in the day’.
4. It tells people that you don’t have time for them
If I was wanted to grow in my relationship with someone in my church, to increase the depth of our conversation and encourage them in their walk with God, I would look to try catch up with them one-on-one during the week. However, if I ask them how they are going, and they tell me they are really busy, I am most likely not going to bring it up in that conversation or pursue it in the near future. And this is maybe actually helpful in some seasons- right before exams or a deadline at work, for example- and enables us to use our time well and put appropriate boundaries in place. However if that person was to be busy all the time, then that opportunity may never eventuate, as they seem to never have the time available. Likewise, if I felt like I needed to talk through something with someone, or catch up to pray together, if they were to say they were busy, it is easy to assume they are too busy, and asking them to meet up would be burdensome.
When we say we are busy, we very rarely mean to communicate that we don’t have time to spare to spend with others, but we need to be wary that this is what we can inadvertently be saying- and this is especially true for those that we do not know as well, who don’t know the ins and outs of our schedules and our true capacity to spend time with others.
5. It stunts deep fellowship and accountability
Similarly to the previous point, our fellowship is stunted by busyness, or perceived busyness. Just as someone being busy may prevent you from catching up due to a perception of them not having time to spend with others, there may also be a perception that they do not have time to be spending with God. When busyness is normalized, we can also justify being too busy to invest in spiritual disciplines such as prayer, Bible reading or memorizing scripture. This can prevent us asking about or following-up these things, and be an excuse for not keeping one another accountable. And sometimes we still know that we should ask or prompt someone, but we feel sorry for them, because being busy is seen as both normal and a really unfortunate ‘part of life’, so we don’t want to add to their plate by asking them about something they probably haven’t had time for.
In light of these dangers I hope that you (like me) feel prompted to look more closely at how often we automatically respond as being ‘busy’, and the potential impact this may be having on our relationship with others.