“Beware the barrenness of a busy life” so says author Gordon Macdonald. How often do we as a society fall into the concept that you are worth nothing unless you are busy? We are all guilty of it too. How often when someone calls you and asks how are things going and the automatic answer is “I’m so busy!”
From what I gather, serving others because God has called me to serve is not without its busyness. I sit sometimes and listen to my mentors, my pastors, my soon to be colleagues in ministry. What I hear most often is “there isn’t enough time in the day”, “I can’t be in two places at once.” “I need help, but no one seems to understand that.” And sometimes I think to myself –what the heck am I getting into?
What doesn’t help is the solid and ingrained perception of the “Protestant work ethic”. We have done this to ourselves over the centuries. It’s practically taboo to say to those we are charged with leading “I’m tired and need a break.”
Calvin himself was known for his work ethic and Ronald Kalifungwa out of Sovereign Grace Theological Seminary wrote “An outstanding feature of his godly life was his unrelenting industry. He was always busy. His secretary, Nicolas Colladan, writes concerning his master’s ceaseless busyness, I do not believe there can be found his like. For who could recount his ordinary and extraordinary labors? I doubt if any man in our time has had more to listen to, to reply to, to write, or things of greater importance. The multitude and quality alone of his writings is enough to astonish everyone who looks at them, and even more” He never ceased working, day or night, in the service of the Lord, and heard most unwillingly the prayers and exhortations that his friends addressed to him every day to give himself some rest. Another contemporary described him as .a bow always strung. A Dr. Hoyle also commented: “What shall I say of his indefatigable industry, almost beyond the power of nature; which, set against our loitering will, I fear, exceed all credit? It may be the truest object of admiration, how one lean, worn, spent, and wearied body could hold out. He gave, every week of the year through, three divinity lectures. Every other week, over and above, he preached every day; so that I know not whether more to admire his constancy or theirs that heard him. Some have reckoned that his yearly lectures were one hundred and eighty-six, and his yearly sermons two hundred and eighty-six. Every Thursday he sat in the presbytery. Every Friday, when the ministers met to consult upon difficult texts, he made as good as a lecture. Besides all this, there was scarce a day that exercised him not in answering the doubts and questions of different churches and pastors. Scarcely a year passed wherein some volume came not forth.”
Upon reading this it seems we don’t have a chance in even thinking about a work-life balance, or do we? Like anything else, there has to be intention in creating a life that is not only God-filled, but one that is filled with healthy choices. Sitting behind a desk day in and day out with no other activity, contributes to poor circulation, weight gain, the potential for diabetes, heart disease. Being constantly on the run, going from appointment to appointment, not stopping to even eat a meal let alone a healthy one, contributes to high stress levels. Not carving out time for just being with family and friends isolates and creates resentment with those we love.
So where do we go with this? First off. Stop. Yup you read right. Stop. Stop and look around. If you are unsure- ask those who love you. Ask them to speak honestly about their perception of your busyness– and be prepared to get some answers that you might not want to hear. Then sit down and have a little one on one with God, also prepare yourself to hear something that might be contrary to what you have turned into a long- term habit that is without intention. When God called Adam and Eve out of their hiding in the garden it was to establish a living relationship. Adam and Eve needed to be found in order to continue to live. No different than when we sit down to have that honest one on one conversation with God in order to continue what we are called to do.
As for expectations of who we are called to teach and preach and equip, an open and honest communication is key. Some might not want to hear what you have to say about the need to slow down– but be creative. Have them spend time with you as you go about your day, (obviously, if there is a pastoral care issue that is confidential, the person will have to find something else to do.) But don’t be shy in sharing what you do. You’ll be surprised that this could facilitate greater understanding when you have to say no.
We can’t help but feel guilty. We are built this way, but we can be honest about those feelings and with God’s help and those around us, we can hopefully avoid “the barrenness of a busy life.” I would love to hear about other strategies of how others deal with their busyness. Please feel free to share!