I hate the word “busy!”
Each year, there are months when our ministry has a packed season of work. Those times are filled with conferences, travel, international visitors, training, and outreach.
During one of these seasons, I traveled to three different districts of Uganda. Then did a two-day training with a small group of leaders in northern Uganda. Back home, I hosted our monthly prayer breakfast, then visited the construction site of one of our churches in the mountains two hours away. I preached at our ministry’s church an hour away on Sunday. I traveled there again on Monday to sign legal documents to receive a land donation.
Afterward, I finished editing a 100-page training manual for pastors and leaders in discipleship and filed our annual Form 990 with the IRS. I then prepared for 7 training conferences from May through the beginning of June, and then we kicked off the annual Global Outreach mission, which runs all day every day for 3 weeks. All of this is among the normal, daily work that is required to keep the ministry functioning.
All of that is to say, the word ‘BUSY’ absolutely describes my life… It probably describes yours as well, as it does most people in the modern world.
Busy is also my most hated word in the English language.
It seems like not too long ago when someone asked how we are, the standard reply was “I’m fine.” It didn’t matter how we actually were. “Fine” let us respond in such a way that would not be a burden to the one who asked, yet still convey that, despite minor frustrations, life is progressing as normal.
Today, however, in most conversations I engage in, it seems the expected response when asked how you are has changed to “busy.” This is oftentimes even said with a certain pride. It is meant to convey a level of importance to the other person. “Not only do I have a life, but I have so much of a life I can’t handle it all…”
BUSYNESS IS NOT A CORE VALUE IN LIFE
Years ago, as I began my international ministry travels and was learning to balance the practicals of my calling, God made it very clear to me that busyness is not something that should be sought after or valued. Being busy is not a mark of success. In fact, instead of proving you have a life, it usually means you are incapable of having one at all.
The worst part of busyness for me is that my most important relationships are usually the first things to suffer.
BUSYNESS SEPARATES US FROM GOD
My relationship with God IS a high priority for me. Yet what has been proven true, over and over again, is that if I don’t intentionally make time to spend with Him in my daily schedule, it won’t happen. Nobody accidentally takes time to read the Bible and meditate on it. We will never stumble into a quiet place of prayer and reflection.
Over the long term, this becomes very dangerous. When we don’t take time for Him, our whole attitude toward life and ministry can begin to change. The thing that keeps us busy will begin to consume us and give us our value. Rather than seeing ourselves first and foremost as a child of God, we begin to find our identity in what we are doing – pastor, missionary, CEO, entrepreneur, teacher, etc. Our work eventually becomes the way we identify ourselves. Success in those things begins to give us a sense of self-worth.
Eventually, we begin to lose sight of God’s reality and value for our lives. We actually begin to believe we are capable of doing life on our own. Just like Adam and Eve, we decide, “we don’t need God.”
This automatically leads to a fundamental shift in the way the mind works. Instead of living in light of the Gospel, we functionally begin living as if our own work ethic determines our ongoing salvation and sanctification. As we succeed, it validates our self-imposed identity, and we continue to elevate ourselves in our own eyes; reaffirming the lie that we can go on without God.
BUSYNESS DEVALUES OTHER PEOPLE
I am a hard worker. My goal is to be the best at my job, so I try to learn quickly and demonstrate my competence. I want to do more than what is expected of me. I desire to be able to help others in their work as well. A lot of this comes from the rural, west-Texas culture I was raised in, and these are good traits to have.
The problem is that looking through the lens of a heavy workload, most people will eventually begin to get arrogant about how hard they work, comparing themselves to how lazy or incapable others are. This gives birth to pride and self-importance, and a belief that we are somehow more valuable than others. The self-loving ego rises up, and others are devalued in the process.
Worse yet, when staying busy becomes the standard practice in our lives, we can actually begin to sacrifice others (their feelings, efforts, time, gifts, etc.) in order to attain our own success because they don’t matter as much as the things we must get done. This is in direct opposition to our call to be witnesses for the gospel!
In its wake of destruction, this endless cycle of busyness actually begins to take us out as well. The constant frustrations and stress, combined with a lack of rest lead to feeling overworked, burned-out, sick, or too exhausted to continue. For many high achievers, this moment of realizing limitations will lead to serious self-doubt and self-loathing. We begin to criticize and condemn ourselves for not being good enough.
These frustrations, in turn, can lead to a compromise in our personal moral standards. We begin giving minimal effort at work or leaving our own responsibilities for someone else to do. We spiral downward until we develop a “screw it” attitude toward the work, and just give up.
At the point of burnout, we can become so numb to the self-imposed standards we are not living up to, that we simply quit trying. When this happens, the frustrations and lack of self-worth spill over into other areas of our lives. Everyone around and everything we touch begins to suffer. We begin to compromise our family, our finances, our health, and even our holiness before the Lord. Unfortunately, compromise comes in many forms, and it leaves an untold amount of destruction in its wake.
BUSYNESS VS. THE GOSPEL
Although our daily work is usually viewed separately from our ‘spiritual’ life, all of this undeniably has a major effect on our life in Christ. When we are not living up to the moral or ethical standards we are called to as believers, it is sin and it separates us from fellowship with Him.
(I am NOT saying that meeting those standards makes us acceptable to Him. It is by Christ having met those standards which makes us acceptable. Yet, our disregard and even blatant rebellion against those standards make fellowship with God difficult to maintain. It grieves the Holy Spirit, and makes room for the devil in our lives.)
To put it simply, it is easy for me to build my relationship with God when things are stress-free and I have margin to give to worship, prayer, and time in His word. However, when things get busy and the “work or die” attitude hits, I can too easily cut myself off from Him in an effort to find my own value in pursuit of success. I will end up working harder and longer until I succeed, reinforcing the negative cycle once again. Or I will wear myself down until I’m fully exhausted, spiritually worn down, and give up, devalued.
To make it simpler still, when things get too busy, I turn from Christ and look to my ability to be successful in all things to be my salvation. And it fails every time.
Busyness hurts my relationship with God because it undermines Christ’s role in my life. In a self-centered and self-seeking push, I go forward ignoring the help of the Holy Spirit in my sanctification.
So, I confess that it is sometimes too easy for me to find my identity more in what I do than in Christ. I confess that when I successfully handle my busyness, I feel acceptable to God. I confess that when I fail at handling my busyness, I feel unworthy. And I confess that I know these are all false truths found in my sinful, prideful, idolatrous heart. Repentance is necessary. The only fix is in the Gospel.
What about you? How has busyness taken over your life? Has it proven to be a destructive force or a beneficial, life-giving undertaking? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on anthonyingram.com.
Featured Image By Robert Bye