Sometimes profound moments of self-realisation seem to come completely out of the blue.
One of those recently came when a friend and I realised that our podcast consumption was a bit excessive. Another member of our Bible Study challenged me to drive home in silence. I succeeded, although my confidence briefly wavered when I reached for the car keys with one hand and my phone with the other, already wondering which ‘podcast mood’ I was in.
It’s a pretty innocent-seeming compulsion, but even our most pedestrian habits originate much deeper within us.
Of course, I wasn’t completely unaware of this tendency. It was on my radar at least enough that when I came across Kevin DeYoung’s book Crazy Busy last year, I bought it on a whim. It turns out God had big plans for that impulse buy.
DeYoung begins by proving his credentials to write the book with a long list of sporting, church-related, family, professional, academic and extra-curricular commitments. My chest puffed out more and more with every line I read. I’m busier than the Crazy Busy guy! I daydreamed about what other things I might be able to squeeze into my schedule.
But as I read on my fiery pride sputtered.
He wasn’t proud of his busyness. Every page made more sense than the last, and I saw more and more how restlessness is a prized part of my identity.
After all, almost everyone is crazy busy. That’s how we pay bills and serve the Church and see friends and fill CVs and get kids around for their crazy busy lives. Being crazy busy is the norm, and the people who are best at it are just best at life. Margin, “the space between our load and our limits,” is just another word for wasted time.
If you’re here and there, you’re not really here.
Except that when we ask what God has to say about our addiction to activity, it turns out he’s really not a fan. From the Creation account to the Fourth Commandment to the eternal rest of Hebrews 4, God’s people are promised that great blessing accompanies Sabbath, which literally means ‘stop working.’
Committing to this has always taken discipline, but I suspect our culture is filled with ambitions and fears which make resting, stopping work and leaving margin particularly hard. As DeYoung writes, “We are here and there and everywhere.” God’s good gifts of transportation and technology mean that, more than ever, our minds and hearts are in several places at once. And if you’re here and there, you’re not really here. But perhaps even more significantly, this sense of being connected to the whole world, of having unlimited possibilities, leads to ambition for unlimited potential rewards and fear of being left behind or failing to meet our unlimited expectations.
So it seems I may have a partial answer to a question I’ve always had. What kind of ambition does God want me to have? Certainly not restless ambition. Not ambition that says, ‘If I’m efficient with all my time and energy, things will go well.’ I wonder how ‘restful ambition’ would change my relationship with busyness and with God.
But let’s not kid ourselves here and so miss out on biblical wisdom. Our culture is not so special that God’s word is no longer the best source of Wisdom. Jesus himself acknowledges the exact ambition and fear that characterise our busyness today.
“Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.” – Mark 4:18-19
If I want more joy, love and worship in my life, busyness is not helping.
If our busyness is linked to “the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things,” then we are on dangerous spiritual ground. We know how dangerous busyness and stress are for our bodies and minds. Jesus tells us of the risk to our hearts and souls. If I want more joy, love and worship in my life, busyness is not helping.
But for our “hurry sickness” to really be dealt with, our underlying ambitions and fears can’t be left unchanged. First, we need to contemplate what they actually are.
I thought I was the weird one. Margin terrifies me. But apparently, it terrifies most of us. According to Tim Kreider’s viral New York Times article, ‘The “Busy” Trap,’ “Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness.” It won’t be comfortable, but I need to ask myself whether I keep busy because I worry that if I don’t, I’ll have to face up to some emptiness, some inadequacy.
I’m convinced we are busy because we are ambitious and scared. But what we pursue and what we fear stem from what we want. So, in the spirit of Noah from The Notebook, let’s ask ourselves, “What do you want!?” Not, like the movie, so we can wildly chase after it. After all, that’s what got us into this busyness mess in the first place!
No, we need to ask what we want so that we can learn to see how our deepest desires will only be satisfied in God himself. In the words of Augustine, my heart will be restless until it rests in God himself.