In Defense of Being Busy

“Oh, I’m so busy!”

We have a love-hate relationship with being busy, don’t we? Wherever we are in life, there are voices that will try to make us feel guilty about it.

On the one hand, we have a lot to do.

We have families, jobs, responsibilities, hopes, dreams, hobbies. Our days fill up fast. One part of the culture tells us to do it all, or we’ll miss out. Worse, our kids might miss out. (But miss out on what? There are people working three jobs who might miss out on having a roof over their heads.)

On the other hand, we know that constant busyness isn’t that good for us.

We all resent that stereotypical super-busy executive that doesn’t have time to stop and say hello (unless we’re her. Then we just feel guilty about it). We read blog posts that tell us that in being too busy, we’re missing what life is really all about. Our kids are missing out on a carefree childhood. If we’re too busy, we’re told, it’s only because of our own choices. We made our bed, now we’ll have to lie in it or make some changes.

Making Choices

I’m not a naturally busy person. I’m the type that, left to myself, will spend a large part of a vacation doing pretty much nothing. I like to have blank spaces in my daily life, free to be filled by whatever needs and adventures pop up; free to sit and play with the toddler, cook something adventurous, or just watch the clouds.

When I was in college, I didn’t sign up for much in the way of extra activities or ministries. I made a conscious choice, that my main ministry while I was there would simply be the people around me, to be an ear and a friend who had the time to sit and talk for hours, if need be. I’ve never regretted that choice.

Seasons Change

But, that was a long time ago, and my life has changed a lot since then. As we’ve welcomed more children into our lives and been hammered by the storms of life, we’re in a place now where we are very, very busy. It feels too busy sometimes, overscheduled and overstretched, as I have guarded against becoming for so many years. The kids have grown, and my slow, measured pace has sped up all on its own.

But for our family right now, the only other choice is to let ourselves become too closed in, too insular, so home-centered that we don’t give ourselves or the kids the opportunity to form real relationships outside the family. When we do that, our gifts and talents stagnate from disuse as we begin to feel that we are treading water, instead of giving ourselves room to grow and change and serve. Kids don’t do well with too much scheduled activity, it’s true, but they don’t thrive without any of them, either. (At least, mine don’t. Maybe yours do!) We know this – we’ve done it, in pursuit of that un-busy life. It wasn’t good for us.

While this creates a dissonance in my heart between the slowness I value and the many duties of my current vocation, I believe that this is a sacrifice I am called to make in this season, for the good of all of us. Just as busyness isn’t always good or virtuous, it’s also not always bad. It doesn’t always mean that you have made wrong choices or failed to say no when you should have. It might just mean that God has given you a lot to do for a while.

Is being busy good? Or bad?

Neither, friend. It just depends on why we’re so busy.

Sometimes, our lives require much busyness just to fulfill our basic duties. The saints have been there too – just read this quote from St Francis Xavier, written to let incoming fellow missionaries know what to expect:

“You won’t have time to pray, to meditate or contemplate, nor will you have time for any type of spiritual recollection. You won’t be able to say mass, you will be continually busy answering their questions. You’ll have little time to pray your breviary, and less for eating and sleeping.”

From Cartas de San Francisco Xavier a San Ignacio de Loyola, Translation from Regnum Christi

Sometimes, our duty does call us to set some things aside and slow down. We’ll know we’re there, if we really can’t fulfill our duties to God, those around us, and ourselves. Then it’s definitely time to step back and take stock. If we’re busy because we’re chasing the world and competing with our neighbors, that probably isn’t healthy.

Neither busyness or un-busyness is inherently good or bad, holy or unholy. We pass through seasons of both in our lives. We have to learn to prayerfully discern the best way to manage the responsibilities in front of us. 

No guilt needed.

A Desert of Busyness

Life gets complicated, sometimes.

First off, we did move again, so here we are in a new state. We actually left North Carolina on the very day that we traveled there last year, in an odd, unplanned coincidence. Now, we’re in the middle of all the unpacking, the tortuous paperwork, and errands involved with relocating the entire existence of ten people. Again. And I’m learning to navigate a new city. Again.

I’ve mentioned before (more than once!) that we are in the middle of a lot of transition. A major faith change from Protestant to Catholic, two cross-country moves in a year, a new job landed and lost, multiple child health issues, a new high school graduate, a house bought and now on the market out of state, and looming financial issues as a stopgap job cuts our already-tight budget in half. My two oldest are learning to drive, too. (Gulp.)

If that weren’t enough upheaval, we might not be homeschooling all the kids this year, for the first time ever. We have gradually felt more and more overwhelmed with the homeschooling, what with all the other craziness, and we’re feeling like perhaps a different path would be better for our family at this tumultuous point in our lives. And so, in a last-minute scramble, we are trying to get our 4 elementary aged kiddos into the local Catholic school, in a town we just moved to a week and a half ago. School starts next week, and they probably don’t have spots for all of them, but it’s likely that at least the younger ones will get in, and Rebecca may homeschool a while longer and enter whenever a spot opens up for her. I’m more than a little nervous, though, about how this new schedule may bring even more upheaval and busyness to our lives as we adjust. Will it be harder or easier? I don’t even know. I just think it’s the road we’re being led to.

So I have kind of found myself longing for just a little blank space in my life. My days are packed full, every minute, every day. But, as I went to bed the other night lamenting to myself about my lack of down time, rest, vacation, about my breakneck firehose life that won’t seem to let up for the last few years, I thought of the Israelites complaining in the desert.

In the desert, God was leading Israel from enslavement to the Promised Land. In between lay the desert, with all its uncertainty, privation, and discomfort. The Israelites did what we all do in such a place, of course – complain. Rebel, even. They were probably really tired and no little afraid. But God wasn’t honored in their complaints, let alone their rebellion.

This long season of nonstop busyness is, for me, a kind of desert – and not the one I’m still homesick for back in Utah, either. I don’t thrive on this kind of thing – I like to smell the roses, rock my babies, and drink tea.  I like to change the diapers, do the laundry, cook tasty things, and mind my own business. I tear up a little, actually, thinking of years past when that is exactly what I did with many of my days. Those quiet days seem so long ago. Simplicity, hygge…these are the things I thrive on.

But, I have to be present where I am. God has put me in this season, this wasteland of an over-crammed schedule and endless crisis management. I can’t change this busyness, right now; all these things I’m doing have to happen, and they have to happen now. They can’t be responsibly set aside. In this my desert, I can only be faithful each day, fulfilling the responsibilities and needs before me, keeping Jesus at the center, attending to my own care as best I can, and trusting God that His manna is on its way, and that he will make a road for our sojourn here.

How about you, reader-friends? If you are in your own desert journey, leave a comment and let me know how I can pray for you.