Monday, September 17, 2012

There's More to Life Than Being Busy

Busy (adjective) 1. actively and attentively engaged in work or a pastime; not at leisure
 --Random House Dictionary

I checked my watch today to see if there were perhaps more than just twenty four hours in the day, that maybe 13 o’clock or 14 o’clock had appeared magically overnight, giving me a few more precious hours to manage all that I have to do and accomplish. Because you see I’m busy. Very busy. So if I could only extend the day, squeeze just a bit more time from time, then I’d finally not be so…well..busy. Right?

Part of it is this time of the year, mid-September. Everyone is busy.  Summer is over, regardless of whether or not the calendar claims otherwise. School kids march home from classrooms like modern day suburban Sherpas weighed down by their overstuffed backpacks.  Moms and Dads drive all over New England, delivering children to sports games and music practices and math tutoring and plays. I see these forlorn parents in parking lots, minivans idling away, as they text on smartphones and double check just where they are supposed to go to next.  Who knew so much of adult life would be spent in the car as our second home?

And work, if it slowed down at all last summer, is right back up to speed too.  Emails overflowing the in-box, anxious missives awaiting a response. Cell phones chirping, laptops cranking, offices humming.  The line at Starbucks is long again and traffic is jammed not to the Cape but to Boston.  There’s a reason American workers are among the most productive in the world.  We are busy. Very busy.

An interesting word, “busy”.  Its roots are Germanic and it once meant “to be anxious”.  For a time “busy” meant one was a promiscuous in the romance department! But in the early part of the 20th century “busy” came to mean its current usage: having a very full life, filling up our waking hours with lots of stuff to do.   

There are good things about being busy.  It can keep us out of trouble, as in “idle hands make the devil’s work.”  Busyness can give us a sense of purpose, a reason to bound out of bed in the morning.  Busyness in the culture connotes success: the confident professional striving into the world, Blackberry in one hand, latte in the other, ready to conquer all that waits. There was a time in my life when I loved being busy too, scheduled to the hilt, calendar overflowing from sun up to sundown but not anymore.

Maybe it is age. Maybe it is experience. Maybe it is wisdom. Maybe it is just exhaustion but I don’t think I want to be so busy anymore.  And in talking to friends and family and the folks I serve as spiritual guide?  These days when I ask: “How are you?” they almost always say, “Busy!”  But when I ask them what might make them happier, they reply, “Just more time.”  To be with loved ones. To play. To rest. To pray.  And to not be so…busy.

I’m not really sure how “busy” came to be the normal setting in our world.  Yes some of us are busy at times because we have no choice: a single Mom raising kids and working full time.  A harried worker trying his best to keep his job. The eager college student putting himself through school with a full class load and two part-time jobs. For some busyness equals survival.

But sometimes I think we humans are also busy because we are afraid that if we slow down we might just question how crazily we live, maybe even wonder “Is this all there is?” So we just keep going on. We keep the kids busy in the prayer and hope that they won’t get into any trouble.  We keep busy and end up not knowing our spouse or even children so well anymore.  Worst of all we mistake busyness for meaning in life: that our lives must matter and make a difference because, “Hey—I’m really busy!” That’s my sin.

But there is another way to live and not be so busy and it all starts with the notion of a day, just one day, this day. You see when God made that first day in the Creation story, it was just that, one day. Just one. “God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light ‘day,’ and the darkness God called ‘night.’ And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.”  From the start a day is just that one day: singular, solo, contained. 24 hours. 1440 minutes.  86,400 seconds.

Can’t subtract anything from that and more important we can’t add any more time to that day either.  We can try to get more organized, try to squeeze in more activities, download productivity apps, juggle calendars, sleep less, run faster, rush, rush, rush but at day’s end all we have is a day.

An intentional spiritual life sees that one day as a gift from God, a miracle even. One day which is finite. One day which has never happened before and will never, ever happen again.  When we see any day as “the day” which God has made and God has given, then maybe we can be a little less busy and a little more balanced about our time.

So let’s be busy, sure.  But let’s also remember that unchecked busyness takes a spiritual toll.  That work only matters if it also gives us the chance to play.  That activity only satisfies when it gives way to rest.  That getting ahead for “me” has to be balanced with time to help and serve “thee”.

God knows I’m busy. But God knows too that finally, all we have is one day.

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