06 November 2017

Why are we all so busy?

Well I’m back from an extended break from writing and accessing that app on my phone that stars with F. Incidentally, I have the Facebook app located in a random folder inside a folder inside a folder on my phone, so it takes just long enough for me to think about why I’m accessing it before I do – which is surprisingly helpful sometimes.

Why the break? Why not! Resting from being ‘productive,’ resting from expectation and denying oneself that consuming habit of checking your news feed is simply good for the soul sometimes.

So, I’d like to say I was just totally resting, but that is not completely reality, is it? I find rest so incredibly hard to do at this stage of life – and I know I’m not alone. If there is one narrative I hear more than any other in people’s lives today, it is that life is ‘soooo busy’ (and frankly I’m often no exception). Busy is not just the realm of the high-flying executive, the school teacher, the tradie nor the parents of young ones. Busy finds most of us, and sadly, busy defines many of us. I'm acutely aware that many in my community perceive me as a busy person - perhaps too busy to interrupt. My dilemma is that busy is not what I want to be known for, nor the example I want to set - but I am.

Now busy is not necessarily bad. Living productive, full lives can be immensely rewarding. However, busy is not typically something we are aiming for in life because of the effect that it has on so many dimensions of life. For example, I and my pastoral colleagues in every church I can think of lament the same trend in their faith communities. Attendance is becoming increasingly sporadic, as people are torn between commitment to the rhythm of weekly worship and everything else that seems to crowd in. Sadly, it is common these days for people to come monthly to a worship service or not at all. I conclude that the problem is not necessarily the waning spirituality of the people. It is more possibly the unprecedented demand on their time and the dilemma of how to make the average week work when Sunday may be the only moment to breathe, (or catch up on everything else that didn’t get done the other 6 days).

For those who feel like that today, can I say, I get it. The pace of life leaves us all constantly choosing between the urgent and the important – and usually the urgent wins.

But let’s push back a little on this trend, because in as much as busy is a reality we all know; we are not simply passive victims of time and circumstance. We all make real choices with the same 24-hour time period that everyone has enjoyed through all of history. And perhaps we need to examine the why behind all those choices?

For example, why do I need to earn that much money? Why do I need to work so many hours? Why must my kids be in 5 different activities or private school? Why is the football game more compelling than friends or worship? Why do I need to fill every spare minute with some kind of digital stimulus or media? Why do I feel guilty doing nothing? I could go on but I’m sure you get the idea. Why is such a great question.

I’m sure we all think we have sensible answers for our choices. But our choices are probably the truest manifestation of the real values of our life. Sometimes we genuinely feel powerless to change our situation, but my hunch is that in most cases, we are strongly motivated by the need for a type of control and comfort. We have a deep longing to be in control of our circumstances and relationships, and obtain whatever we think will satisfy. And we buy the story that when we have control and comfort, happiness, significance, security and peace will then flood into our lives. But does it? And if it does, for how long?

I wonder how often our sensible choices sabotage the very life we long for?

God makes people not machines. We are flesh and blood, designed to both work, and rest. And rest is not simply a sleep in on Sunday, rest is far more purposeful.

The Bible’s answer to this is Sabbath, a concept largely overlooked today. Sabbath is the work and rest pattern woven into creation. The land was to be worked for 6 years and rested the seventh; people were to toil 6 days and rest the seventh. God is into sustainability – sustainable use of the land and sustainable lives. The Sabbath was a day of ceasing from toil and exchanging it with fellowship and worship. A positioning of our lives around abiding and connection to God, and each other. Jesus in John 15 would say that it is only from this position that real flourishing in life happens.

There is great wisdom in this ancient pattern which is as relevant today as it has ever been. Jesus was frequently critical of religious types who applied Sabbath in legalistic and prescriptive ways. But Jesus never disregards the Sabbath and he says in Mark 2 ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.’

The Sabbath was a gift for people to keep them from ceaseless toil and create margin where their hearts and lives could be reoriented toward God and one another.

I wonder if it is worth considering how we build this pattern back into our lives?
Where would you begin? Here is an interesting exercise to try:

1. Make a two-column table with ‘Toil’ on left side and ‘Sabbath’ on the right. Take a look at your calendar for say a month and categorise all your activities into one column or the other. Ask the ‘why’ question behind each activity.

2. In the Toil column put a question mark next to anything that may need further reflection. Why must this activity remain on my list?

3. Consider and pray about what you may need to reduce and how you may need to restructure your time to create more margin for Sabbath.

Experience tells me that when people get super busy the first thing to go is the right-hand column and the priority of Sabbath activities. What if we valued this right-hand column so much that we would instead ask ‘what needs to go from all my toiling?’ Perhaps we would eventually discover not only a more sustainable life, but a more productive one too?