Why Are You So Busy?
September 12, 2011 5 Comments
Especially at this time of the year, when the academic world revs its engine, students, teachers, and parents have a ready-made answer to the typical “How are you?” question. “Good,” (insert smile that shifts seamlessly into a knowing look of concern), “but super busy.”
The typical American today strives to be as attractive as the models on fashion magazine covers, as successful in work as Bill Gates, as sensitive a spouse and parent as Ward and June Cleaver, and as death-defyingly healthy as Lance Armstrong–all while maintaining the inner peace of the Dalai Lama. (Barnes, The Pastor as Minor Poet, 92).
Sound like anyone you know? Does it sound like you? Sometimes I think it certainly sounds like me.
I was reading this terrific biography about Lyndon Johnson last night when I came to the chapter on his 1948 opponent in the senate race, Coke Stevenson. Coke grew up poor in the isolated Hill Country of Texas. He had two years of formal elementary schooling…and that was it. At sixteen years old, he ran a freight line across some of the most dangerous territory in the state, and he taught himself bookkeeping by firelight. He later taught himself law, and passed the Texas bar, eventually becoming one of the most sought after trial lawyers in the state.
He ran for public office only at the pleading of his friends and family, and after multiple local positions, a spot on the Texas House of Reps, becoming Speaker of the House twice over, Lieutenant Governor, and two successful bids for Governor, Coke Stevenson had never lost a race. He was the epitome of rags-to-riches. And biographers attribute much of his success to his famous and intense work ethic (including waking up at 4am each morning to maintain a rigorous reading program).
People like Coke Stevenson inspire me. When I read about him, I want to be better at what I do. I want to work harder to improve my skills and knowledge. Most of the time, however, this translates into getting busier and busier until my body is sore, my brain is mush, and my soul has few resources with which to love.
Of course, we all know what impact being too busy has on our lives…we have known or have been workaholics at some point in our lives. What I am interested in is this question: “Why are we so busy?”
I heard a story recently about a young man who was working 50 hours a week at his job and 40 hours a week volunteering at church. Coming to his pastor, he humbly requested that he be cut back to 30 hours of volunteering per week.
I don’t know about you, but in the circles I run in, being busy can be a badge of honor. “I’m busy,” translates into, “I’m doing something important with my life.” Sometimes it feels almost as if there are two possible categories that can identify me to my community: busy or lazy. I, for one, don’t want to fall into the latter category. I don’t want “lazy” as my identity. I doubt you do either.
Writer Craig Barnes talks a lot about constructing an identity for ourselves.
When my siblings and I were children, our favorite uncle would put us on his knee and ask, “And what do you want to be someday?” The expected answer would involve something that a person does. No child was expected to say, “I want to be happy.” (p. 7)
We tie doing to being so tightly that we work hard to achieve our identity. We strive to become Superman, Superwoman, Super-student, Super-spouse, Super-parent, etc., and we never stop our frantic pace long enough to realize we can never be good enough. We are always slipping backward on the treadmill little by little.
We say we are ‘making a living’ when what we’re actually making looks a lot more like death than life.
We constantly try to find our true selves in something other than a relationship with a loving God that calls himself our Father. Diligence is commendable, but when it becomes a replacement god in our hearts it will leave us high and dry every time. Describing this tragedy, Barnes writes:
And all that the reach for a different source to their identity has left them with is souls filled with the primordial nothingness. Having grown exhausted reaching for a preferred self, many just give up and settle for busy or comfortable distractions that numb the emptiness of their souls. (p. 9)
Even though Christians like me often fall into this life-sucking quagmire, I think my faith has the truest, healthiest, and most paradigm shifting identity descriptor that exists. The Bible calls it being in Christ. Being in Christ means that my identity is found in Jesus Christ, and not my achievements. Despite the mess that I and others have made of my life, despite my inability to be as diligent as Coke Stevenson, I am reconciled to God. And this is the kicker–I did not reconcile myself to God. Jesus Christ, God’s own Son, did it for me. It was, in colloquial terms, a hand-out. Through Jesus I receive my identity as a child of God. I cannot achieve that status any more than I can choose my human parents.
So let’s give up the rat race that is so enticing to our fast-paced Western minds because we are not rats…we are God’s children. Let’s let our souls rest in Him and not in our ability to achieve our identities, because we don’t need to busy to be loved.
As a professor of mine said earlier today, “God doesn’t love you because you are good. He makes you good because he loves you.”