You hear it every day. You say it yourself.
- I would love to help but I am too busy.
- If I wasn’t so busy, I would exercise more.
- I am too busy for keeping up with friends.
- Cooking/eating healthy meals would be great, but I am so busy.
- My busy life doesn’t allow for even seven hours of sleep.
- God understands how busy I am right now, so prayer and Bible study are optional or brief most days.
Mr. Busy Demands a Tight Timetable
In our Western world, Mr. Busy gets credit for setting the schedule and nothing can change it. Being a busy person is expected, even admired in our culture. Not so around the globe.
When my husband and I lived in Afghanistan, we noticed wedding invitations came about three days prior to the event. These gold-embossed, elaborately designed cards were not a last-minute project so clearly, the marriage celebration was planned weeks, maybe months earlier. Why wait so long to deliver the news to desired guests?
We gave regrets too many times in the first years, not understanding the full meaning of this cultural practice. Making time to attend the nuptial party communicated a value, a respect for those asking for our attendance. There was no assumption we were sitting around doing nothing. The unspoken challenge was:
Would we stop our ongoing busyness to grace the family with our presence? Would we forgo our own agenda for someone else’s important event?
Even a simple shared meal in most foreign cultures ignores the clock on the wall. Dishes come in waves beginning with nuts and juice, then perhaps a soup or salad-vegetable dish before the main entrée and bread, then fruit, dessert, and tea. All this occurs in slow-motion, over hours, not microwave minutes. Conversation and connecting is really the focus, not the food.
Mr. Busy would have a nervous stomach at the lack of attention to time.
Mr. Busy Makes Slaves
“I am sorry for being lazy and sleeping so late,” said my almost-retired relative when appearing in his own kitchen on a Saturday morning about 8:00 am. We were gathering our first cup of coffee, still in robes and slippers.
I looked at him incredulously. “It’s Saturday. You work crazy hours all week. Why should you apologize?” I looked at his wife who shook her head at her mate’s reluctance to relax, to not be busy.
Measuring our value, our significance with busyness is a deadly trap that makes us slaves. There is never a sense of completion or freedom to just stop. We think all day and all night we should be busy or we must be lazy? What brain and body find that pace life-giving?
We believe the business model of never-ending workdays and morning-to-night activity applies to children too. How will students compete for scholarships, the top spot on a team or be admitted to the best college if their young resume is not full? Mr. Busy tells us success is about our effort, our achievement, our reputation for getting things done that will make life worthwhile and secure status with others.
Occasionally we hear of famous go-getters at the end of their days who regret not spending time with loved ones or giving more of themselves to important causes beyond making money and gaining trophies.
Mr. Busy hates those confessions.
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Mr. Busy is Not God’s Representative
When the Israelites were released from slavery in Egypt, God knew they needed to develop a new lifestyle. They needed to shift submission from slave masters to a loving Father who wanted much more than busyness for their existence. He wanted their minds and bodies to have space for Him, for each other, for enjoying the unshackled lives they now possessed.
One of the ways He taught the new mindset was in gathering manna, their daily bread.
In Exodus 16, God instructed the newly freed, unresourced people to bring in the house only enough bread for one day at a time. If they feared trusting the plan, they found wormy leftover bread the next day. The additional challenge was to not gather on Day 7 and believe the bread from Day 6 would stretch into Day 7, that the portion would miraculously double.
Busyness had nothing to do with their success. Trust was the important piece of the reprogramming plan.
The residual slave mentality pushed God’s people to test Him often and the transition-teaching journey took decades. He wanted to eradicate their hoarding, fearing, grumbling, and self-relying slave ways. He offered freedom to choose trusting, giving, loving, laughing, and believing in a Heavenly, Good Father-Provider, not a slave master.
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Mr. Busy Deletes Margins
This God prescription for a healthy life includes a Sabbath, a day of margin, of stopping work. Not being busy at least one day a week gives space for worship, for reflection, for rest, for connecting and for remembering Who is really in charge of our lives and being grateful, not exhausted.
Life throws the unexpected through health issues, economic demands, family crises, natural disasters, and other people’s needs. When we stay booked up to bedtime each day, even with recreation or binge-watching Netflix or Youtube videos, we leave ourselves vulnerable to stress and poor choices.
Resiliency, the ability to recover quickly from trouble or trials, is a mighty resource in tough times. Sleep, exercise, nutrition, balanced emotions, and peace with God and others are key elements to bouncing back from difficulties. Chronic busyness depletes the resiliency storehouse.
Related: Tell Your Time
Stand Up to Mr. Busy
When people seemingly try to compliment me with an opening, “I know you are such a busy person, so I hate to bother you…,” I cringe. I don’t want to be known as a busy person who has to be bothered to be present with someone or asked to be involved in a worthy activity or just to have some fun.
Not everyone will agree or confirm our choices to stop, to slow down, to leave room for worshipping God, to building resiliency and health. No matter, we must take our stand. Busyness can train wreck our lives and those around us. Certainly, we will not enjoy our life to the extent God had in mind when He made us and set us free from the slavery of sin and selfishness.
Reach out to trusted friends or a life coach if help is needed to break out of busy-slavery. We need to listen to God’s loving voice about Sabbath and margin, not slave-driver boss man, Mr. Busy.
Gail Goolsby, MA, MEd is a lifelong educator, including past leadership at an international school in Afghanistan. Gail and her pastor husband of 39 years live where the wind blows over the prairie in south Kansas. She counsels and coaches using God’s Word to help others learn to live well.