Tuesday was a unusually busy night.
I started off the evening by dropping by a visitation for a church member’s family on the west side of town. Then I sped back to the east side to buy pizza for a fundraiser for an extraordinarily ill child in our church family. Meanwhile, my wife and daughter are doing whatever they do at Zumba. Once we huddle back together, our family scarfs down said pizza and my wife and I take an extended walk around the neighborhood. Once I get back home, I am bombarded by a slew of texts and calls from church members, including sorting out one pressing summer camp issue on the computer. Then collapse into bed.
For many church families, excessively and exhaustingly busy is a normal way of life. A few months ago, I surveyed families in my congregation to see what family ministry issues that they’d like me to teach about. Unsurprisingly, virtually every family listed that they had a problem with busyness. From hearing stories from families spending entire weekends on the road at ballfields, karate studios and distant hotel rooms, I wasn’t shocked.
I’m a recovering workaholic. And recovering is the operative word … I’m working on it. I had a “small” heart attack back in early 2015, which forced me to do some serious reevaluation of my life. One key thing that I quickly realized through the help of doctors and counselors: I was working 80+ hours per week. Like many small town pastors, I was performing ridiculously menial tasks outside of my job description ranging from janitorial tasks to property maintenance. When I resigned myself to a rigid 40 hour work week after my heart attack, a couple church leaders of my church soon confronted me and accused me of getting lazy.
While many church-going Americans recognize “sloth” as one of the seven deadly sins, we glorify busyness as a virtue. We believe in a capitalist God that rewards hard work ethic and throws lightning bolts at the welfare queens, addicts and man-childs playing X-Box in their parents’ basement. God helps those who help themselves and all that (which I believe is a Bible verse found in 2 Hesitations 3:16). Somewhere along the way, we’ve been seduced into falsely believing that God blesses our frenetic scrambles in our mini-vans back and forth from parent-teacher meetings to soccer practice to parcheesi club to dinner parties to pizza fundraisers to underwater ninja warrior twerking club to blindfolded waterboarding sessions. Now why would He bless a lifestyle that intentionally sacrifices devotion to God and quality time with family for the glorification of what should not be glorified?!?
Here’s the big idea: Busyness can be seductively sinful.
The touchstone of why busyness can be sinful is found in the well-versed account of two sisters (Mary and Martha) in Luke 10:38-42. I think we often lack proper perspective while reading this story. Suppose Jesus randomly showed up at your house today … And your house is nowhere near Martha Stewart magazine ready: Dirty dishes are in the sink … Your kids’ dirty socks are stuck in the couch corners … Dust bunnies are rolling like tumbleweed across the floor … Nothing but frozen pizza is available for dinner. You’d probably be moving faster than a jackrabbit on drugs to get your home in order for THE most important dinner guest of all time.
So there’s Martha: The “responsible” one. She’s flittering about the house assembling fine dining for the Messiah and his entourage. I imagine her with sweat pouring off her brow as she’s running to and fro filling her numerous guests’ glasses and barking commands to other ladies franticly throwing the kids’ unsightly toys in the closet. Also in the midst of the chaos of the dinner party, Martha’s sister, Mary, hasn’t lost her chill. She’s soaking in teaching at the feet of Rabbi Jesus and – unlike Martha – is totally not freaking out … Which makes Martha freak out even more. In a fit of frustration, Martha asks Jesus to tell her lazy bum sister to get her rear into gear: “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me” (v. 40). Ironically, Jesus winds up chiding the “responsible” sister instead: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (v. 41-42).
Martha commits a sin of idolatry. She believes that cleaning house, cooking dinner, pouring wine, unclogging toilets and generally running around like a headless chicken are genuinely important under these circumstances. There’s nothing wrong with a little Southern Judean hospitality … Unless that hospitality leads to completely missing the majesty of the Savior. Martha’s priorities are out-of-whack: Run around like a whirling dervish serving tables for a few hours to spend a few exhausted moments with Jesus afterward. Mindless activity for Christ has become more important than the person of Christ. Senseless work is trumping genuine worship. Sound familiar?!?
Christian, we’ve got to start calling a spade a spade. When we value something more than Christ, that’s idolatry. The end. It’s a seductive whisper that robs us of time to devote to Christ and cruelly steals our joy in our First Love. On the day of our funeral, only one genuinely life-giving thing is really important: Christ.
And if we truly believed that “one thing” was important, then our lives would reflect that belief. Instead, our harried lives revealed compromised hearts. We whittle away a few hours for water polo team, piano lessons and the season finale of CSI: Albuquerque and wind up losing our soul in the process. The sum total of our small compromises leads to the type of exhaustion where someone has to scoop you off the couch with a spatula. Worst of all, that soul-crippling exhaustion leads us no closer to Christ. Our joy dissipates into the malaise of depression.
So how to get less busy and more devoted to Christ? Here are few humble suggestions:
- Schedule Christ First: A few years back, our family pulled our daughter out of a soccer league because the practices fell during a weekly church activity. It wasn’t a hard decision because my spouse and I agree that Christ is first on our calendars. If you say Christ is first in your family’s life, then put your planning calendar where your mouth is. It’s been well-said by pastors that our checkbook reflects our hearts, but our calendar also reflects our hearts. If we truly love Christ, time with the Lord shouldn’t be the first thing reshuffled or obliterated from your schedule. Our schedules should revolve around Christ and not vice versa.
- Stop Comparing Yourself To Others: Often, we’re busy simply because that’s what everyone else around us is doing. Our neighbor’s kids are involved in 3 different after school activities, so it must be “normal” for our kids, right? NO! The whisper of guilt or envy of not being like “normal” families is not the voice of God. The only thing truly not “normal” is your family drifting further away from God. Take some time to pray and determine what is right and reasonable for your family’s schedule. Don’t fall into the sin of comparison.
- Humble Yourself: Pride is the enemy of our schedule. Unwittingly, we often say “yes” to the next bake sale or Girl Scout meeting because we secretly don’t want others to hate us. We desire approval, an attaboy or a pat on the back … We want to be part of the team and not left out on the sidelines … And we wind up feeling puffed up and important in the end. Or we attract the attention of pity to ourselves by playing a victim on social media (*insert intentionally vague Facebook post trolling for attention here*). Philippians 2:3 cautions: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” Don’t be controlled by others’ opinions … Break free and do what Christ calls in your daily life. Repeatedly ask yourself: “Who am I really doing this activity for?”
- Say “No” To Your Family: Often, we simply do things because we’re afraid to say “no” to our kids and spouses. In a fit of temporary insanity, we believe that simply giving in to our kids whining and signing up for our kids’ umpteenth school pizza fundraiser is the “easy” choice. I wish I had a nickel for every time a bleary-eyed, disheveled mom moaned: “I really didn’t want to do this but my kids begged me.” Why do we believe that forfeiting hours of time, energy and sleep to placate our kids is the best choice for our family?!? Worst of all, we often bend our schedules around our kid’s whims instead of God’s Word. So learn to say “NO” firmly, boldly and clearly … And don’t give to whatever carpet wetting, floor pounding tantrum ensues. Your kids will eventually understand what that word means. And you won’t ruin our kids for all eternity by denying them the opportunity to play in four soccer leagues a year … I promise.
- Say “No” To Your Church: When Paul talks about spiritual gifts in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12-14, believers are repeatedly taught that God blesses each believer with different giftedness. In the spiritual body of the church, one person serves the function of a foot while another is a hand. And one believer cannot fulfill another believer’s function. How does spiritual giftedness relate busyness? Well, the next time that your frantic Sunday School director corners you on Sunday morning to volunteer for a job that you are completely ungifted to fulfill, consider saying “no.” That last statement will make a LOT of ministers nervous, but I firmly believe that most church volunteers burn out by acquiescing to serve where they’re not gifted or passionate. So serve where you’re gifted and passionate. And don’t serve for the sake of serving … You might be a “hand” taking up the service opportunity of a “foot” in your church.
- Turn Off Your Technology: Honestly, is there any bigger time killer than the smart phone? I mean … Isn’t it really awesome to have your boss, your kids and your annoying friend be able to call, text or email (or all three) at all hours of the evening? With our technology, we’re never alone even when we’re alone. Someone is always poking us, hostilely demanding our immediate and divided attention. And even when we’re using our phones for leisure, we look from our screens after watching 3 hours of cat videos and wonder how the clock mysteriously wound up to 1AM. Want to reclaim serious time: Find the off button and use it.
- Rest (and Don’t Feel Guilty About It): Here’s my personal killer: I feel guilty about relaxing, resting or being “unproductive.” I feel like God wants me to do something more radical and missional than sit on a couch, so I resist anything associated with slacking off – like taking vacations. It’s an unhealthy grasp of grace in my life, inwardly believing that God will be more pleased with me if I work a bit harder. But here’s the thing: God designed man for rest (Mark 2:27; Matthew 11:28-30; Hebrews 4:9-11). While New Testament Christians no longer need to be legalistic about Sabbath rest, perhaps we shouldn’t minimize it either. God doesn’t desire sleepless and joyless zombies lumbering daily to earn brownie points with the Father. As children of grace who cannot earn salvation, I need to trust that I can rest and sleep, because more effort on my part will not earn more love of the Father.
If you’d like to study more about busyness and God’s plan for rest for your life, I’d highly recommend Kevin DeYoung’s immensely helpful book, Crazy Busy.
Now stop reading this post and go relax.