By Andrew Hoffman
I recently came through a season of “busyness.” My wife and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary, our church celebrated its 10th anniversary, I was one of two presenters at a two-day forum on urban ministry, and I co-directed a large regional conference with speakers from around the country…all within a four week period. These duties were on top of the weekly care for my family, pastoring, preaching, and leading. I know there are people more busy than I am but, for me, this was a lot.
In the middle of it all, I began to think about the concept of “busyness.” What is it? Why don’t people in previous ages talk about it nearly as much as we do? How come some people seem less affected by it while other, outwardly less busy people, seem more affected? I even wondered if busyness as a thing even really exists or if it is a concept we’ve invented to help us manage people’s expectations of us. Perhaps most importantly, what does the Bible say about it?
Busyness is a reality of life but I’d like to suggest it is a thing much more in our minds than we might recognize. On a theoretical level, we can’t really be more or less busy because, as limited humans, we can only ever do one thing at a time. Even so-called multitasking is actually just moving quickly from one activity to another.
So what, then, is busyness? As one friend pointed out, part of busyness is the sense that we have more things to do than can be accomplished in the amount of time we’ve been given to do them. Busyness, then, is a perception we have about our current circumstances. The problem with this perception, however, is that there are all kinds of variables in determining how much time we have and how much time a given task will take and we are not very good at discerning the time/task equation. In the face of this uncertainty, we default to feeling stressed and busy. Then our culture reinforces the busy feeling because it has become both fashionable and normal to “be busy.” What are we as Christians to do?
The Bible doesn’t talk much about busyness but clearly the people of the Bible were “busy” according to modern standards. Imagine Jesus describing his schedule to a friend. “On Thursday I walk all the way to Jerusalem (no car!), I’ve got to clear out the temple, then I’ve got multiple lectures to give in the temple courts (I haven’t even written them yet), endless healings, feeding the poor… and then there are the twelve! I have individual appointments with each one, plus I have to get over to the garden for a prayer gathering…” Jesus was remarkably active and yet it is hard to imagine him complaining of busyness. So, what gives?
Perhaps Jesus’ words in John 15 provide a clue to his approach to busyness. “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7). Maybe the question we should be asking one another is not “are you busy?” but “are you abiding?”
I noticed during my recent “busy” time that there was little value in reflecting on how busy or not I was. There was no redemption in it. The real question was whether or not I was abiding in Christ, resting in his promises, filtering my decisions through prayer and the word, giving myself to one thing at a time, and trusting God would accomplish his goals through my limited efforts. I came to see that the fact that I can only do one thing at a time is a precious gift from God, a restriction to help me live within the dusty frame that is my body.
So instead of asking one another if we’re busy, it might be more helpful to ask each other if we are abiding. Are you abiding? ©