The most common form of greeting for just about anyone we meet, close friend or total stranger, is, “Hi. How are you?” For most of my life, the standard response from an optimist, or one who wants you to mind your own business, was, “Fine.” Others might answer with something less committal like, “I’m upright.” George Carlin, the late, great comedian once said he liked to respond, “I’m not unwell,” just to throw people a curve. These days, however, the most frequent response to my query, “How are you?” is, “I’m busy.”
Busyness can be a good thing. When what keeps us busy is rewarding, meaningful, gives us a sense of accomplishing something, busyness can be an expression of the joy of life. I have to say, however, that most of the time the response “I’m busy,” is shortened to the single word, “Busy.” It is accompanied by a tired sigh and eyes that seem to say silently, “Help!”
Whether busyness is made up of endless extracurricular activities for the kids, a demanding job, caring for older parents, or a mess of things that arise from trying to meet other people’s expectations, it can be an exhausting and soul sucking existence. Socrates was wise when he said, “Beware the barrenness of a busy life.”
Faced with the “urgent” matters of each moment and driven by the expectations of others or the inner, insecure self, we will jump from one urgency to the next until we can’t jump any more. In the process we will miss what is less urgent, but essential in life. What is essential is not our doing, but our being. Being a created child of God, loved beyond measure, is the only thing that can give us what is essential. Spiritual guide and author, Henri J.M. Nouwen says:
“(I)f I were to let my life be taken over by what is urgent, I might very well never get around to what is essential. It's so easy to spend your whole time being preoccupied with urgent matters and never starting to live, really live.”
In the Book of James, the writer cautions us about busyness: “…in the midst of a busy life, they will wither away.” (James 1:11) James knows that to be sustained in a busy world by our own strength, our own power, our own dedication, and commitment, is foolish because it is impossible.
Living life abundantly requires grace to grant us the identity and power we do not possess and cannot manufacture. Only God can provide what we need to meet the demands of life. We must remember that God saves by grace. We cannot save ourselves by being busy. The thing we need to make it from meeting to meeting, engagement to engagement with joy is not within us. It is a gift.
It is like a helium-filled balloon. If it is tethered, it brings joy. When it gets loose, it bounces around, driven by every breeze, bump, tree branch, and power line that it crosses. When the events of life direct us, we are untethered from the source of life. Tethered to the source of life, we find joy in the events that give life instead of being controlled by them. Don’t let the urgent expectations of others rob you of the essential joy and source of life. Take a sabbath – regularly. Pray. Worship with the people of God and you will find strength. Martin Luther once said, “I have so much to do today I’ll have to pray twice as long!”
Pax Christi – Tim Olson, Lead Pastor