I had a week off from teaching last week, which I’d made plans to fill with rest and dissertation-writing. And then people started showing up in my life in tears, in shambles, wanting to talk, and asking for my help.
In some ways the hardest part of these conversations wasn’t the real suffering in the midst of this world, but the ways in which each person couched their requests with, “I know you’re just as busy as the rest of us, but…” or “You must be so busy, but…” But the fact was, for once, I wasn’t all that busy, I had space and time, more ample than in any other week, to listen, to soothe, to pray, to drive someone around.
I was so grateful to God for filling that break with ministry, for using my time so much more wisely that I would have, and it’s led me to think whether this “I’m not busy” thing could become a way of life. You see, I started to like the way the words felt on my lips, the way the extra time, space, and the whole mentality made me a more careful listener, a more gracious friend, and a willing servant. In the end, I’m pretty much convinced that there are only two ways to live this life: “being in control,” which amounts to swimming desperately upstream, kicking ferociously against all that we’ve been given, or well, going with the flow.
What’s so interesting is that we, in all our foolishness, often call this gasping for air and feverish kicking, living. We call it busyness with self-important sighs and cluttered calendars, and we trick ourselves into thinking that it’s some pinnacle of achievement. But when we retreat to our homes and our families and our friends who actually know us, we find that “being in control” is inordinately heavy. These calendars and commitments– they weigh us down, sapping the life out of us, one forced smile at a time.
These past two weeks, I was forcefully reminded that I don’t want to be in control of my life, because God has other plans. As people of faith, we are invited to experience the opposite of control, we’re invited to feel weightless, in that we’re to collect burdens for one another and cast them all onto Jesus. Of course, it’s an idealistic vision of this life, but it’s true–it’s what God wanted for us. We Christians are so passionate about ridding the world of sin, but perhaps it’s no wonder that feels so heavy and so busy and so burdensome when we take it all upon our shoulders. We hardly have hope of weightlessness when we’ve become so competitive about who’s carrying the heavier load.
Now it’s possible you’re reading this today and you’re feeling out of sorts, because I’m talking about lightness and your load is heavy: you’ve got three mouths to feed and two jobs, or family members facing cancer and death, or uncertainty and pain in your marriage, or children doing drugs and hurting themselves in heartbreaking ways. I’m not in your shoes, and I can only imagine how hard, unjust, and stressful any and all of those real life situations can be.
But I’m also not hoping to turn being available, open, and free (like being busy) into a competitive sport either. The fact is, if you’re working two jobs because you’ve got three mouths to feed, or your thoughts, prayers, and time are with a family member who’s sick, a spouse who needs you, or a child, life probably is pretty heavy right now, and you’re probably right where you should be. In fact, what I’m proposing is an economy of mercy, where we who are choosing to be busy and distracted, stacking up appointments and zillions hours of work a week, might hear and honor the people in front us who need us in these real life moments. And someday they’ll do the same, and we’ll all be a little more aware that we need Jesus and forgiveness and grace, and that’s the stuff life’s really all about.
For me, one week of really not being busy turned into a second week of believing it. Many times when I said, “Oh I’m not busy,” people didn’t really believe me, and at first, it felt awkward and trite. They thought I was mocking them, which is sad, because even when I was full of joy I think the reason they couldn’t believe me is because we’ve all made connection and caring and time slaves to our schedules.
But I kept at it, I kept believing that God had brought my friends to me and God was going to be faithful to worrying about those details of scheduling, dissertation writing, lesson planning, and proposal writing, if I could just be present with that person in front of me. And I could tell that my friends knew I meant it at some point, that it wasn’t that I’m not busy, that I don’t have things I could be doing, but that I was exactly where I wanted to be, and that when we’re there for one another, this world gets a little bit more graceful and that little bit is God in us and with us.
So I’m proposing a mini-revolution of sorts, a big screw you to the idolatry of calendars and appointments and modern life, and an invitation for you to tell someone this weekend or this coming week, “I’m not busy.” They may not get it– after all, you may be the busiest person they know, and then it will probably mean that much more.
But the best thing will be that when they see that you’re really serious about not being busy, that you’d rather listen to them than do anything else with your time, they’ll not only feel free, but so will you. You’ll find that God is faithful to carry all our burdens and so much more, and somewhere along the way, you won’t actually feel busy anymore. Even though you still have a million things you could be doing, you’ll feel so miraculously weightless, and best of all, you’ll find God leading the way.