“I know you’re busy, but . . .”
If I had a dollar for every time someone prefaced an invitation to me with this phrase, I could quit my job and live a life of leisure.
Reality? Sometimes when someone says that to me, it’s simply not true. After hitting a wall last year, I have fought hard to eliminate hurry from my life. Is it full? Yes. Is it too full? Thankfully, most of the time, no.
But here’s the thing: when someone says that, it triggers something in me. It probably triggers something in all of us. Something that doesn’t feed anything good.
That word infers value. It implies that we’re in demand. We like to be in demand, don’t we? While we might tire of our overscheduled lives, there’s a reason we keep doing it.
That word reinforces our tendency to overschedule, overwork, overdo. It doesn’t invite us to freedom. In fact, it subtly tells us, “You should be busy. That’s how we do it around here.”
It also diminishes the speaker. “I’m probably not as important as everything you have going on.” There’s an unconscious out we give people in such a statement that says, “Your busy life can trump me.”
That word limits us. If I am busy when someone makes that statement, they’ve just justified me overdoing it. If I’m not, they’ve implied I should be. There’s no freedom to rest, no invitation to slow down.
Busyness is a cultural expectation. How often do you hear someone say, in response to an inquiry about how they’re doing, “Yeah, you know, we’re really busy!”
We say it with a smile and a shrug, like, “What can we do?”As though it’s something that happened to us, rather than something we’ve chosen. We say we don’t like it, but we continue to agree to it.
And it’s killing us.
How Busy Hurts Us
Busy undermines our ability to live well. All throughout scripture, God calls us to be people of rest, people who love others well, people who live in peace and joy. How do we do that when we barely have space to breathe?
Busy keeps us isolated, ironically. While we might encounter people in all our activities, rarely are there places where we sit and live slowly, deeply, intentionally with others. It’s sports practice or business dinners, church functions or birthday parties. Fun? Usually. Restful? Rarely.
The word itself, when we speak it over one another, keeps our eyes fixed on the wrong things. It tells us to value that which the world values. It reinforces that our worth comes from our productivity. We fear slowing down means we’ll miss out. It keeps us on an exhausting ride.
So What Should We Do?
I realize there will always be seasons of busyness for each of us. What we must guard against is them becoming continuous seasons. When a season of busyness simply leads to another season of busyness, then what you have is not seasons: it’s a climate.
We lived in Singapore for 5 years. It’s one degree off the equator. When the daytime temp doesn’t shift more than about 5 degrees the whole year around, you lose a sense of time. You become acclimatized. It wasn’t until people came to visit us and complained of the heat and humidity that we were reminded of the climate in which we lived.
When we keep using this word busy in our vocabulary, we become acclimatized. I wonder if we even know what it feels like to not be so driven.We must fight to keep “busy” from defining our lives. It is a choice to be busy. And it’s a hard choice not to be.
To not embrace it means to say no, often to good things. We have to face FOMO. Maybe we miss out on something important.
Or maybe we realize it wasn’t as important as we thought.
It can begin with us eliminating this word from our vocabulary. Certainly, let’s stop speaking it over one another. You don’t know I’m busy. I don’t know that you are.
And even if we are, we don’t need others to encourage us to stay in it. We need to invite each other to step away from it.
Let’s Slow Down
What if our answer to, “how are you doing?” didn’t include the word, “busy” anymore? What if instead, we could say, “We’re in a slow season right now. It feels good.” Or at least, “We’re trying to slow down.” Can you imagine?
We were never meant to live as the world lives. In this aspect, in particular, we have an opportunity right now to live counter-culturally.
May we be people who live slowly, deliberately. God, make us people who rest well and love well. May we live just to the limits you give us, not beyond.