The Habit of Busyness

How many times have you heard someone say we live in a culture of busyness? It sounds so good to hear. And we all nod in agreement saying, “You betcha! We sure do!” And if it’s in a Sunday morning message, it’s usually followed by a well thought out sermon or statement that encourages us to maybe not be so busy.

I don’t know about you but I usually … don’t change anything after those moments. I think part of it is that it requires way more thought than I want to give in the moment, but I think another part of it is because I don’t want to admit that I’ve bought into the busyness culture – that being busy is almost a status symbol, that I too have many things on the go (not that I’m free most evenings – doesn’t that mean I “don’t have a life”?), and that it’s just soooo hard to make time for the things that matter when I have all this other stuff to do. Well, maybe I should say things that I CLAIM matter, but I’ll come back to that in a sec. First off, I want to dive into habits for a bit.

Habit (Merriam Webster Dictionary)

1: a settled tendency or usual manner of behavior (her habit of taking a morning walk)
2a: an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary (got up early from force of habit)
b: ADDICTION (a drug habit)
c: a behavior pattern acquired by frequent repetition or physiologic exposure that shows itself in regularity or increased facility of performance (the daily bowel habit)

Habits can be consciously created, but they typically refer to things that we subconsciously repeat over and over again. In the book “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg, habit formations are explained as our subconscious response to different triggers. Duhigg invites the reader to examine their habits, and consider what is causing the action, and what the result of that action is (or rather, why that action is what the response is). For example, I have a bad habit of hitting the snooze button in the morning. The trigger is being tired when alarm goes off, and the habit is to hit the snooze….because I really want the extra sleep! To break that habit, I have to consciously make sure A. go to sleep at the right time so I don’t get woken up really tired by my alarm, and B. make a conscious effort to get up/out of bed the first time the alarm goes off instead of letting myself sleep in too late (and avoiding the mad rush to get out the door….which happens way too often…)

Our habits and what we spend time on point to what we care about. For example, I care about eating a healthy lunch every week, so every Sunday afternoon/evening without fail I will make time to meal prep. In fact, I value this so much that I eliminated the habit of putting off packing a lunch the night before/the morning of, because I knew that that habit was not working for me and often led to me either not eating, not eating well, or spending too much money on food.

Single decisions are easy. It’s when we fall into the habits that lead us to busyness that things start to get … sticky. We habitually look for things to do, things to fill our time with. And we very much value being able to say that we are doing things. And if we do have time to do things, we say that we “have no life” – why else would you *gasp* be free on Friday night AND Saturday night 3 weeks in a row?

I would argue that business has become a habit for a lot of us. We have “acquired this mode of behavior” where we sometimes involuntarily reject the idea of having nothing to do. We have settled into the norm of always being on the go, seeing the world and our lives through the window as we drive by (and bemoaning the fact that our lives are this fast train that we just can’t stop – a la John Mayer).

However, being “busy” isn’t necessarily bad! We can and should be doing things instead of sitting around doing absolutely nothing. But if having an open evening during the week is a problem for you and you feel like you have to always keep moving, doing things, and seeing people, then maybe it’s too much. Maybe you have fallen into the habit of busyness. The settled or regular tendency to fill all of your time with things. And it’s hard to give up. That feeling of adrenaline and accomplishment when you bounce from engagement to engagement and at the end can tell people you’re tired because you did x, y, AND z today (or is that just me?).

And this isn’t to say that different seasons of our lives are just crazier than others – sometimes different things just make for busier days! I’m talking about our choices to take on more and do more, for whatever reason, despite the current life-stage you find yourself in. Any life stage can be hectic and busy for different reasons – it’s the habits we form regardless of how we find ourselves that I’m more interested in.

So back to when I said “what I claim matter”. I believe that we make time for what we truly value. Sometimes it’s easy to blame our circumstance on not having enough time in the day, but I think God gave us 24 hours to be just enough for us. And if 24 hours isn’t enough, maybe we are doing too many things and expecting too much from the time allotted for us. Maybe the pace of life we are seeking isn’t the pace of life we ought to have.

In school I would use this example – if you have homework, church Sunday morning, and a few options for other things to do on the weekend, and you choose to leave all of your homework for Sunday morning, then you are basically saying that you value all those other things above going to church. Once is one thing – but if you habitually make that decision, perhaps your value is not really meeting with other believers routinely to worship corporately. It’s having fun with your friends and doing well in school.

We want to be transformed by the constant renewal of our minds (Romans 12) – and yet we do not (and least I do not!) find ourselves routinely in a space where we can be renewed. Being too busy means that we miss out on what God is doing around us, it doesn’t leave space for the spirit to work in our lives, and it makes it so we have a lot harder of a time responding to the calls God places on our lives.

If I am a disciple of Christ and I want my life to be shaped around Him, and the things I do are a living worship – an overflow of what wells up in me as a response to his love – then the things I am participating in, saying, and filling my time with ought to point towards what I value, that being my regenerated and continually sanctified – transformed – life.

If we value shaping our lives around Christ and seeing his transformative work, then our out to show that we value that by out time commitments and our activities. How many times have you tried to plan to meet up with someone only to find that neither of your schedules line up for the next two months? How many times have you responded to an invitation with “sorry, we’re already busy that day!” or, to a request for action, “I don’t have time to do that!”? What do those things point to as our values? Sometimes they’re good things! But those good things can get in the way of greater things.

If we expect to see transformation and change in our life, then maybe we ought to have space to do that. If I want to get to know Jesus and become more like him, then I need to spend time getting to know him. And taking the time to shape my life to be more like his.

In a forest, new life begins when old life dies. Sometimes I think that’s the way we have to view our spiritual growth and development as well. There is no way for us to possibly get to do everything we want. As the saying goes – you can have anything you want, but you can’t have everything you want ( or as I like to say, I can choose to eat all the cake all the time or have abs – I really can’t have both!)

Simply, if we want to see the transformative work of God in our lives, we need to sacrifice space and time for him to do that. If you don’t have time to see that happen, what are you doing that you don’t need to be doing? Where can you simplify and breathe more? Where can you say “no” so you can say “yes” to something more?

It isn’t going to be easy – taking inventory of our lives rarely is. But I’m sure it will be worth it.


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