Living in a Tiring World

Is it just me or is life more tiring than it used to be?

Please, no comments about middle-age.

Besides, I’m not, strictly speaking, talking about physical tiredness. No, I mean emotional and mental tiredness. I mean the way in which so many around us are dealing with anxiety and depression, and at younger and younger ages. I mean the pace of life, and how we don’t really know how to rest. And I mean really rest. A deep, down rest in our souls rest. A rest from feeling like we have to be on all the time.

I think of someone who watches TV news for long stretches of time or spends hours scrolling through their Facebook feed, indiscriminately taking in angry posts, conspiracies, and drama. I think of people who very nearly can’t part from their smartphones for any length of time but are captive to notifications, likes, and comments sections.

We’re addicted to our devices and to social media, and we’re killing our capacity for empathy, compassion, self-awareness, and patience.

I also think of our nearly pathological need to keep “busy” pretty much for its own sake. Anything to occupy ourselves so that we don’t actually have to face ourselves and have our thoughts wander to more significant things: life, death, and everything in between.

French philosopher Blaise Pascal, in his Pensees, once wrote this: “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” True, that.

Our hearts and minds are like hamsters on a wheel, endlessly going round and round but never going anywhere—except making ourselves more anxious and more distracted and more discontented.

There was a time when I would feel oddly guilty about not being “busier.” It’s like I felt less important. Because busyness suggests importance. But I honestly don’t care anymore. I think doing less is a virtue. That not running around to endless activities is a virtue. That not filling up my kids’ calendars is a virtue. I look at people whose lives seem overcrowded and I know that, were that me, I would go nuts.

But maybe it’s just me.

Yet it seems to me that we’re failing to learn and to pass on what it means to be ourselves, to know ourselves, and, certainly, to know what it means to rest in the presence of our Maker.

Perhaps I am wrong, but I think there is a lot of fear in people today. Much unease. And, I think, a lot of loneliness and longing. Without solid footing, many just rely on their best guesses and opinions for purpose and meaning.

All I know is that we’re more than the sum of our activities and social media posts. We’re creatures made in the image of God with dignity and value. We have a Creator, One who designed us to be human beings not human doings. One who loves us before we lift a finger or open our mouths.

And we know this because this God came here, to this world, his creation, entered into our humanity, in order to tell us and to show us.

In the Bible we have these words which tell us about Jesus, who is God incarnate:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For everything was created by him, in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities- all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and by him all things hold together.

Colossians 1:15-17

Listen to that again: All things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and by him all things hold together.

There’s your reason for living. There’s the explanation for your existence. Right there. In the person of Jesus.

This same Jesus also invites us to find rest from busyness, from weariness, from all forms of self-justification, from all anxiety, by coming to him:

Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Matthew 11:28-30

I think it’s true that life is more tiring than it used to be. I think our world is tiring. I think people often feel this enormous pressure and obligation to go along and try and keep up. But Jesus, I think, invites us to something different. That’s the life I want. I’m learning to live into it. What about you?

The Blasphemy of Busyness

Busyness is the enemy of spirituality. It is essentially laziness. It is doing the easy thing instead of the hard thing. It’s filling our time with our own actions instead of paying attention to God’s action. It’s taking charge . . . The word busy is the symptom not of commitment but of betrayal. It is not devotion but defection. The adjective busy set as a modifier to pastor should sound to our ears like adulterous to characterize a wife, or embezzling to describe a banker. It is an outrageous scandal, a blasphemous affront. Hilary of Tours diagnosed our pastoral busyness as ‘irreligiosa solicitudo pro Deo,’ – ‘a blasphemous anxiety to do God’s work for him.’”

Eugene Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor

“How’s life?” someone asks you. “Busy,” you reply. Why is this so often our answer? Is that our answer because it’s true or is it our answer because we think we should be busy?

Recently I heard someone say that a Christian ought to be busy. Now, I know what they meant or intended to say. The word “busy” is very nearly synonymous with faithful in much of evangelical culture. Redeem the time. Don’t bury your talents. Etc., etc. etc.

But I still hate the word busy. To my ears, it sounds like an excuse word or a word we use to justify ourselves, to make ourselves feel better. Worse, it’s like at some level we can’t really accept or believe, much less live out of, the reality of grace, and so we have to make up for the gift we’ve been given through Christ by our effort and activity.

Years ago a mentor and friend of mine said, “Busyness is the evangelical badge of courage.” A busy Christian is a truly committed, obedient Christian. Our degree of busyness shows how much we’re willing to sacrifice for our Lord who sacrificed himself for us.

And to be honest, I don’t even know what the word busy means when people use it. Is someone busy when they’re setting aside time for prayer, reading, and reflection? Is someone only busy if they fill their schedule with endless family and church activities?

What if a congregation, in order to more clearly discern God’s leading, chose to pause a number of their programs and activities for a season in order to spend more time pouring over God’s word together and praying with one another? Are they not still busy doing the Lord’s work?

Indeed, perhaps the last year or so of COVID lockdowns and restrictions could or should have been an opportunity for churches to do exactly that instead of seeing the situation as an interruption to what they perceive God to be doing in their ministries.

Maybe what we all need–individually and as churches–is to get a little more unbusy.