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.