The Busy Virus (And 5 Helpful Pills)
Sometimes when you bash your head against a moving train, it’s too severe for just a Band-Aid.
When you say to someone, “How are you?” what is the most common response? I’m guessing it’s “Good—busy, but good.” Busyness can be like the invisible badge of honour we wear. If we’re busy, then surely we’re important! Right?
Once you start to look for it, you see it everywhere—like an alcoholic spotting bars. We live in the culture of busy. It’s the modern illness of spirit. When the Apostle Paul wrote “Do not be conformed to this world,” he might as well have been talking about this.
Max Lucado writes about a man in Florida who was kept waiting by his ophthalmologist for an hour. So he billed him $90 for his time for keeping him waiting. In 1965 a testimony before a Senate subcommittee claimed the future looked bright for free time because computers would do our work for us. The report said that by 1985 Americans would have a 22 hour work week and be able to retire at age 38! Wowza.
You know what I’m talking about. But before I offer a few pills for the virus (that I also struggle with!), listen to how frequently Jesus talks about setting aside time for rest and renewal:
- “The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” (Mark 6:30)
- “Now during those days [Jesus] went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God.” (Luke 6:12)
- “But now more than ever the word about Jesus spread abroad; many crowds would gather to hear him and to be cured of their diseases. But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray.” (Luke 5: 15-16)
- “And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone…” (Matthew 14:23)
Even Jesus set aside time for rest and renewal. And he was the Son of God!
Rest is good. But it isn’t just relaxing. Rest is withdrawing temporarily from the world of demands. It’s also re-rooting yourself in God. When Jesus sets time aside he prays. There is devotion. 1600 years ago the renowned church father Augustine said it like this “God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.” Rest in you. If the God factor isn’t there, it’s simply not the same thing.
What About You?
Still not convinced? Do you find that you don’t ever really listen to anyone? Chances are this is because you’re too busy and really listening to people in a helpful way takes effort and empathy.
Do you get frustrated or angry easily? Is your patience easily tested? You probably have a depleted margin. A margin in school is the edge of the paper for overflow. A margin in life is that extra reserve you need to dip in to on a busy day, when you’re stressed, or just down. If you’re too busy and not rested enough, you have a depleted margin. You can’t cope maturely with things so you just react. And when we react without thinking, bad things happen. We’re not our best selves.
The 5 Pills
All that said, here are five pills to help with the virus. They won’t turn the titanic on a dime, but they’ll start reorienting your compass.
1. You are not God. That’s right. No matter how hard you try, you cannot control everything in your life or the world around you. So relax. Perfection is God’s business; not ours.
2. Take rest seriously – It’s a commandment. We often think of rest as an optional add-on if we have time. But the 4th commandment is a… well, a commandment. It is about setting a day aside to rest. I know it’s tough; I have family, work and commitments too. But we have to at least realize that without rest, we are not following the godly pattern for our lives. We miss the beauty. The sun sets and we don’t see it because our schedules are beating us over the heads.
3. Make priorities (Don’t be lazy). Eugene Peterson says that being busy “is the symptom not of commitment but of betrayal.” By that he means that what is often cloaked as ‘busyness’ is really just being lazy because we’re being pushed around and letting other people set our agendas. Over-functioning is often under-prioritizing. It takes work to make priorities, to set goals for your life. But do it and work at it each day so that what you’re doing is contributing to those goals. Don’t be pushed around.
4. Schedule rest. Maybe that sounds like a paradox. And it may sound nerdy – but who cares! We schedule things that are important: the graduation, the hospital visit, the Christmas dinner. Write it in pen and we might start to take it more seriously. If you have a partner, get them on board. Schedule a family pajama day, turn the technology totally off, and order in dinner. If you’re infected with the busy virus, put rest in the agenda.
5. Use a trick to find the centre. Most of us aren’t good at rest. The problem is that our minds are racing so fast that when we get some down time, we get stressed thinking about all the things we should be doing. So you need to distract yourself to find the centre—at least when you’re new at it. Here’s a little trick. Memorize a short passage of the Bible and say it to yourself, kind of like a little centre-your-soul moment. Maybe it’s Psalm 23:1 (“The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want”) or Matthew 11:28 (“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest”) or Romans 12:2 (“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”) The mind and body is powerfully changed by the things we learn and say by pattern.
Here’s a quick medicinal review: (1) You are not God; (2) Take rest seriously—It’s a commandment; (3) Make priorities (Don’t be lazy); (4) Schedule rest; and (5) Use a trick to find the centre (Scripture memorization).
The Teaching of Tombstones
I have visited a lot of cemeteries. And as you walk around and read the tombstones one of the things you notice is the things people engrave. There isn’t much space, so what you put there has to really pack a punch. So I always notice what isn’t there. Not once have I seen a headstone that says, ‘So-and-So: worked 80 hours a week,’ or ‘So-and-So: so busy they never had time for family,’ or ‘So-and-So: Never knew how to rest… until now.’
What I do see is things like ‘Dear Mother’ or ‘Beloved Father’ or ‘Best Friend.’ My favourite is ‘Child of God.’ And the biblical passage most quoted on headstones is John 3:16: “For God so loved the world he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal… exhaustion? No. “will not perish but have eternal… life!”
“Dear Mother,” “Beloved Father,” “Best Friend,” and “Child of God.” Judy Garland said: “Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.” The busy virus stinks. And you have to be careful because it’s an airborne disease. So to help you get to a first-rate version of yourself take some pills… and the secret ingredient: