I remember hearing the adage when I was in college, “If Satan doesn’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy.” Well, I don’t know that I continue to have quite the same perspective of the demonic nature of busyness, but as I enter my second decade of ministry with college students, I sure do feel the insidious creep of responsibilities taking over what is otherwise known as my life. I feel it slip up on me when friends ask me how I am and my first inclination is to say, “Busy!” I am sure that I am not alone in the pace that I keep in campus ministry: late night events, weekend retreats, early morning meetings, attending conferences out-of-town… and often all of these one after another. While others may look at my schedule and say that I’m terribly productive because of all that I’m able to “accomplish,” I look at it with a little embarrassment and guilt about my inability to be balanced. Not to mention the healthy dose of frustration that I have with the pace of my life.
In the last year, I’ve gotten to a place where the hamster wheel that I feel like I’m on is spinning out of control. Because I’ve been on the hamster wheel for, oh, about 25 years (I perfected managing a schedule, balancing responsibilities, and not lying around at a very early age), I actually know better how to live busy than I do to live balanced. I’ve explained to friends and family for years… okay, decades, that “things are going to slow down soon,” or “I’m just hustling now and I will get a break in a couple of weeks.”
Lest you think this is an article to whine and complain about having too many things to do, let me hasten to the point: in the midst of the busyness of ministry, I’ve learned that perhaps busyness is masking a dirty little secret. In the last year as I’ve examined both the cause and the cost of my busyness, I’ve begun to wonder if sometimes my busyness is actually a cleverly disguised laziness.
When you’re busy, you don’t have to do the things that you really don’t want to do… you just simply don’t have enough hours in the day. When you’re busy, no one would dream of calling you lazy, a word that is an affront to American productivity and efficiency. But what if being busy is actually a form of slothfulness? Lazy thinking—taking shortcuts to make the point that I really wanted to make without all of that pesky critical thinking. Lazy planning—I’ll just explain that I had too much on my plate to catch every detail. Lazy actions—eh… who will notice if I don’t do this when I already do so much of that. Yep… let’s call it what it is… sometimes me being busy, is just me being lazy.
I had this realization at the beginning of last summer when I began to examine some of my practices in the previous year. Because of how unbalanced I felt in the previous months, I intentionally made some choices that have helped me take steps toward addressing my “busyness” and have helped me be honest with myself about what is really behind it.
Exercise for Discipline
Even when (and maybe especially when) I am busy I have learned that in order to combat the craziness of my schedule, I need to commit to a regular exercise plan. While I’ve begun and quit more exercise plans that I care to admit, this summer, in what I can only understand as a divine grace, I got an opportunity to run with a group of friends who were training for a half marathon. One member of our group put together a training plan that involved running at hours of the morning in which I was usually asleep. And let’s not even talk about how early we run once school started! Let’s just say that we have a couple of hours on the sun some mornings! But I’ve remembered a lesson that I’ve learned before: despite how busy I am, I can always find time to do the things that I really want to do. You may question why I think running long distances before the crack of dawn in something that I really want to do, but the benefits of regular exercise start with the body, invade the mind, and even creep into the spirit. I realized that despite the “pain” associated with putting one running shoe-clad foot after another, I’m cultivating practices of discipline that bleed over into other areas of my life. While I didn’t shoot for a half-marathon this fall, I’ve established the habits that will help me push the boundaries next spring when I do run a half-marathon. Being faithful in small things allows us to be faithful in many. Perhaps, an antidote to laziness is a lofty goal, a plan and a community of people with whom to work out the plan.
Last winter, when I was perhaps at the depths of my frustration over my busyness, I picked up Ruth Haley Barton’s book Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry. I didn’t slow down long enough to read it until this summer, but when I did, it reminded me why I was so tired. My former rhythms of life that included solitude, prayer, fasting, and other life-giving spiritual practices had slowly been eroded by the life-draining nature of leadership not firmly grounded in the Spirit of God. That hamster wheel of busyness for God on which I had been operating had become an unforgiving and harsh master. It demands great amounts of energy and doesn’t grant the fruits of progress. Barton’s book caused me to take a step back from my activity to focus on the truth of cultivating my own relationship with God. It wasn’t a lesson that I hadn’t already learned a million times, but her book was a fresh grace from God to help me deal with some of the casualties of my busyness and my laziness.
As I continue into my second decade of ministry, I’m hopeful that I can be neither bad nor busy. Or at least, if I’m busy, that it is a busyness that is being about God’s work, not avoiding the things that I don’t really want to do anyway. If laziness is the dirty little secret of busyness, then the disciplines of life, both physical and spiritual, are able to bring that into the light. And while that hamster wheel still tries to catch my eye from time to time, I’ve been reminded that being busy it isn’t a very good hiding place. Rather, my hiding place should be in God alone.