The Business of Busyness

Hey friends! It’s been a bit since I’ve last written. There’s always excuses for not communicating and keeping up with my blog, but there’s never that good of an excuse–while I haven’t had much time to write or even contemplate my life, I’m the one to blame for that!  And I suppose that’s exactly where I should start with this post.

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You know you live an unhealthy life when the majority of your responses to the ubiquitous question “how are you?” find their way to “I’m really busy” within the first few sentences.  Yet emphasizing our busyness seems so mature, so accomplished, so American, doesn’t it?  Who wants to say they’re living a balanced life with time for work, friends, ministry, rest, reading, relaxation, spiritual devotion, neighborliness, extra-curricular activities, and 8 hours of sleep? Instead, it seems to fill some sort of emotional hole to be able to say that we’re in the thick of it, barely time enough to stoop down and tie our shoes because ministry and work and a thousand responsibilities have kept us running frantic.

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I got myself into a bind in college when I became involved in so many things that many of the more important things (my relationship with God, my friendships, my relationship with my then girlfriend, my work with the youth group) suffered in an attempt to do too many things well.  I realized, after four years of mistakes and consequences (less than I deserved no doubt!), that it was really idolatry of work and accomplishments and praise that drove me to such an unhealthy lifestyle.  So moving to Charlotte I’ve determined to not, like those darn people of Israel, fall back into idolatry so soon after I learned my lesson! And so I’ve learned to say no to many things, and I try to find proper justification for anything I take on.

Nonetheless, here I am feeling the pinch as I try to do the math (which I’ve never been very keen on, being a literature guy) and determine if it’s possible that I can do all things well in these last two months of the semester. We had a meeting today with our new history and literature department head at Greyfriars that definitely added to the pressure.  Everything they encouraged us to do and think about was good and done in a super encouraging way, yet what I heard in my head from my perfectionist voice was: “Ain’t got no swagger now, do ya, Nate? You’ve got a grand total of three days to reverse the trend you’re on before it’s too late and you send your kids to 10th grade next year knowing nothing of importance.”

A little dramatic, I’m sure, but it pushed me to reconsider how I was approaching this whole education thing.  And then my creative mind started churning, thinking of new ways to approach things, of how to change my syllabus, of how to clean up my “mess.” But sooner than I could say “I wish I were that guy from Dead Poets Society,” my mind went to my seminary work and those four midterms and two essays that are due in the next two weeks.  And then my mind went to the new internship that I’m starting to transition into at my church and the increasing responsibilities with that.  And then my mind went to my soccer league and student council and my concert coming up and the youth retreat I’m leading next weekend and keeping up my Greek and the list goes on…

And all those things are so good! And so necessary to my new life here in Charlotte.  Yet how do I give these kids what they deserve when I have all this on my plate?  And how do I give my seminary studies the attention that they deserve when I’m putting so much time and energy into teaching high school?  And how do I train for this internship when just seminary and teaching would be a big load?  And how do I justify the time spent on my music, soccer, relationships, and additional ministry opportunities? And where does maintaining a healthy devotional life and sleep pattern fit into this?

With all of these anxieties and responsibilities dancing in front of me, I’m pulled away from rest, from worship, from time with God and His people so that I can maintain a high level of achievement and not fail those around me.  Yet every few days, I’m reminded of Martin Luther: he would spend the beginning of most days in two hours of prayer (from what I gather).  Yet during really busy days, he would spend three, for he realized that it was only through the power of God that he could accomplish every responsibility. He placed in the hands of His Redeemer his tasks for the day and refused the sin of self-sufficiency or frantic compromise.

For me? Not so much.

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Scott Russel Sanders’ essay “Under the Influence” might be my favorite essay of all time. In it he describes his experience as son to an alcoholic and the sad deterioration of his father until he finally drank himself to death. As a way to cope with his father’s addiction, Sanders took upon himself the duty of being the perfect son, working endlessly to keep the family together as his father fell apart in an effort to redeem him.  “Through my hard work,” he says, “I would achieve something dazzling [. . .] and my achievement would distract the world’s eyes from his humiliation.  I would become a worthy sacrifice, and the smoke of my burning would please God [. . .] work has become an addiction to me, as drink was an addiction for my father.”

In reading his essay, I feel like I am Sanders’ father and Sanders himself, trying to justify my own existence through my work, trying to offer up my busyness as a worthy sacrifice on the alter of self-redemption.  I have pushed aside the helping hand of my Savior and have tightened my grip on my responsibilities, afraid that God might let me fail and disappoint the people who rely on me if He was the one doing the work.  So I push aside my Bible, shorten those prayer times, and take a good dose of daily anxiety to help me get through the day, only to feel the hangover of frantic self-sufficiency and work idolatry the next morning.

“It is far easier to recognize these twists in my character than undo them,” says Sanders. “The labor is endless and futile, for I can no more redeem myself through work than I could redeem my father.”

Most days, I couldn’t agree more with Sanders’ sentiments. Yet, I rejoice with Job that “I know my redeemer lives” who is ever-willing to redeem my self-redemption and idolatry. It’s not an easy process, and these tendencies are awake and fully alive within me, but I hope and pray that as I approach these next two months (and the foreseeable future) I will learn that I don’t have to justify my own existence and redeem my own inner failings, because God’s already covered that, and He’s willing to help me with these tasks along the way. So as I try to maintain a healthy, fully-dependent relationship with our Lord in the midst of my very busy and stressful schedule, will you join me on your knees? Perhaps we could all use a little less busyness where possible, and a little more prayerful dependence in the midst of our crazy busy lives.

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