On a normal day, my life feels something between a perpetual summer camp for children and a three-ring nuclear circus.
You probably feel the same. Think about the average work week in this country. It wasn’t that long ago we had futurists predicting that one of the main challenges for coming generations would be too much spare time. But now, Americans lead the industrialized world in annual work hours.
As hectic and frustrating as modern life can be, the biggest dangers are not material or temporal inconveniences. A person can do physical labor 12 hours a day, six days a week for an entire life and not suffer much for it. In fact, he or she may healthier for it. But if the strain is mental—as is the case for most jobs and for most of us—the negative effects on the body can be huge.
So don’t ignore the physical danger of busyness. Just remember the most serious threats are spiritual. When we are crazy busy, we put our souls at risk. The challenge is not merely to make a few bad habits go away. The challenge is not to let our spiritual lives slip away. The dangers are serious, and they are growing. And few of us are as safe as we may think.
There are three major spiritual dangers of busyness:
Busyness can ruin our joy
As Christians, our lives should be marked by joy (Philippians 4:4), taste like joy (Galatians 5:22) and be filled with the fullness of joy (John 15:11). Busyness attacks all that. One study found that commuters experience greater levels of stress than fighter pilots and riot police. That’s what we’re facing. There’s no doubt that when our lives are frantic and frenzied we are more prone to anxiety, resentment, impatience and irritability.
Obviously, we all have weeks and months where everything that can go wrong does go wrong. In those seasons we will have to fight hard for joy in the midst of busyness. But few of us will fight right now for next week’s joy by tackling the unnecessary habits of busyness that make most weeks an unhappy hassle.
Busyness is like sin: kill it or it will be killing you. Most of us fall into a predictable pattern. We start to get overwhelmed by one or two big projects. Then we feel crushed by the daily grind. Then we despair of ever feeling at peace again and swear that something has to change. Then two weeks later life is more bearable, and we forget about our oath until the cycle starts all over again. What we don’t realize is that all the while, we’ve been a joyless wretch, snapping like a turtle and as personally engaging as a cat. When busyness goes after joy, it goes after everyone’s joy.
Busyness can rob our hearts
The sower tossed his seed liberally. Some fell along the path and the birds devoured it. Some fell on rocky ground and sprang up quickly, only to wither away with the first scorching heat. And some fell among thorns, which choked out its fragile life. There’s a definite progression in Jesus’ parable (Mark 4:1-20). In some hearts, the Word of God does nothing. Satan scoops it up as soon as it is sown. In other hearts, the Word grows at first and then fades just as fast. Persecutions and trials put the would-be Christian out of commission. But in the third category of unsuccessful soil, the Word sinks in a little deeper. The plant spouts up, almost to the point of producing fruit. It looks a lot like good soil. New life seems to be taking root. Everything is on track for the harvest. Until the thorns come.
John Calvin says the human heart is “a thick forest of thorns.” Jesus names two in particular. The first he labels “the cares of the world” (Mark 4:19). For most of us, it’s not heresy or rank apostasy that will derail our profession of faith. It’s all the worries of life. You’ve got car repairs. Then your water heater goes out. The kids need to see a doctor. You haven’t done your taxes yet. You’re behind on thank you notes. This is life for most of us, and it’s choking the spiritual life out of us.
The second thorn is related to the first. Jesus says the work of the Word is swallowed up by the desire for other things. It’s not that possessions themselves are to blame. The problem is with everything we do to take care of them and everything we do to get more of them. Once you own it, you need to keep it clean, keep it working and keep up with the latest improvements. If the worries of life don’t swamp us, the upkeep will.
Jesus knows what He’s talking about. As much as we must pray against the devil and pray for the persecuted church, in Jesus’ thinking the greater threat to the Gospel is sheer exhaustion. Busyness kills more Christians than bullets. We need to guard our hearts. The seed of God’s Word won’t grow to fruitfulness without pruning for rest, quiet and calm.
Busyness can cover up the rot in our souls
The hectic pace of life can make us physically and spiritually sick. That’s not likely a surprise to you. What we may not recognize is that our crazy schedules are often signals that a sickness has already set in.
The presence of extreme busyness in our lives may point to deeper problems—a pervasive people pleasing, a restless ambition, a malaise of meaninglessness. “Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness,” writes Tim Kreider in his viral article, “The ‘Busy’ Trap,” for The New York Times. “Obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.” The greatest danger with busyness is that there may be greater dangers you never have time to consider.
Busyness does not mean you are a faithful or fruitful Christian. It only means you are busy, just like everyone else. And like everyone else, your joy, your heart and your soul are in danger. We need the Word of God to set us free. We need biblical wisdom to set us straight. What we need is the Great Physician to heal our overscheduled souls.
If only we could make time for an appointment.
Kevin DeYoung is an award-winning author, popular blogger and conference speaker and senior pastor at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan. He and his wife, Trisha have five children who keep them very busy.