We Are Not Busy

I have a confession to make: my family isn’t busy.

We don’t have “lots going on.” You won’t really ever catch us “running all over town.”

Sometimes when someone assumes this and I respond with, “No, you know, we aren’t really busy at all,” I get a blank stare like I just said something in a foreign language. And sometimes I wonder if people think it’s because we are lazy or because we are hermits. But for anyone who knows us personally, I am not sure those labels apply. For us, it has been a very intentional spiritual practice.

A lot of Christians believe “keeping themselves unstained from the world” is found in not saying four-letter words, drinking wine, or listening to secular music. And I applaud such conviction and fidelity. But for our family, in a culture where being busy is not only the norm but also the get-out-of-jail-free card for any responsibility (e.g. “I’m sorry I haven’t gotten back to you, you know how it is, we’re just . . . so busy.”), we take seriously the call to make room for other people in our lives.

It was not always this way.

It was not long ago that I was, ironically, a pastor, expected to work 50 hours a week, leading two small groups and a worship band on top of that. It was not long ago that we ate breakfast quickly to make sure we all got out the door on time, rushing to grab last minute snacks and pacifiers as we raced to the car.

But then we decided that Jesus (and the rest of the Scripture), it seems, values hospitality. And this hospitality was not just about opening your physical space, but just being open. Open to people who want to come & celebrate. Open to people who need to come & cry. We wanted a life where friends do not have to put each other in the schedule and where each meal was an intentional time to connect with one another.

Like the person who would love to give to charity but can’t because they are in too much debt, we were slaves to our calendar and the busyness of life.

We saw that people always seem stressed out, frantically racing to find their purpose or happiness or whatever it is they are seeking. And we had the strange feeling that all that racing was a little ironic, that maybe purpose is not at the end of some task but in finding every mundane task meaningful by including others in it.

So we began the painful process of letting go of signing our kid’s up for 3 different time-bound activities at the local gym, letting go of small groups and bible studies, jobs that provide steady and comfortable income but require too much time away from our home. We began getting up early enough to make sure we have breakfast and morning tea together, making our meals together, and being willing to be open and available to others almost every night of the week.

And for us, that process was painful, as we let go of narratives that said if you weren’t busy you were selfish or lazy. Or narratives that said we were overreacting or that Jesus really only cares about saving souls not wasting time living out an open life. But over time, we have come to see this rhythm as an invaluable spiritual practice.  For us, we are enacting our very small, and very subtle, piece of the Kingdom.

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12 responses to “We Are Not Busy

  1. You just described what I have been wanting to live, trying to live. How does it work for you when you live this way, but everyone else is still so busy? I find that even if I am open and free, the people in my life are not. It’s been an exercise in patience and it has also been lonely.

    • You have named our struggle as well Jess. We too find it can be a lonely path. But we strive to continue to invite people into our rhythm. And we know some will come and go, some will change their rhythm but then take it to other places. And we are okay with that. But yes, especially if you live in suburban America, you will find this to be a lonely and often frustrating way. Thanks for your honesty!

  2. My wife and I, too, try our best to not be “busy” and make room for stuff. It’s a bit painful at times because my wife thrives on connecting to a lot of people… and if you’re not “busy” and involved in lots of stuff, you’re not connecting…

    Thanks for this. God bless!

  3. Jared, I can’t commend you enough for this! It’s a balance we’ve done poorly (mostly) in my family with a few exceptions. As our kids are now teenagers and getting into things like theater and other consuming activities, it’s hard not to be running all over town at times.

    I always come back to the concept of Sabbath–that six days you labor but one day you don’t produce anything so that you get the message that you’re more than what you produce. We’ve struggled with that too, of course, and it’s good to hear from folks who are making it happen. What you’re doing is focusing on those six other days and it sounds like you’re striving for a great rhythm.

    Keep it up and let us know what you learn!

  4. And don’t you feel a little “embarrassed” when you say to folks my kids aren’t doin’ that, and I am a long long way past that since my three are all grown up and out of the house. And don’t you feel a little “embarrassed” when you say my calendar is pretty much a blank slate and I can make us a cup of coffee, just come on over, only to be frustrated with what Robert says, the others can’t clear their schedule. Whats haunting me about this is that this is what authentic friendships are built around. I’m actually starting to empty myself of all this embarrassment. My best years of serving in the church as lead pastor were when I could have a new group of attenders, maybe 20-30 or so join me in my home for dinner. It was there I and we experienced the kingdom.

    • Oh, how I HATE the “Well, why isn’t your kid doing xxx…?” And all the times my wife has told friends at church “Hey, gimme a call sometime. I’m free any day for coffee and chatting” to only get blank stares and the rather vauge, “Yeah, we’ll have to do that sometime.”

      We have two small groups we’re involved with that meet regularly… what do we do when we meet? We hang out… nothing fancy, nothing wonderfully inspiring, just friends getting together, enjoying food, having fun… being a community. And, as my brother says, “church” happens around the margins…

  5. This sounds like a healthy way to live. When I talk to my neighbors who both work full time and have 2 boys who are heavily involved in sports, and they always seem to be running to and from one thing or another… I think that I would surely go insane if I lived at such a frenetic pace. My husband and I purposely structure our lives such that we are not busy, and have room to breathe. Now I need to work on the “inviting others in” part. 🙂

  6. My least favorite word is “busy”. We have 5 kids, and we purposefully never signed on to more than we could comfortably do while still maintaining family time. I have noticed that some people wear a “Badge of Business” as if it is an incredible feat or that they are making a noble sacrifice. I feel like, in most (but not all)circumstances, you have control over your business. My husband & I say to ourselves, “You are only as busy as you want to be.” We make time for what our priorities are in life and we decided our priorities weren’t to run around from activity to activity, but to take time to enjoy the family God has blessed us with.

    • I should restate that – busy not my least favorite word, but more like my least favorite answer to the question, “How are you?” I hear that all the time: “Busy, busy, busy.”

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