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Is All This Busyness Just Idleness in Disguise?

busyness is actually idleness

I sat across from a ministry partner in December, and we discussed my goals and dreams and hopes and desires for the future. It soon became apparent to him that I don’t really have a lot of goals or dreams or hopes. My work and ministry life has been an odd combination of taking steps of faith and a complete lack of ambition.

My journey into writing, for instance, seems unlike those of many of my peers. I wasn’t pining for a position or longing to write for 10 years. I was writing faithfully for my local newspaper, and from there I took a step of faith to begin writing from my Christian perspective. From there publishers and then an agent began to take interest, so I began writing books.

Maybe that path was unconventional—I don’t know. I hope I could say I was faithful in the little. I would hope to be able to say I will be faithful in the little I continue to do. But as my writing schedule has picked up, the need for deep work and focus has increased. I’ve been convicted of wasting valuable time that could be used to get work done and serve with greater effectiveness. So although I continue to be mostly goal-less in regards to my work, this year I’d like to change my methodology and my work habits. I’d like to be—what’s that word?— organized.

When Busyness Is Actually Idleness

Most of us wouldn’t describe ourselves as idle. Idleness by definition is laziness or a lack of action. And we aren’t lazy. In fact, we are busy—incredibly busy. But what if our busyness is sprinkled with lazy, brainless, idle activities? What if we took an honest look at our time and discovered we spend more of it searching on Google, watching random videos, taking those oh-so-interesting, time-wasting tests about things like what character you’d play in Pride and Prejudice, and scrolling through social media for “just a minute” that turns into an hour at least. All of sudden our busyness looks more like a lack of effective and efficient time management.

Paul strongly warned the Thessalonian church to steer clear of brothers who were idle, intentionally shirking their God-given responsibilities. Some individuals within that church were not only neglecting their work but also taking advantage of the kindness of the other members of the church and meddling in the affairs of the other Christians. Paul didn’t mince words in his rebuke: “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies” (2 Thessalonians 3:10–11). Ouch, Paul.

With that in mind, as I evaluated 2017, I began to ask honest questions about my time. Amid my normal frenzy of due dates and serving and caring for my family, was I truly that busy, or was I struggling with idleness? I discovered that I tended to fill much of my time with distractions rather than with work. I wasn’t too busy. I was too distracted. And my distractions, my time-sucking doodling around, produced in me an anxious heart.

But didn’t I need to take breaks? Didn’t God command us to rest? Absolutely!* But that wasn’t really what I’d been doing. My problem wasn’t rest, but an improper use of the time allotted for work. And I imagine I’m not alone.

Starts With Humility

There’s a temptation in us to try to fix things by adding rules and structures when what we really need is heart change. As Hannah Anderson explains in her book Humble Roots:

For years, I’ve heard that the solution to such stress comes from setting up boundaries, finding ways to be more productive, cultivating gratitude and scheduling “me time…” For years, I’ve thought that my sense of peace depends entirely on me.”

She continues,

In Matthew 11:28, Jesus invites tired, weary people—people like us—to come to Him… In other words, peace doesn’t start with me; peace starts with Him. Even more surprisingly, peace starts with learning His humility (p. 9−10).

Hannah is simply saying what we all know but tend to forget—that you and I are not God. Only God can accomplish all that needs to be done in any given day. For you and for me, using time better doesn’t begin with changing our schedules (although we will eventually get there!). It starts with an inner transformation, one that can only come by the mercy and grace of God.