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Is Busyness Really the Problem?

Finding perspective on why we do the things we do
Is Busyness Really the Problem?

It’s said that “busy” is the new “fine.” It’s become a positive response to the casual question, “How are you?” We equate being busy with being fulfilled—having a life that bursts with projects and parties, options and obligations. We think that being busy means we’re important . . . and being important means we’re satisfied.

But the unchecked life of busyness creates a chaotic inner world. We end up living at a breakneck pace, tumbling around like we’ve been tossed in a clothes dryer, tangled and unsure of our direction.

Life in the clothes dryer gets stifling. We find ourselves rushing from one obligation to the next, only to discover we’ve outrun our joy. Everything begins to feel like work. Resting makes us anxious, and nothing feels satisfying. We lose the feeling of accomplishment in our work. We forget to celebrate. And we miss sacred moments in our preoccupation with the next thing. As Henri Nouwen noted in Making All Things New, “The great paradox of our time is that many of us are busy and bored at the same time. While running from one event to the next, we wonder in our innermost selves if anything is really happening.”

We think that being busy means we’re important . . . and being important means we’re satisfied.

When the “innermost self” cannot be ignored, we think about ways to stop the chaos. We wonder if we need to board the next plane to Ireland or quit our jobs or change churches. We remember well-meaning women telling us that life is about “abiding” and “resting” with Christ and feel awash with shame, wondering if we are living with purpose, wondering why “no” seems to have become an unspoken curse word in our vocabulary.

The spiritual discipline of simplicity is important because it’s about making peace with our pace and perspective. The simple life isn’t about exiting from the complicated world we live in. Scripture certainly acknowledges this reality; Jesus promises to give us rest (Matthew 11:28), but Paul tells us to “run with endurance the race God has set before us” (Hebrews 12:1). Perhaps what we need is not just less to do, but the understanding of why we do what we do. If pace is the speed at which we live, then perspective is the engine that fuels our pace. So how do we find a perspective that orders our lives around something beyond the tyranny of the to-do list?

In Ecclesiastes, King Solomon takes a hard look at his perspective on life. After working very hard and finding great pleasure in his work, Solomon becomes disillusioned. He feels the despair of mortality, realizing that he cannot control the ultimate outcomes of his life. “So what do people get in this life for all their hard work and anxiety?” he asks. “Their days of labor are filled with pain and grief; even at night their minds cannot rest” (2:22–23). He then slips in a clue about pace and perspective. Solomon concludes, “There is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and to find satisfaction in work. Then I realized that these pleasures are from the hand of God” (2:24, emphasis added).

Perhaps what we need is not just less to do, but the understanding of why we do what we do.

How can we find true satisfaction in this life?

Our pace may be sometimes slow, sometimes quick. But that pace can become deliberate and “simple” when our perspective is fixed on the “one thing worth being concerned about” (Luke 10:42): ordering our life around Christ. This inner focus of the soul upon Christ then expresses itself in our outer world and our daily choices. My perspective is concerned with how I live with joy, not what I accomplish. My energies shift toward how I love those I encounter each day, not my to-do list. My life can be complicated and full, but as I seek him, God will chart my path and direct me when to stop and rest (Psalm 139:3).

God does not leave us to figure out our pace alone; rather, he invites us to keep checking our perspective. Am I asking God first before I say yes or no? Do I believe that God will provide me with strength to complete the tasks he’s given me, even when I feel overwhelmed? Is my pace truly God-driven and not self-driven? In answering these questions with God, we find courage to connect more deeply to the primary fuel that drives our pace.

Life is about both celebration and endurance—about savoring each moment and running the race. There is a time for everything, and checking our perspective allows us to wholeheartedly pursue the “one thing” even as we thrive in many things.

Nicole Unice is a regular contributor for Today’s Christian Woman, and is on the ministry staff at Hope Church in Richmond, Virginia. She’s the co-author of Start Here and author of She’s Got Issues. Connect with Nicole at NicoleUnice.com or on Twitter at @nicoleunice.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

Nicole Unice

Nicole Unice is a TCW regular contributor. Nicole is on the ministry staff of Hope Church and author of Brave Enough and She's Got Issues. She writes for a variety of magazines and speaks nationwide at retreats and leadership events. Nicole and her husband Dave have three children. You can find her blogging about honest living at NicoleUnice.com.

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