Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Business of Busyness

Busyness: Making great time, but do we know where we're going?
Busy. Busy. Busy. That’s the way to describe many of us: “Soccer moms” shuttling their children from one activity to another, packing as much as possible into as little time as possible. Multi-taskers testing themselves to see how many things they can work on at one time. Travelers rushing from airline to baggage claim to rental car, braced for series of important business meetings before turning around and reversing their itinerary. No question, we're busy folks.

But this business of busyness is hardly new. Decades ago, long before email and the Internet, cell phones and texting, Mahatma Gandhi stated, “There is more to life than merely increasing its speed.” And author and thinker David Steindl-Rast pointed out, “The Chinese character or pictograph for ‘busy’ is composed of two characters: ‘heart’ and ‘killing.’” Ponder that image for a moment.

I think it was writer Patrick Morley who first observed, “The only problem with being in the rat race is that the rat always wins.”

This isn’t to say having lots of things to do is necessarily bad. It sure beats having absolutely nothing to do. Most of us enjoy being active, and we like feeling productive and useful. But when, instead of forgetting to stop and smell the roses, we find ourselves not even noticing whether there are any roses to stop and smell, maybe our busyness is starting to overwhelm us.

So what we need, to counteract this impulse to live frenetic, virtually out of control lives, is some balance. As Ecclesiastes 3:1 asserts, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity (purpose) under heaven.” That would tell us instead of perpetually hustling about, shouting to all who will listen, “I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m making great time!” it would be good to intentionally slow down long enough to consider – even reevaluate – what we’re doing, and why.

I remember times at work when the assignment seemed to require acting first and thinking later. But taking the time to plan can save time and often, lots of headaches that come from unplanned, unanticipated consequences. Proverbs 21:5 says, “The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.” I don’t know about you, but I’ll opt for profit over poverty any day.

When we’re overly busy, flying from one commitment to the next, barely having enough time to catch a breath in between, the likelihood of achieving the desired outcome is greatly diminished. Kind of like a swimmer diving into the pool without first finding out what event she’s competing in. This holds true at work, in our homes, even in community and church activities. Maybe that’s why Proverbs 19:2 tells us, “It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way.”

Just the other day I was sitting at an intersection, awaiting the turn signal so I could proceed. Watching the oncoming traffic, I saw several people eagerly texting, keeping one eye on the road (if that) and one eye on the smart phone screen. Busy people, oblivious to the fact that at any moment the drivers in front of them could make sudden moves for which they’d be ill-prepared to respond, distracted as they were. Proverbs talks about that, too. “The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it” (Proverbs 27:12).

But we don’t have to be racing along the roadways, scampering through airports, or running from one meeting to another to be busy. Our minds are constantly whirring, pondering a seemingly endless array of topics, problems and worries. Once again, the Scriptures warn us, for God’s sake – literally – slow down. “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him…” (Psalm 37:7).

Being busy isn’t a sin, but if busyness has become our continual state of being, this might be a good time to slow down. If we let ourselves become tyrannized by the urgent, we risk missing something important.

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