Busy, busy, busy. If that’s not you, you don’t need to read this. If it is you, join the club, and let’s think about this busyness thing together–if you can spare the time.
How’s your to-do list doing? Sometimes, it’s like the mythical battle of Hercules and the Hydra: for each item you slash off, two more take its place. The list itself, which is supposed to be a tool to help you manage your busyness, can begin to feel oppressive–it’s your friend and your enemy, all at the same time.
In my context, it’s getting to be crunch time–that part of the academic quarter when the end draweth nigh and students (and faculty!) despair over what’s still left to be done: the books that must be read (or begun!), the papers and dissertations that have to be written, the lecture notes that need to be reorganized and studied. And it’s spring quarter, which means some students are graduating. In other quarters, there’s more of a perfectionistic drive to finish well. But when you’re graduating, it’s more about just plain finishing, period. And it may still feel like a long way to the finish line.
I remember meeting with a friend to do some strategic ministry planning. He asked me to pray at the end of our meeting. Afterward, he told me he was particularly struck by something I said in the prayer, and wanted me to write it down somewhere: “Help us to remember, Lord, that we have all the time there is to do your will.” The idea is not particularly original to me; some of it, I think, comes from my early reading of Henri Nouwen. It’s something I try to remind myself of regularly, particularly when I’m feeling anxious about my list of things to do.
There’s something about the professional context in particular that militates against thinking this way. It was Nouwen who helped me realize how addicted we can be to our busyness, because we’re rewarded for it. “So, what have you been up to lately?” someone asks. “Oh, you know, busy,” is the expected reply. We wear that word like a badge of honor; important people are supposed to be busy. And it’s the all-purpose, almost universally accepted excuse: “Sorry I didn’t get back to you; I’ve been really busy.” We don’t need to explain how we’ve been busy; the other person is supposed to say, “I understand,” and let it go.
That busyness, of course, can bring the anxiety of feeling like there are never enough hours in a day to do everything that needs to be done. We become jealous of our time and resentful of intrusions. And it’s true–there are a lot of things to do, some of which are quite needful.
But Nouwen suggests that the tyranny of our schedules is not a matter of external pressure only, but of internal pressure. We need our list of things to do to feel significant or important. That’s how much we’ve internalized the values of our world. It’s a barometer of how well we actually understand the freedom given to us by the gospel of a God who truly loves us.
In The Inner Voice of Love, Nouwen writes this:
Try to give your agenda to God. Keep saying, “Your will be done, not mine.” Give every part of your heart and your time to God, and let God tell you what to do, where to go, when and how to respond. God does not want you to destroy yourself. Exhaustion, burnout, and depression are not signs that you are doing God’s will. …God desires to give you a deep sense of safety in God’s love. Once you have allowed yourself to experience that love fully, you will be better able to discern who you are being sent to in God’s name. It is not easy to give your agenda to God. But the more you do so, the more “clock time” becomes “God’s time,” and God’s time is always the fullness of time. (pp. 105-106)
It may feel like we never have enough time. But “God’s time is always the fullness of time,” in which we can be present in the moment because we are present to God. When we’re doing God’s will, and in the reassurance of his love and grace, we have all the time there is.