Four Ways to Win the Battle Against Busyness

I’m a busy person. I interact with busy people all the time. Chances are, you’re a busy person (which is why you’re not even reading this introduction…you’re already skimming my four points below). Busyness is just in the air in our society. Not many of us like it, but few of us have managed to escape it.

Busyness isn’t just uncomfortable; it’s dangerous. There are few things as damaging—and potentially soul-destroying, as busyness. As Blaise Pascal once noted, busyness sends more people to hell than unbelief.

The draw of busyness is that it gives us a sense of importance. When my schedule is full, I feel like I’m in demand. “Without me,” we think, “all of this would fall apart.” As Christians, we all too often just baptize this idolatry by assuming that busyness equals faithfulness. And all the while we’re “burning ourselves out for Jesus,” we’re running on the fumes of our own self-importance. Meanwhile, Jesus is unimpressed.

Jesus shatters the myth that busyness equals faithfulness; he confronts all of our fears that lead to our busyness, then he points us to a better way forward – resting in himWe are to sit at the feet of Jesus, find our sufficiency in him, and only then fill our schedules with whatever he tells us.

But how can we do that? Here are four rules (I promise, these are rules you’ll like!) that can help us diffuse busyness and sit at Jesus’s feet:

1. Sleep

Psalm 127:2 says, “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.” The sign that you are God’s “beloved” is that you are able to sleep. It is not your busyness that indicates closeness to God, but your ability to rest in the midst of a restless culture. Many times, our inability to sleep comes from the myth that we need to hold everything together.[1] We need to learn that while we are sleeping, God is building the city.

A lack of sleep doesn’t just lead to physical problems; it quickly fosters a spirit of cynicism that ruins our spiritual life. It’s no good burning the candle at both ends if it sours our view of God, deprives us of our joy, and ends our life prematurely. As a mentor of mine once told me, “Sometimes the most holy thing you can do is to just take a nap.”

2. Refuse to worry about tomorrow.

This one comes directly from Jesus: “Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.” (Matt. 6:34, NIV). I used to find this verse a little odd. “Tomorrow is worrying about itself, Jesus? Well, that’s exactly what I was worried about!” But what Jesus is saying is that he’ll be with us tomorrow just like he’s with us today. The Israelites in the wilderness were only given manna for one day, to teach them that God would provide for their tomorrows. And he’s still trying to teach us the same lesson.

3. Create some margin.

You’ve heard of the “big rocks” and “sand” metaphor. Fill a jar with rocks and the sand will fill in to the cracks. Start with the sand and you’ll never be able to fit the rocks in, too. It’s a simple metaphor, but it’s still an insightful one: prioritize the “big rocks” of your life, and allow yourself margin for the “sand.”

Stress and busyness in our lives can come from doing too many things. But often they are the result of leaving no margin between the various items on our calendar. I’ve written elsewhere about the importance of rhythm and margin in maintaining our sanity. To summarize: ensure that you have time for the “big rocks” of your life, and keep the peripheral items peripheral. You need to take control of your calendar, because if you don’t, someone will take control of it for you.

4. Observe the Sabbaths.

The plural isn’t a typo; yes, I meant sabbaths. There are a number of sabbaths that God has given us: the weekly Sabbath (i.e. a day of rest and worship), the tithe, and sleep. Most of us know about the first one, but we rarely think of tithing or sleeping as Sabbath-keeping. But the principle of the Sabbath given to Israel was to intentionally cease from labor, and—paradoxically—God promised that he would multiply their efforts on the other six days.

The tithe is simply a monetary application of that principle, and sleep is a sort of mandated daily Sabbath. Each of these is like a pill to take to remind yourself that you are not God; to remind you that you do not bear the strain of providing and taking care of . . . you! God does! The more we remember that these Sabbaths are gifts and privileges, not duties, the more they will lead us to rest in Christ.

[1] There are, of course, medical reasons for sleeplessness as well. This advice applies to only one side of the situation.

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