Sabbath in a Culture of “Busy”: You Put out the Chairs

How many times have you asked someone “How are you doing?” and they reply, “Busy.” Or furthermore, how many times have you answered the question that way?

“Busy” is not an answer to “how are you?”.

Stressed, perhaps. Anxious. Frazzled. Overwhelmed. But busy is what you are doing, not how you are doing. And it reveals how we measure our self-worth and value in our culture: by being productive, always moving, always hustling, always on the go, with a million commitments, and feeling like we can’t quite catch up or take a breath.

On a podcast about the Sabbath, John Mark Comer states that the the biggest threats to the Church are not secularism and progressive theology, but busyness and distraction. The explosion of technological advancements in our culture mean that we carry the office around in our pocket, in the form of a cell phone. We’re always plugged in, always available, always “on”, always distracted by the busyness that is encouraged in our culture.

Christians are not exempt from this. In fact, I believe we can be some of the busiest people because our beliefs encourage service rather than self-indulgence. We are commanded to sacrifice, think of others above ourselves, and minister to “the least of these”–all good things. But that shouldn’t come at the cost of our own rest and soul care.

Is busyness a sin?

It can be, depending on your motives. What are you filling your time with, and for what reason? Is it work, so you can make more and more money or pursue promotions, to fill your emptiness and self-worth? Is it volunteering, so you can feel good about yourself for being “needed” and bask in the praise of those you help? If it play, travel, or fun, to distract you from feelings of meaninglessness and medicate emotional pain? Your motivations will reveal to you whether or not your busyness is a sin.

When you ask someone how they are and they reply “busy”, it seems like the follow up is always some version of a shrug of the shoulders, a sigh, and then “but what are you going to do?” This is just how it is. We’ve resigned ourselves to 60-hour work weeks, kids’ activities every weeknight, volunteering for every church ministry, attending every birthday party we’re invited to, and refusing to ever say no to requests from family.

“You put up the chairs.”

-Shauna Niequist in Present Over Perfect

One of my favorite authors is Shauna Niequist, and one of my favorite books of hers is Present Over Perfect. In it, Shauna tells the story (pages 44-45) of a young pastor of a fast-growing church, who couldn’t believe the wild and unexplained growth his church was experiencing. “We had nothing to do with it,” he insisted. A more seasoned pastor gently pushed him: “Well, not nothing. You kept putting up more chairs.”

We have control over our time and our lives, more than we may think. We have the authority and freedom to decide how to steward our work, our money, our families, and our time. Granted, some things are less in our control. Some people must work 6-7 days a week to provide for their children. A physical disability or health issue may affect you. We all have different degrees of privilege that may limit our freedoms.

But don’t wait for some elusive time in the future to decide how you want to live your life. As I have shared in my last post, a Sabbath of rest is something you can practice regardless of your life stage or situation. I hear friends and acquaintances all the time say things like, “Well, when I have kids, then I won’t work so much” or “After we’re out of the baby stage, then we’ll have time together as a couple”. Or friends who say, “I wish we could see each other more, but I’ve got [this obligation].”

Each stage of life, from single young adult to empty nesters, is going to bring its own set of challenges and demands. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with work, hobbies, volunteering, or other ways we spend our time. Again, it comes down to our motivations and our priorities. You have the responsibility and the freedom to determine your priorities in how you want to spend your time and what kind of life you want to create.

Don’t let others determine how you will care for your soul. Decide to make a habit of rest, silence, and stillness. Decide to start saying “no” to some demands now so you can say “yes” to the practice of Sabbath. You don’t need anyone else’s permission to remake your life from the inside out.

“Stop. Right now. Remake your life from the inside out.”

-Shauna Niequist’s mentor, in Present Over Perfect

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