Do not wear yourself out to become rich;
be wise enough to restrain yourself.
It wasn’t very long ago that if you asked someone “how are you?” you could predict their response with about 99% accuracy: “I’m good.” That response now has a competitor, though, and it’s swiftly moving to claim the top spot. Now, when someone is asked how they’re doing, it’s equally likely that they’ll pause, sigh, shake their head or shrug their shoulders, and say “I’m busy.”
Being busy has become a fact of life in our culture. Not only that; in many ways, it’s become a virtue. We are impressed by people who seem to manage the most complex schedules. We brag about our friend who “does everything.” We emphasize ‘peak productivity’ and ‘multitasking’ as things which are desirable traits (even as more and more brain research confirms these concepts are myths). We pass being busy on to our children, signing them up for absolutely every activity, club, and camp we can find. And we call it good.
There may be a twinge of regret to being so busy, but busy has become normalized to the point that we claim it even when it does not apply. I recently had that greeting conversation with someone. I asked how he was, and he said busy. Wanting to sympathize, I continued “Oh? What’ve you got going on?” He thought about it for a moment, pulled out his phone, checked his calendar, and responded “Not much, actually.” It turned out he was really quite free that week. But the call of ‘busy’ was so strong, he felt he had to claim it even when it did not apply.
In all the adrenaline and excitement of being busy, though, we have lost what it is to simply be “good.” We, as a society, despite having more amenities and luxuries than any past human culture, also experience more stress and anxiety than those who lived before us. The specter of our busyness is always looming: telling us we do not have time to rest; telling us those open slots on our calendars must be filled; telling us if we don’t feel completely overwhelmed by all we have to do, it’s because we’re lazy and haven’t taken enough on. The virtue of being busy has become paramount. Which would be fine, if it weren’t for one, rather significant detail:
Busyness is never a virtue, and it is very often a vice.
When Jesus was staying with two sisters, they took two very different approaches to his arrival. Martha, wanting to show Jesus hospitality and make sure he had a nice visit, busied herself with cooking, cleaning, preparing, making, readying, and otherwise doing whatever she thought was necessary in order to maximize his experience. Mary, also wanting to show Jesus hospitality and make sure he had a nice visit, sat with him, talking and enjoying one another’s company. When Martha saw that Mary was not busy, she asked Jesus to tell Mary to get to work.
Jesus didn’t do it. Instead, he said “Martha, you have made yourself busy with many important things. But Mary has focused on the one most important thing. I will not take that away from her.”
When we let the call of the busy overtake us, it may be in order to do many important things. But in so doing, we risk missing out on the one most important thing.
What is the most important thing you’re missing?