It’s the battle cry of our generation: “Oh, I am sooo busy!”
Find someone who isn’t busy. I dare you.
And I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a terrible line.
We pull out this phrase for a variety of reasons–maybe proudly or in an attempt to garner sympathy. Maybe as an excuse for some failure, or maybe even as a proclamation of our worth.
But all of these reasons are, to be brutally honest, quite lame.
We wear our busyness as a crown of self-imposed honor, and it’s time to chuck that crown.
- We’re not as busy as we think we are.
“Too busy” is a relative term, just like “a great bargain” and “delicious tofu.” What one person claims as “busy” may be another person’s “slow” day.
Our lives, while often very cluttered, are actually simpler than we realize once we get some perspective. For example, watch an episode of “Call the Midwife” to see just how labor-intensive—and even terrifying—life used to be in the “idyllic” 1950s, or read this account of a pioneer woman in the 1840s:
“Drusilla Hendricks had most of the responsibility for taking care of the family, including her husband who was left an invalid after being wounded in the Battle at Crooked River. ‘I had to lift [my husband] at least fifty times a day, and in doing so I had to strain every nerve,’ she recalled. With five children under the age of ten, this young mother tried to survive . . . by taking in boarders, tending a garden, milking cows, feeding livestock, maintaining her home, and preparing the family’s daily need for food and clothing.”
(Women of Nauvoo, Holzapfel and Holzapfel: Bookcraft, 1992; pg. 35)
(I read that passage while sitting on my cozy bed nibbling on a chocolate gluten-free cupcake which I had been “busy” baking earlier.)
Drusilla wasn’t an exception. Read this about “typical” frontier life:
“In the frontier community of Nauvoo, women made soap and candles, both long and tiring chores. They spun thread and weaved cloth to make clothing and even worked at shoe making. A wringer and a washboard always stood nearby. For clothing to be very clean, the white things were boiled with homemade soap, making wash day a day-long affair. Care of animals often fell to women; they built fences, took care of the ‘kitchen garden,’ and helped in the fields, all this while pregnant about thirty percent of the time.” (Ibid. pg. 36)
(After reading this, I guiltily tossed in another load of laundry, dropped in some store-bought detergent, turned a few buttons, and walked away.)
- No one likes a martyr.
Sorry, but whining about busyness is terribly uncomfortable to listen to. Claiming to be “too busy” sets you squarely in martyr territory, and while friends and family may croon and say, “Oh, you really are!” inside they’re anxious for the conversation to be over so they can get away from you.
Or so they can ruminate internally that their lives are so much busier than yours, you little sissy.
Think about this uncomfortable question: why do we feel the need to brag /complain about our busyness? What are hoping to get out of it?
These words, spoken by a dear old man back in 2002, have haunted me for over a decade:
Sometimes we feel that the busier we are, the more important we are—as though our busyness defines our worth.
We can spend a lifetime whirling about at a feverish pace, checking off list after list of things that in the end really don’t matter.
~Joseph B. Wirthlin
Are we claiming “busyness” because we’re desperate to prove our worth? Maybe.
Consider these words:
Isn’t it true that we often get so busy? And, sad to say, we even wear our busyness as a badge of honor, as though being busy, by itself, was an accomplishment or sign of a superior life.
I think of our Lord and Exemplar, Jesus Christ, and His short life among the people of Galilee and Jerusalem. I have tried to imagine Him bustling between meetings or multitasking to get a list of urgent things accomplished.
I can’t see it.
Instead I see the compassionate and caring Son of God purposefully living each day.
~Dieter F. Uchtdorf
If even Jesus Christ was never “too busy,” I shouldn’t be either.
- “Too busy” is a lame excuse.
Yes, this suggestion is even more uncomfortable than accusing one of playing the martyr, but claiming that we’re “just too busy” may be a way of rationalizing away why we didn’t do something we knew we should.
I confess I’m guilty of this, because it’s just so darn easy to get away with it. I’m frequently “too busy” to drive an hour and a half to visit my parents in their assisted living center more than a few times a year. (They both have dementia and Alzheimer’s so what was the point, anyway?) Yet when my mother suffered a series of strokes last year, and was slowly dying, somehow I found the time to drive down and sit by her side every day and/or night for five days until she finally passed.
I wasn’t too busy to watch her die, and that week alone made me re-analyze my every claim of “too busy.”
- “Too busy” suggests we have lost control of our lives.
Being too busy—if we really are (seriously, watch “Call the Midwife”!)—means that we’ve let too many activities, or obligations, or hobbies, or distractions clutter our days.
It may mean that we can’t prioritize what’s most important each day.
It may mean we don’t have the bravery or honesty to say, “I am unable or I don’t want to do x, y, or z.”
It may mean we don’t have the discipline to shut off whatever electronic gadget is sucking away our time.
What we think is a reasonable, viable excuse may actually be a confession of immaturity.
Now, I’m not saying that we don’t have a lot to do in our lives—we do. There are constant demands on our attention. Why, even as I’m typing this up I’ve stopped twice to change my 3-year-old’s clothes (mysteriously, he keeps getting wet by his 11-year-old brother innocently holding a hose, and is now wearing his fourth set of clothes since this morning), chatted half a dozen times with my kids, discussed weekend plans with my husband three times, gave permission to a teenager to make popcorn, filled my 3-year-old’s cuppy, and that was in the space of maybe an hour.
However, I’m trying to strike from my vocabulary the phrase, “I’m so busy,” although I likely let it slip once or twice as in, “Sweety, I’m a bit busy right now . . .”
Instead, I’m trying this, (at least on everyone else): “My life is so full! Awesomely full!”
Notice the shift in tone and attitude?
Fullness is completeness.
Being full is usually a good thing (except in the water balloon that my three-year-old brought in the house. Clothing change #5. Another load of laundry which will take me all of five minutes to run.).
Having a full life suggests that nearly every element in my life is there because of my choice. I have CHOSEN this life.
All of us, unless we’re slaves (and I’m not being flippant here: I mean true, cruel slavery, and not something you claim you are to your preteens’ many activities) have chosen our lives to be as they are. Even in the most difficult of circumstances, we still have choices. Rarely are we ever forced into one course of action, and while the options before us may not be ideal, we still have a choice.
For example, at one point last year I was busy working two part-time jobs and running a small Etsy shop. I could have quit one of the jobs, but that would have meant finding another way to pay the power bill which would have meant . . . getting yet another job.
I was tempted to grumble at how hard my husband and I were both working for what felt like only a couple of bucks an hour, but we were working, and slowly improving our circumstances. Instead of complaining that my life was “too busy” to do what I really wanted to do—edit my books or get maybe six hours of sleep—I chose instead to be grateful that I wasn’t just sitting on the couch reading movie descriptions on Netflix (and wondering when the next season of “Call the Midwife” will finally arrive).
I had things to do, obligations to fulfill, people who needed me, and I realized how much I appreciated being needed.
However, I’m not advocating taking on more than we can reasonably handle. That’s where we need to be mature enough to objectively evaluate our lives and say, when necessary, “No, I’m sorry. I can’t organize the Little League luncheon or make party favors for fifty people.” Otherwise we still become martyrs who have taken on too much and eventually have a total breakdown.
Additionally, we frequently have several good things we need to do at the same time, and that’s where prioritizing comes in. Deciding which to do can be difficult, and who to tell “I just can’t do that for you.” But someone once told me that “Other people’s needs should always come first.”
I knew a man who told his son that he had to skip watching him play ball that evening because their neighbor’s sprinkler system was geysering into the neighbor’s basement, and the dad wanted to go help. He said, “It was good for my son to see that I was putting aside something that I thought was important–watching him play ball–for something which really was.” While his son was initially disappointed that his dad was “too busy,” when he saw the flooding mess he offered to skip his game and help as well. Suddenly he was “too busy” to play ball, because he was doing something better.
Living a “busy” life is frequently drudgery. But living a “full” life is marvelous. The sense of I’ve accomplished something good for my family and others is, I think, the purpose of life. What would be worse than no one wanting my help, my advice, or my labor?
So don’t complain/brag about being “too busy.” It’s an awesomely full life!
And really, what would be worse than an awesomely full life?
An awfully empty life.