One of my favourite books we read nearly 30 years ago with our children, and are now re-reading with our grandchildren, is Jill Murphy’s seminal work, ‘Five minutes peace.’ It is an account of Mrs Large’s endeavours to find some quiet amongst the busyness and noise of the day; her eventual solution was a bath. Her quest for quiet and rest perhaps resonates with many of us today in our fast-paced, busy world.
We live in a culture that wears busyness like a badge of honour; in many people’s minds, busyness equals productivity. When we are busy, we are important, essential, and needed. Our busyness becomes a sign that says, “Look at everything that I am doing”, which perhaps speaks more about our unhealthy ego than it does our productivity.
I have lost count of the leaders’ gatherings I have attended, where stories of busyness are shared in ever-exaggerated form, almost as a parody of the four Yorkshiremen sketch by Monty Python; “You had a night off in the last three weeks? Luxury…”
A verse you will never find in the gospels (nor anywhere else in scripture) is ‘and Jesus was very busy.’ Yet, the stark fact is that Jesus had the same number of hours in the day and days in the week that each of us has. Was Jesus super-efficient? Did he have a crack diary system to manage his time, perhaps a resourceful PA not mentioned in the canon of scripture? I don’t think so, but I think he had a healthier understanding of ego.
You see, busyness can become a defence mechanism to help us avoid dealing with some glaring issues, both internal and external. We can struggle with our identity in Christ, feeling that we have to earn the love of God; therefore, the busier I am, the more essential and loved I will be. We can use busyness to avoid the reality that our church isn’t thriving and flourishing. No one wants to talk about it. So, it becomes easier to avoid honest evaluation if you always stay at full throttle.
Please do not think I am a great example of a productivity guru with a well-balanced and managed diary – just ask my wife, and she will give you a very candid reply! I can be too proud to damage my reputation of being capable and available and end up saying yes to everything, ironically diminishing my capability and availability! I don’t allow myself enough margin for the unexpected. My insecurity sometimes leads me to micro-manage with the misconception that “If I want something done right, I have to do it myself.” That, friends, is not healthy—enough confession.
Charles Hummel identifies in his book Freedom from the Tyranny of the Urgent:
“Jesus... did not finish all the urgent tasks in Palestine or all the things He would have liked to do, but He did finish the work which God gave Him to do.”
Just consider that for a moment. Jesus finished the work God gave him, but perhaps not all that he would have wanted to do. Heresy? I think not.
In Mark’s gospel, we read of Jesus’ instructions following a time of fruitful and effective ministry, where He says this:
The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported all they had done and taught to him. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” Mark 6:30-32
God has given us all the time that we need (often along with all the resources) to do what He has called us to do. In truth, all the other ‘stuff’ should be left at God’s feet for Him to deal with. As Bridget English identifies: “Everyone has the same number of hours per day; it’s not that you don’t have enough time, it’s that you don’t have a clear focus”. To fall into the trap of perpetual busyness is to confuse the God of the Bible with the god of this world. They’re not the same.
So, as we begin to think and look forward to a break over the summer, let us not simply dismiss this as a busy season; when the season has no apparent end, it is not a season; it is our life. In the words of the hymn, we need to “take time to be holy, speak oft with the Lord”, which means coming away by ourselves to a quiet place to rest, refresh and reconnect with the Lord. Many of us need to make lifestyle and ministry choices if we are to continue serving God and acting as a witness for Christ over the long term.
Let me finish by suggesting some questions I will seek to explore over the summer in the hope that they might benefit you too.
In my busyness, am I trying to do good or trying to make myself look good?
Do I spend time with the Lord as I once did, or do I find that setting aside time to be with Him is getting more difficult for me?
What does this tell me about the temperature of my spiritual life and fulfilling what God is calling me to do?
What is God currently calling me to do?
What should be on my ‘not to do’ list?
Right, I’m off for a bath and five minutes peace.
Simon Mattholie CEO, Rural Ministries