I struggle with busyness. I hate it, yet I love it. Being busy refreshes me, but it can also suck the life out of my soul.
In my recent reading of a biography of Henri Nouwen, an amazing writer on the spiritual life who was also a professor at Yale and Harvard, I came across some words that spoke deeply to me. Nouwen was a busy man who realized that his external busyness revealed a deeper issue at play in his soul.
His biographer, Michael Ford, writes these words:
While teaching, lecturing, and writing about the importance of solitude, inner freedom, and peace of mind, he kept stumbling over his own compulsions and illusions, only to discover that his vocation to be a witness to God’s love was just becoming another exhausting job….His writing about prayer might even have been keeping him from a prayerful life. In his concern for praise from other people, was he slowly become a prisoner of expectations instead of a priest liberated by divine promises? (115-6).
In this vein, Nouwen himself writes:
While complaining about too many demands, I felt uneasy when none were made. While speaking about the burden of letter writing, an empty mailbox made me sad. While fretting about tiring lecture tours, I felt disappointed when there were no invitations. While speaking nostalgically about an empty desk, I feared the day on which that would come true. In short: while desiring to be alone, I was frightened of being left alone (116).
For Nouwen, the core issue was the quietness and loneliness of a life that was not busy. While that may be the same for me, I’m not quite sure. Without a doubt, this is something for further thought, reflection, and prayer.
How about you? How do you deal with activity and compulsion toward busyness both externally and internally?