Busyness: A Love/Hate Relationship

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?

2 thoughts on “Busyness: A Love/Hate Relationship

  1. I so appreciate the perspective of Oswald Chambers, in the devotional “Utmost for the Highest.” In it, we are reminded that the life of Christ wasn’t about busyness, but His father’s business. Jesus, the Son of God declared that He could do nothing by Himself; but only what He saw His Father doing. There were times Jesus faced a hungry crowd of thousands, and there were times He got in a boat away from the crowd. Everywhere He went there were people in need, but only some were touched, healed, restored. I’m sure there was always someone who was disappointed, someone who longed for Him to do for them or their loved one. Although fully God, Jesus embraced the human form, the human limitations, which we all know means that we can only be in one place at a time, and we can’t be everything to everybody.

    I find it greatly comforting that God, our Father has the strategy, the divine plan. My life could easily be swallowed up by busyness, by needs/expectations, or by disappointments. Knowing that apart from Christ we can do nothing, I see everyday as the Sabbath, a day of resting in Him; resting in His strategy, resting in His desires, resting in His good, pleasing and perfect will. This strengthens me to rest busyness, to rest from people pleasing, to rest from fear, to rest from trying to be or do anything other than what He reveals or invites me into!

    • Great words, Teresa. Thank you so much for sharing. Keeping that moment-by-moment conversation with the Father like Jesus should be our aim. I do think it brings a peace in the surging activities and voices around us.

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