“How are you?”
“Busy. How about you?”
How many times have you heard – or had – this exchange? It’s so familiar that many of us simply take it for granted that we should be busy and tired. We assume that if someone is not busy or tired, it’s a sign of laziness or even a moral defect. In my life, no one – inside the church or out – has ever batted an eye when I’ve told them that I’m busy. Sure, there have been bland admonitions to “rest up” when I’ve claimed to be tired, but those are really winking acknowledgements that tired is the way to be.
And so it goes. Individuals, families, faith communities, workplaces, neighborhoods – heck, the entire culture – sure seem to be busy and tired. Harried and hurried, breathless and breakneck, we yawn into our days and routines – perhaps without any reflection or critical thought about the viability or the faithfulness of such a rhythm of life.
Lest you think I’m about to take on a scolding tone, allow me to say that a busy and tired life really ought to be barged through uncritically. Stopping, reflecting, resting, and praying will all wreak havoc on this sort of life. The Holy Spirit will do untold damage to our assumptions, our routines, our values, and our calendars if we pause and make ourselves vulnerable to God’s wisdom and guidance.
One of the themes that runs through the entirety of Scripture and right into our lives is that God offers freedom and we consistently seek captivity. The garden in Genesis. The grumbling during the wilderness wanderings in Exodus. The clamoring for a human king throughout the Old Testament. The resistance to the prophets. The abandonment of Jesus by his closest followers. The infighting of the early church. In each case, God offers freedom and humanity chooses captivity.
Yet God proves to have a stubborn insistence on continuing to offer freedom. We may have chosen captivity yet again – to busy and tired lives – but God keeps at it, patiently yet firmly nudging us, whispering to us, interceding for us. This freedom is embedded in our familiar stories: on the seventh day God rested (Genesis 2:3) and, just to show how serious God is about this whole rest thing, God even instituted the Sabbath (Exodus 20:11). Walter Brueggemann asserts that “divine rest on the seventh day of creation has made clear (a) that YHWH is not a workaholic, (b) that YHWH is not anxious about the full functioning of creation, and (c) that the well-being of creation does not depend on endless work.”
One unfortunate irony of being too busy and tired is that one of the first things to get tossed is Sabbath, participation in the life of the faith community, and worship. Yet worship is the place where we can be unburdened from busyness and where our tired lifestyle can be refreshed and redeemed by the good news of the God made known in Christ. It is a profoundly countercultural act of faith to “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10) and to trust that “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength” (Isaiah 30:15).
“But, but , but,” we sputter, “doesn’t stopping and resting make us lazy?”
Nope. Quite the opposite, in fact. Eugene Peterson has written very clearly about “the unbusy pastor.” I think it is no great stretch to extend this idea to each and every follower of Jesus Christ. Peterson claims that we become busy for one of two “ignoble” reasons:
- “I am busy because I am vain… I live in a society in which crowded schedules and harassed conditions are evidence of importance, so I develop a crowded schedule and harassed conditions. When others notice, they acknowledge my significance and my vanity is fed.”
- “I am busy because I am lazy. I indolently let others decide what I will do instead of resolutely deciding myself… It was a favorite theme of C.S. Lewis that only lazy people work hard. By lazily abdicating the essential work of deciding and directing, establishing values and setting goals, other people do it for us; then we find ourselves frantically, at the last minute, trying to satisfy a half dozen different demands on our time, none of which is essential to our vocation, to stave off the disaster of disappointing someone.”
If you are brave enough to make your schedule and commitments vulnerable to the work of the Spirit, you will see that leading an unbusy and rested life is not a distant dream; it is God’s intention, knit into the fabric of creation. Be active, yes, but not busy. Be vigorous, yes, but not tired. Be an unbusy and faithful person of Sabbath rest so you can be still and know that God, in fact, is God.