On Busyness

It seems like people are always busy, always struggling to find enough time, stretched to their physical and emotional limits. When talking to people and asking how they are, they rarely say they are well-rested, calm, and doing just fine. Instead it’s usually how busy, overwhelmed, crazed, stressed out they are. I’ve definitely been there. In my last blog I wrote about pain and suffering, and while incredibly unpleasant, I think we all know that pain, difficulty, and struggle are as much an expected part of life as busyness or stress. Painful times are something that we may not welcome, but we learn to deal with and even expect it. For me personally, in times of stress of pain it’s easy for me to walk with God. Because if I don’t, I won’t get out of bed. As Christians we know we are called to trust and rest in God during difficult times. We know that even in our busiest seasons God is with us, and he orchestrates all things and somehow perfectly times everything so that we do in fact actually survive those hectic weeks that seem so impossible to get through on Monday morning.

I’ve always been a busy person. Some people – my mom, anyone who ever baby sat me, my college roommates – would probably consider “busy” an understatement. What I am probably borders much more on the side of hyper-activity. Personally I prefer the term “social butterfly” and feel it the most accurate, but call it what you want. I always seem to have something going on. I never want people to plan around me because my schedule is jam-packed. Always volunteering for something, organizing something, planning something. And I love it. For the first seven years of our marriage, Taylor and I almost never just sat and enjoyed dinner together quietly because we were always somewhere doing something. And until recently I was always balancing this with working as an English teacher, a job that keeps me busy with usually around 75 college kids per semester, but also allows me days off to do everything at home and stay social with my friends who don’t work. It’s a great balance for me.  All in all, despite having no kids to keep me running around, I have always been on of the busiest people I know. Until now.

Monday August 18th was a bizarre day. Everyone all round me was back to school. All my teacher friends were frantically texting me about the stress associated with the new school year beginning. Friends all over facebook posted photos of their kids in their first day outfits and commented on their busy back to school schedules. All the while I found myself in bed with a terrible back ache. I didn’t even leave the house all day. But even if I could have left, I wouldn’t have, because I didn’t have anywhere to go. Yes, I had plenty of time to watch television, catch up on reading, take a nap, and leisurely check my emails. Sounds nice right? But this kind of free time can be seriously distressing for a person like me. I’ve always been a teacher. I’ve always been needed, I’ve always been doing something. For the past few weeks (months if I’m being honest) I’ve really struggled with questioning what I’m doing if I’m not feeling needed. I’m realizing that for me, being the person who didn’t slow down was such a part of my identity that as I move into a much different phase of my life (pregnant and at home due to maternity leave issues at my job) I’m struggling to see how I’m contributing to the world around me.

When I’m not busy I tend to get really, really grumpy. Just ask my husband. He deals with me in this state every year at the end of summer and over Christmas break when I’m not teaching. I get that itch to do something and I’m pretty unpleasant to deal with until I get back to work. The difference this year is that I’m not going back to work for a really really long time.  When I started slipping into feeling sorry for myself over all of this lovely free time Taylor gently reminded me that this feeling isn’t new, it’s just prolonged.

The complete honest truth is that I feel guilty for not being busy. I used to wake up every day with a sense of purpose. My to-do list was always just an item or two too long to accomplish all in one day. I knew that with all of the places to be and people to see and things to do that I was making a difference in someone’s day. Sometimes it was a friend in need who reached out for a coffee date. Other times it was the ability to babysit or pick up kids when their moms were running late. Usually it was a student in my office telling me how much he or she loved and appreciated my class or my help. I think I got addicted to that validation and the feeling that I was needed. Now I’m taking off the semester before I have my baby, and struggling to appreciate the down time. While logically I know that this is a great thing, that people would kill to be at home during their third trimester of pregnancy, and that I should be appreciative of all of this time and rest, I can’t help but struggle every day with guilt and discontentment.

I’ve gotten so used to calling out to God in moments of desperation. I find it so much easier to kneel before him in stress, in heartache, in struggle, at crunch time, and I’m realizing that for me personally its harder to search him out in times of peace, calm, or on boring days where I’m not really doing anything. Slowly I’m learning about contentment, which strangely enough is something I’ve never thought much about before, and I’m learning to appreciate the quiet moments.

Everyone keeps reminding me that with a baby on the way this is the last time of my life where I’ll be able to just rest and enjoy rest, so I’m really working on learning to do this. But that involves teaching myself to relish something I’ve run from my entire life. I know that God orchestrated this time perfectly and it is an incredible gift to be at home preparing for our baby. But every day I fight against the desire to fast-forward my life to a time when I’ll feel “useful” again. Our society moves at a pace that does not appreciate peace and quiet. We are not people who value rest. I’m learning that it is one of the greatest gifts God gives us. He calls us to Him and speaks to us in quiet moments. I just really need to learn to actually appreciate them and listen to him. This is not a time in my life when I should feel guilt. Just because people around me are running around busy with children and jobs doesn’t mean that God hasn’t brought me to this time for a reason. I’m taking the time in my life where I am truly the happiest, where I am living out an incredible answered prayer, and I’m letting satan turn that joy into discontentment. I’m actually learning lessons during this time. I’m realizing that a day doesn’t have to entail running around for hours in order to be productive. I’m learning that I don’t have to receive validation from students or friends or teachers in order to feel like I’m serving my purpose. I’m learning that instead of being the one always out and about doing the teaching and talking, that its also important to sit and listen. Because sometimes on the slowest days I’m realizing that God is telling me something. I think a lot of us struggle with contentment and whether or not we are “needed” or productive. I know a lot of us struggle with guilt. But that isn’t what God calls us to do. Instead we are called to embrace and enjoy life to the fullest, in each of its various seasons. My daily reading from “The Valley of Vision” reminded me:

I am nothing but that thou makest me,

I have nothing but that I receive from thee,

I can be nothing but that grace adorns me.

Praying that by God’s grace we can all be filled with joy overflowing no matter what season of life we are enjoying or enduring.

Doug Serven