Last week, I was driving somewhere and listening to a podcast about religion and spirituality in Canada. The topic of conversation was the “crazy busy” lives that many of us lead, what this says about us, how it affects our spiritual lives, etc. I was listening to this podcast on my way from a meeting to the hospital after spending a good chunk of a morning I had hoped would include some sermon prep time responding to nearly thirty emails. Once I was done at the hospital, the rest of my day would include racing back for my son’s volleyball game, then taking him and my daughter back into the city where she would go to swim club and my son and I would race to the in-laws for a quick supper. After that, I would drop my son off for guitar lessons a bit early so I would have time to pick my daughter up from swim club and get her something to eat before guitar lessons ended. Then, at around 8:00, we would be home. My wife might be home, but she wasn’t sure what time the meeting that began after her full work day ended would be done. The theme of the podcast that day was, um, a little ironic.
This is not exactly a normal day in our lives, but it’s not that unusual either. And based on conversations and observations of those around me, I know that it’s not uncommon for others, either. What’s the usual first response when you ask someone how they’re doing? “Good… busy… you know.” Yes. I do know. We’re all so very busy, so very important, so very determined to justify the space we are taking up on the planet to ourselves, to our neighbours, to God. So good, so busy. You would think that all this goodness and busyness would mean all kinds of wonderfully fulfilled people. But it doesn’t seem to. At least not all the time. Once the conversation moves past the obligatory first lines, we usually complain about how busy we are. Maybe this is all part of the performance. We like others to know that it isn’t easy for us to be so busy and important, after all. Maybe.
But my sense is that people seem to be genuinely stretched and strained, that all this busyness takes a toll on relationships, on satisfaction and fulfillment in life. We get a million little things done in a day, but do we do them well? When we collapse into our beds at night, we can check off a lot of tasks that got done, but were we truly able to give ourselves to any of them without frantically looking ahead to the next one?
A few weeks ago, there was a Louis CK YouTube video making the rounds about how and why he hated smart phones. “We’re addicted to phones,” he said, “because we can’t stand to be alone with ourselves, with the restlessness, the longing, the emptiness of life.” Every spare moment we have in our day has to be spent busily and dutifully checking our phones. Perhaps there is an email.. a tweet… an update… a score… The Louis CK video was popular, I think, because we see ourselves in his rant. We know this is us. We know that our lives—from our relentless busyness, to our enslavement to technology, to our addiction to entertainment—can be one enormous exercise in running away from ourselves, in avoiding the discomfort that comes when we just sit still and pay attention to our lives.
And, of course, this mentality shows up in churches as well. Boy, does it ever. If we’re good at being busy anyway, how much more if there is a spiritual veneer added to our busyness! We’re busy for God, we’re building the kingdom, after all. It is virtuous to be doing things for Jesus, right? And if we’re not busy for God? Well, what does that say about the state of our souls? And so, we have programs and “opportunities” and conferences and speakers and studies and retreats and workshops and God knows what else. We have to justify our existence, right? Some of this is good. I think. Maybe. But when was the last time you were encouraged to just be still in church? To just sit in silence, even for a few minutes? When was the last time you talked with someone in church about how it was with your soul?
Be still and know that I am God, says the psalmist. I wonder if the former part of the sentence depends upon the latter. Do we have to know that God is before we can truly be still? Does the ability to truly rest from the frantic, largely self-imposed busyness of modern life require the settled conviction that God is on his throne and that God can be trusted? Is our busyness an implicit response to the question of who we think God is and what we think God is (or isn’t) good for? I wonder…
Whether it is as individuals, families, or churches, we are experts at running and hiding behind our schedules, our phones, our importance. Like Adam in the garden, like Jonah, stampeding away from Nineveh. We are runners and we are hiders—from God, from ourselves, from our fears and anxieties, from our confusion and our sin, from the perceptions of others that we’re not doing enough, being enough, becoming enough. We can’t be still because when we are still, we see ourselves for who we are and who we are not. We can’t be still because we don’t want God to find us.