I decided to give up busyness for Lent. Fasting or refraining at Lent is traditionally about food, but it can be applied to just about any habitual behavior that creates distance between you and God. While Lent is a time of penitence, it is not meant to be about punishment. If we are disciples, we are not “giving up” anything; we are going toward that love which will fill us more fully than any food, drink or activity.
As a practice, I hope that getting “unbusy” will foster deeper change beyond the Lenten season. I will admit that a week or so into this practice has been harder for me to do than giving up a certain food or drink. Just as we eat to “fill the void”, we can also do the same with activities or compulsive behaviors (how many times an hour or a day do we check Facebook, Twitter or email?)
I know I needed to do this, though. Most of my prayers for the past 6 months were becoming of the “help” variety, rather than “thanks” or “wow”, to quote Anne Lamott. And the more I asked for help, the more I got in my own way (and God’s, who is so patient with me, more patient than I am with my own child – which was a sign to me that I needed to slow down.)
As a parent, a spouse, small business owner, student, teacher/small group leader, part-time church employee and someone genuinely interested in participating in life, busyness is not only a symptom, but has become its own addiction. Not only that, I’m too busy – to the point where it’s become counterproductive. It’s actually hard to get anything meaningful done.
I’m also starting to see more clearly how my addiction to busyness (rooted in the need for achievement, avoidance of spiritual dryness and emotional discomfort, as well as fear that I might die before I complete my to-do list) reflects my own perceived lack of worth in God’s eyes. There’s a voice in my head that whispers, insidiously, “You should be more.”
That’s not the Spirit. She says warmly, patting the seat next to her, “Come. Sit a while. Did you hear the birds calling in the trees? They miss your face.”
My spiritual director recently reminded me of David Brooks’ book, The Road to Character, and its accompanying essay, The Moral Bucket List, after I’d confided with her that I wanted my life to look more like an outpouring of love and less like a list of accomplishments.
It occurred to me that there were two sets of virtues, the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?
We all know that the eulogy virtues are more important than the résumé ones. But our culture and our educational systems spend more time teaching the skills and strategies you need for career success than the qualities you need to radiate that sort of inner light.
One big challenge of getting unbusy is learning to say no to people, things or activities that don’t serve me, my family or God very well. That’s hard when your vocation is centered on being of service to others. But I also know that not saying no can create long-term spiritual, emotional and physical damage that we can’t always undo later. I’m also trying to overcome the lie that tells me to do more, more, more because it will make me a better, more worthy person.
I know all too well that there are so many fleeting glimpses of sacredness that I miss because I’m so busy being productive, useful and goal-oriented. I have this recurring dream that something beautiful happens right in front of me, and I’m so busy trying to take a picture of it with my phone that I miss the fullness of the experience (and the phone never works properly, so I miss the shot too.)
Day by day, moment by moment, I’m reclaiming moments of stillness and joy. To be more present. To listen more with and from the deep well of my heart. To bask in the sacred and miraculous energy of the universe. To sit a while and hear the birds calling. Come sit a while with me.