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April 16, 2007

Laying Down a Busy Life



stress.jpgThe image of a dark, overcrowded broom closet comes to me periodically as a picture of my life. All manner of things are jammed in haphazardly, and everything is apt to topple perilously down into a heap when the door is opened.

I am a productive, organized, and fast-moving person; I do a lot and get a lot done in a short time. This is one of my greatest strengths - and almost surely my greatest weakness. It's a weakness because I so quickly turn my capacity for productivity into an idol. My completed to-do list with tasks checked off feels so gratifying that it's easy to find my worth in what I'm getting done instead of in God. The fact that many of the things I am accomplishing are worthwhile, God-honoring activities only serves to mask my sin.

I have known my tendency toward over-productivity for a long time and have tried to fight it. I've noticed a pattern I go through: gradually overfill my life; run around crazed; burn out; crash; acknowledge sin; repent; clear out my life somewhat; commit and try harder not to overfill. "Trying harder" often comes along with band-aid efforts like color-coding my Outlook calendar, reading up on organization strategies, or trying new time management tools.

But the problem is that the cycle repeats itself. "Trying harder" fails me. Productivity is like an addiction - I can't just give it up. It creeps up on me and half lures, half fools me back into its clutches time and again. I'm like a junkie.

I know I'm not alone in this struggle. Most of America is on a fast track, trying to fit more and more activity into less and less time. Women - with so many life options and our born capacity to multi-task - are perhaps at the center of the frenzy. It's a pandemic, and everyone laments how busy life is and then feeds the fire by running right along with their overfull lives anyway. We don't know how to stop, and deep down, many of us aren't sure we really want to anyway. Having so much to do makes us feel important.

If we're honest, greed is a part of the problem. There are so many things we can do and want to do and are equipped to do: Work, parent, spend time with our spouse, go out with friends, recreate, serve at church, volunteer, exercise. God endorses all these things. Surely we can find or make time for all of them? We indulge ourselves. We are unwilling to ask the hard questions about what is being scarified in our overfull lives, and unwilling to do the work of pruning out even good things to focus on the best - starting with God.

I recently ran across this sentence in a women's magazine to which I subscribe: "(She) is married with two children and works full-time? She manages to fit part-time attendance at a university and volunteer work into her already busy schedule." Sounds so noble and impressive; what a capable woman! But I'm learning that the words "manages to fit" are the wolf in sheep's clothing. "Manages to fit" becomes the crowded, dark broom closet with objects piled up, teetering dangerously. That's me, too often ? "managing to fit" all kinds of (worthy) things into my life that ultimately get me exhausted, harried, and distracted from the chief things that God is trying to do in and through me - and frequently from God himself.

The solution must be a life lived conscientiously - spending time doing the things God directs, not more, not less. As an antidote to the chock full, broom-closet life, God has come to my rescue with this verse: "He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me." (Ps. 18:19)

A God who delights in me in a bright, open space - what a concept! A "spacious place" is the very opposite of what my overfull life feels like when it reaches broom-closet stage ? overwhelming and claustrophobic. And this is what God is trying to rescue me from, if only I will let him. So my effort is to make this my one to-do: lay down my productivity addiction and with its false sense of worth-through-accomplishments, and experience his delight simply because he loves me.

Comments

Thank you for this...a word in due season. I have been called to step away from the ministry I have served in for so long. This is a painful process as I'm so accustomed to having a To Do List that can never be fully checked off. There is always more TO DO! The Lord is directing me to turn my focus directly on Him and even to just enjoy for a time the love He lavishes on me (us), not because I do, but because I am. I know He has my best in mind, but it's still a little scarey!

This resonates me with--especially the part about "manages to fit." That seems like a badge of honor in our culture! How much we have to learn from other cultures and eras who seemed to value doing a few things to best of their abilities, rather than everything to the limits of their sanity! I hope this will encourage all of us to turn to God in our times of panicked-stress instead of yet another dayplanner...

yes, we talk about men being workaholics, but we women have them beat! it is no accident that mary and martha (luke 10:38-42) are women... our Lord had me in this passage for 15 months straight after i "burned out for Jesus", ha! burned out for my own people-pleasing and self glorification! ouch! but our Lord in His grace and mercy has brought me out, and given me His gift of repentance, altho He takes me back for refresher courses periodically.

Thank you for this article. You have hit the nail on the head very effectively.
Australian culture is much the same as yours.
In a sense we are "rich" but towards God we are "poor and blind".
I get caught up in it myself and see people around me doing the same.

I've just come back from a long weekend break thinking about this very issue. Noted that there are lots of good things to be doing, but what specifically has God called me to do? Now working on unloading the load. It's tough, but God hasn't called me to burn out.
"Be still (and not just for 1 min) and KNOW that I am God; I will be exalted....
Thanks for this timely article
Diane

Your statement "a wolf in sheep's clothing" is what burdens me today for women and girls. It is so true that we can easily be lured away from what God intends for our lives. I have always believed that if people feel "burn out" that it is not God's plan they are following. Somewhere, there is a warning that they should turn, and run the other way.
Genesis 3:6 talks about Eve and what seemed to be good things to her. Going her own way not only affected her but her husband as well.

thanks so much to all you women for daring to be so sincere and open. I am grateful to find out what I rationalised `´was not a problem Is actually and a sin.´´ Suddenly I understand why so much seems dead inside and yet still I thought I was doing it all for God. You are all great mentors.may god richly continue to use you

It is imperative for one to constantly remind ourselves of how can we get back to the place that we first started?

What a brilliant article.... plate spinning, juggling, call it what you like, its still the Martha experience! Here in UK, it is just the same. In recent years I have delighted in 'networking' within my Christian ministry remit and gathered resources too ... (maybe an excuse for hoarding!) - all within a justifiable role in the local and broader church. Although I realise and appreciate the gifts God gives us to do His work, it is so essential to balance the 'doing' with the 'being' and to know just how much He loves and cherishes us for who we are. 'Being' comes first and 'doing' a discerned act of obedience and joy if we are staying close and listening!

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