Too busy to enjoy life

Too busy to enjoy life
A new year is a good time to look at your priorities and find time to focus on the things that really matter, writes Wendy Grace

You’re always rushing somewhere” is something I hear my Mum regularly say. I panicked last week when I thought of writing this article – when was I going to get the time to do it, I was just too busy. I am not alone. It is the default response nowadays when someone asks you; “How are you?” Your answer is that you are ‘crazy busy’ or ‘up to my eyes’. I cannot remember the last time I asked someone that question and I didn’t get that same response.

When was the last time you just sat with people you loved in slow conversation, with no distractions and where you weren’t thinking about all the things you had to get done? We, ourselves, have created a world where we have more and more to ‘do’ with no time to simply be. This new addiction of being overly busy is both spiritually and physically destructive. God gave us a day of rest because he knows we need it.

Psychologists now recognise busyness as being a ‘numbing behaviour’. Like alcohol or drugs, we use them to protect ourselves against vulnerability. If we just stay busy enough maybe we won’t have to think about real life.

Because if you have more free time then you might have time to reflect on the important things in life, the things that really matter, why we are here,  what our purpose is and, most importantly, to have time to connect with God.

Busyness can serve as a distraction, and is often a way to fill a gap or an emptiness in our lives that can only be filled by God.

We can use it as a way to find worth. If we are so busy with so many ‘important’ things then we are therefore important. However, are they really important? It can be hard to find meaning in our lives in a world that often dismisses belief in God. So how do we try to get out of the busy trap?

If we know how infinitely valuable we are and realise how much God loves us then it can be easier to get perspective.

 Much of the time, people who talk about how busy they are are actually the least effective. As Steven Covey, author of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, points out, it is possible to be very busy but not very effective. I am a huge advocate of finding ways to be more efficient and working on time management and I would recommend Covey’s book as a good starting point.

When you are trying to become more efficient, the important point is to use the time that you find with things that matter: family, good works and rest. Do not be tempted to make the mistake of using this time with more work or hours of television.

According to a Gallup Poll in the US in 2011, “the more cash-rich working Americans are, the more time-poor they feel”. Isn’t there a sad irony in that you might be making more money but you don’t have the time to do things that actually have meaning in your life?

The reality can be that we have leisure time but we do not choose to use it for that, as our culture becomes more individualistic and consumer-driven. Success is quantified by what you do and what you earn.

This can all feed into a ‘time is money’ mindset. The further wages rise so also does the cost of living and our time now becomes more valuable and we continue to fill our time with work.

Often being busy is when we mismatch our expectations of ourselves and what we actually manage to get done. If you don’t care about not having a spotless home then you won’t feel weighed down by dusty bookshelves.

If we aren’t concerned with having a new car or a bigger house then maybe we won’t need to work 14 hour days.

Even though we have so many new technological innovations that should, in theory, make our lives easier, tasks faster and simpler, yet we have less ‘free time’ today that we did decades ago.

Technology contributes enormously to the busyness addiction. We are always available; the divide between home and leisure is totally blurred.

A huge step towards finding a better balance in your life is cutting off from technology for a few hours every day; start to let people know that you are not perpetually available.

What about your children? Nowadays even people’s children are busy with practically every half an hour scheduled with school and extracurricular activities. What happened to just being allowed to play? They come in at the end of their day as tired as adults do. Do your children really need to participate in all the extracurricular activities that they are signed up for?

Recently I spoke to an American couple who had volunteered, with their young family, in Liberia. The husband in that duo, Kent Bradley, became the first American man treated for Ebola in the US. He survived; he doesn’t know why he wasn’t one of the tens of thousands that lost their lives to the disease.

Instead, he said he had to ask himself: ‘What am I doing with my life?’ We often hear stories of how a catastrophic event or a near-death experience prompts someone to assess their lives and make changes. But why does something like that need to happen? What are you waiting for?

Time management

Good time management is about reassessing what is actually important. What are the things you need to do to make your life meaningful and worthwhile? Then you have to make time for those things and everything else has to fit around them and some things will just have to go.

As always, the Bible has vast amounts of wisdom for us on this topic. It places enormous value on peaceful and restful living. During Jesus’ ministry, he himself occasionally escaped the busyness of the crowds to renew his strength. Mark 6:31 says, “Then because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to [his disciples], ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest’.”

How on earth do we expect to hear God’s voice if we never get away from the booming noises of 21st Century life? Like Jesus, we have to take the time to rest with one another and with him. The world’s way is work hard and make more money, with the very false hope of finding happiness this way. God’s way is so different. God made us so we could have life and live it to the full. God wants us to have lives of purpose where ultimately our focus is on loving one another, the more we do this, ultimately, the happier we will be.

Busyness brings stress that can take away from the joy that God wants in our lives. Ask yourself, what is the reason for your busyness? I think that it can often be pride.

Perhaps you are forever trying to please people by always saying yes, or you are doing something that really you should delegate or maybe you enjoy people pitying you for being so busy. Alternatively, are you using your hectic schedule as a badge of honour?

If you spend time deepening your relationship with God every day, you will get perspective and wisdom. You will be reminded both of what matters and of what God wants of you.

This in turn will help you to manage the things that matter and, more importantly, ditch the things that do not. I hope the next time someone asks you ‘How are you doing?’ you will have a different answer.

It might sound like a cliché, but a new year is a good time to look at your priorities, become more efficient, and find the time to focus on the things that really matter.