Crazy Busy: A Mercifully Short Book About a (Really) Big Problem by Kevin DeYoung. Crossway. 128 pages. 2013.
Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan. I’ve previously read two of his books (Why We’re Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be, with Ted Kluck, and The Hole in Our Holiness). I also subscribe to his blog DeYoung, Restless and Reformed http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/ and sermon podcast. I was pretty excited when I heard that he was writing a book about being busy. More often than not, when you ask someone how they are doing these days, they respond with how busy they are. But are many of us doing anything about it?
DeYoung states that he is writing the book for himself:
“I’m writing this book to figure out things I don’t know and to work on change I have not yet seen. More than any other book I’ve worked on, this one is for me.”
The book won the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association Book of the Year for 2014.
Although not specifically about our vocations, I saw a lot of applications in this book about integrating our faith and work. I highlighted a large number of passages in this short (128 page) book and would like to share some of them with you below:
• Besides, when it comes down to it, we are all busy in the same sorts of ways. Whether you are a pastor, a parent, or a pediatrician, you likely struggle with the crushing weight of work, family, exercise, bills, church, school, friends, and a barrage of requests, demands, and desires. No doubt, some people are quantitatively less busy than others and some much more so, but that doesn’t change the shared experience: most everyone I know feels frazzled and overwhelmed most of the time.
• My outline is as simple as three numbers: 3, 7, and 1: three dangers to avoid (chapter 2), seven diagnoses to consider (chapters 3–9), and one thing you must do (chapter 10). I don’t promise total transformation. I offer no money-back guarantees. My goal is more modest. I hope you’ll find a few ways to tackle your schedule, several suggestions for reclaiming your sanity, and a lot of encouragement to remember your soul.
• We are so busy with a million pursuits that we don’t even notice the most important things slipping away.
• In his book The Busy Christian’s Guide to Busyness, Tim Chester suggests twelve diagnostic questions to determine how ill we’ve become with “hurry sickness.”
1. “Do you regularly work thirty minutes a day longer than your contracted hours?”
2. “Do you check work e-mails and phone messages at home?”
3. “Has anyone ever said to you, ‘I didn’t want to trouble you because I know how busy you are’?”
4. “Do your family or friends complain about not getting time with you?”
5. “If tomorrow evening were unexpectedly freed up, would you use it to do work or a household chore?”
6. “Do you often feel tired during the day or do you find your neck and shoulders aching?”
7. “Do you often exceed the speed limit while driving?”
8. “Do you make use of any flexible working arrangements offered by your employers?”
9. “Do you pray with your children regularly?”
10. “Do you have enough time to pray?”
11. “Do you have a hobby in which you are actively involved?”
12. “Do you eat together as a family or household at least once a day?”
• There are two realities of the modernized, urbanized, globalized world that most everyone else in human history could not fathom: our complexity and our opportunity.
• So don’t ignore the physical danger of busyness. Just remember the most serious threats are spiritual. When we are crazy busy, we put our souls at risk. The challenge is not merely to make a few bad habits go away. The challenge is to not let our spiritual lives slip away. The dangers are serious, and they are growing. And few of us are as safe as we may think.
• The first danger is that busyness can ruin our joy. This is the most immediate and obvious spiritual threat. When our lives are frantic and frenzied, we are more prone to anxiety, resentment, impatience, and irritability.
• The second danger is that busyness can rob our hearts. John Calvin says the human heart is “a thick forest of thorns. “Jesus names two in particular. The first he labels “the cares of the world” (Mark 4:19).
• A second thorn is related to the first. Jesus says the work of the Word is swallowed up by the desire for other things.
• As much as we must pray against the Devil and pray for the persecuted church, in Jesus’s thinking the greater threat to the gospel is sheer exhaustion.
• Busyness kills more Christians than bullets.
• The third danger is that busyness can cover up the rot in our souls.
• The presence of extreme busyness in our lives may point to deeper problems—a pervasive people-pleasing, a restless ambition, a malaise of meaninglessness.
• The greatest danger with busyness is that there may be greater dangers you never have time to consider.
• Busyness does not mean you are a faithful or fruitful Christian. It only means you are busy, just like everyone else.
Diagnosis #1: You Are Beset with Many Manifestations of Pride. Which means our understanding of busyness must start with the one sin that begets so many of our other sins: pride.
• People-pleasing. We are busy because we try to do too many things. We do too many things because we say yes to too many people. We say yes to all these people because we want them to like us and we fear their disapproval.
• Pats on the back. This is the most obvious kind of pride: living for praise. It’s similar to people-pleasing, except less motivated by fear than by a desire for glory.
• Performance evaluation. As in, we tend to overrate our own.
• Because we regard ourselves so highly, we overestimate our importance.
• But the truth is, you’re only indispensable until you say no.
• Possessions. We work to earn, and we earn to spend. We stay busy because we want more stuff.
• It’s not wrong to want a new couch or even a new house. The problem comes when we take pride in our possessions, or, more subtly, when we are too proud to trust in God no matter what happens with our possessions.
• Proving myself. God is not against ambition. Too many Christians lack the initiative, courage, and diligence that ambition inspires. But ambition for our own glory must not be confused with ambition for God’s glory. Some of us never rest because we are still trying to prove something to our parents, our ex-girlfriend, or our high school coach.
• Pity. Let’s face it: people feel sorry for us when we’re busy. If we get our lives under control, we won’t seem nearly so impressive and people won’t ooh and aah over our burdens. Many of us feel proud to be so busy, and we enjoy the sympathy we receive for enduring such heroic responsibilities.
• Poor planning. I can look back and see many times in ministry where I was too hesitant to hand over certain tasks to others.
• I let my planning be dictated by pride rather than by what would best serve my soul, my family, and my church.
• Power. “I need to stay busy because I need to stay in control.”
• Perfectionism. “I can’t let up because I can’t make a mistake.”
• Position. “I do too much because that’s what people like me are supposed to do.”
• Prestige. “If I keep pushing myself, I’ll finally be somebody. I’ll finally matter. I’ll finally arrive.” Nonsense. You won’t be satisfied.
• Posting. If we’re honest, pride lies behind much of the social media revolution. I’ve often had to ask myself, “Why am I blogging? Why I am tweeting? Is it for my name and my fame?”
• Here’s the bottom line: of all the possible problems contributing to our busyness, it’s a pretty good bet that one of the most pervasive is pride.
• As you can gather from these questions, pride is not always easy to detect. While we may all, to some degree, be busy because of pride, that doesn’t mean every bit of busyness is the direct result of pride.
• So how can we tell when we are frantic and overwhelmed because of pride and when we are busy for nobler reasons?
• As I try to discern what’s people-pleasing, self-aggrandizing pride, and what’s genuine service to others, I try to keep in mind this simple question: Am I trying to do good or to make myself look good?
• Recall the diagnostic question: Am I trying to do them good or trying to look good?
Diagnosis #2: You Are Trying to Do What God Does Not Expect You to Do. Here are some of thoughts that have helped me get out from under the terror of total obligation. I am not the Christ.
• There is good news.
• Care is not the same as do.
• We have different gifts and different callings.
• I can always pray right now.
• Jesus didn’t do it all.
Diagnosis #3: You Can’t Serve Others without Setting Priorities. And this means coming to grips with three unassailable truths. Truth #1: I Must Set Priorities because I Can’t Do It All.
• In the real world of finite time, we often have to discern good and better from best.
• Truth #2: I Must Set Priorities If I Am to Serve Others Most Effectively. Stewarding my time is not about selfishly pursuing only the things I like to do. It’s about effectively serving others in the ways I’m best able to serve and in the ways I am most uniquely called to serve.
• This means, in addition to setting priorities, I must establish posteriorities. This is Drucker’s word for the things that should be at the end (posterior) of our to-do list. These are the things we decide not to do for the sake of doing the things we ought to do. Making goals is not enough. We must establish what tasks and troubles we will not tackle at all.
• Truth #3: I Must Allow Others to Set Their Own Priorities
Diagnosis #4: You Need to Stop Freaking Out about Your Kids
• But you could also call it Kindergarchy: rule by children.
• What’s important is the realization—one any of our parents could confirm—that today’s family is structured around the life of the child as never before. Man has not always lived under Kindergarchy.
• That’s why one of the best things we can do for our kids is to find a way to stop being so frantic and frazzled.
• One key question asked the kids what one thing they would change about the way their parents’ work was affecting them. The results were striking. The kids rarely wished for more time with their parents, but, much to the parents’ surprise, they wished their parents were less tired and less stressed.
• The biggest weakness, according to the kids, was anger management. More than 40 percent of kids gave their moms and dads a C, D, or F on controlling their temper. It was the worst grade on the children’s parental report card.
• Our children, Caplan argues, are suffering from “secondhand stress.”
• By trying to do so much for them, we are actually making our kids less happy. It would be better for us and for our kids if we planned fewer outings, got involved in fewer activities, took more breaks from the kids, did whatever we could to get more help around the house, and made parental sanity a higher priority.
Diagnosis #5: You Are Letting the Screen Strangle Your Soul
• Let me simply suggest three ways in which the digital revolution is an accomplice to our experience of being crazy busy.
• First, there is the threat of addiction. That may sound like too strong a word, but that’s what it is. Could you go a whole day without looking at Facebook? Could you go an afternoon without looking at your phone? What about two days away from e-mail?
• Many of us are simply overcome—hour after hour, day after day—by the urge to connect online. And as Christians we know that “whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved” (2 Pet. 2:19).
• Second, there is the threat of acedia. Acedia suggests indifference and spiritual forgetfulness. For too many of us, the hustle and bustle of electronic activity is a sad expression of a deeper acedia.
• We are always engaged with our thumbs, but rarely engaged with our thoughts. We keep downloading information, but rarely get down into the depths of our hearts. That’s acedia—purposelessness disguised as constant commotion.
• All of this leads directly to the third threat of our digital world, and that’s the danger that we are never alone. I’m talking about our desire to never be alone.
• Peter Kreeft is right: “We want to complexify our lives. We don’t have to, we want to. We want to be harried and hassled and busy. Unconsciously, we want the very things we complain about.
• And nothing allows you to be busy—all the time, with anyone anywhere—like having the whole world in a little black rectangle in your pocket.
• Cultivate a healthy suspicion toward technology and “progress.”
• Be more thoughtful and understanding in your connectedness with others.
• Deliberately use “old” technology.
• Make boundaries, and fight with all your might to protect them.
• The simplest step to breaking the tyranny of the screen is also the hardest step: we can’t be connected all the time.
• And most of us would find new freedom if we didn’t check our phones as the last and first thing we do every day. Of all the little bad habits I have that contribute to my busyness, the habit of checking my e-mail right before I go to bed and checking it as soon as I wake up is probably the worst.
• Bring our Christian theology to bear on these dangers of the digital age.
• But because we have a God who chose us in eternity past and looks at a day as a thousand years and a thousand years as a day, we will not be infatuated with the latest fads and trends. And because of the incarnation, we understand there is no substitute for dwelling with physical people in a physical place. So we do not accept virtual encounters as adequate substitutes for flesh and blood relationships.
• Likewise, because we understand our worth as image-bearers and our identity as children of God, we will not look to the Internet to prove that we are important, valuable, and loved. And because we accept the presence of indwelling sin, we will not be blind to the potential idolatries and temptations we can succumb to online. And because we know ourselves to be fallen creatures, we will accept the limits of our human condition. We cannot have meaningful relationships with thousands of people. We cannot really know what is going on in the world. We cannot be truly here and there at the same time. The biggest deception of our digital age may be the lie that says we can be omni-competent, omni-informed, and omni-present. We cannot be any of these things. We must choose our absence, our inability, and our ignorance—and choose wisely. The sooner we embrace this finitude, the sooner we can be free.
Diagnosis #6: You’d Better Rest Yourself before You Wreck Yourself
• Whatever your take on the specific dos and don’ts of Sunday, I hope every Christian can agree that God has made us from the dust to need regular times of rest. He built it into the creation order and commanded it of his people.
• If my goal is God-glorifying productivity over a lifetime of hard work, there are few things I need more than a regular rhythm of rest.
• The Bible commends hard work (Prov. 6:6–11; Matt. 25:14–30; 1 Thess. 2:9; 4:11–12; 2 Thess. 3:10) and it also extols the virtue of rest (Ex. 20:8–11; Deut. 5:12–15; Ps. 127:2). Both have their place. The hard part is putting them in the right places.
• Which is why it’s so concerning that our lives are getting more and more rhythm-less. We don’t have healthy routines. We can’t keep our feasting and fasting apart. Evening and morning have lost their feel. Sunday has lost its significance. Everything is blurred together. The faucet is a constant drip.
• Pursuing a pattern of work and rest means more than an annual retreat or a weekly Sabbath. It means quite practically a daily fight to get more sleep.
• By all accounts, we are sleeping less than ever before. The average American gets two and a half fewer hours of sleep per night than a century ago.
• I know sleep is easier said than done, especially for parents with young children and those with insomnia, but most of us could improve our lives significantly by simply getting to bed a little earlier.
Diagnosis #7: You Suffer More because You Don’t Expect to Suffer at All
• Busyness, as I’ve been diagnosing it, is as much a mind-set and a heart sickness as it is a failure in time management.
• The antidote to busyness of soul is not sloth and indifference. The antidote is rest, rhythm, death to pride, acceptance of our own finitude, and trust in the providence of God.
• The busyness that’s bad is not the busyness of work, but the busyness that works hard at the wrong things. Its being busy trying to please people, busy trying to control others, busy trying to do things we haven’t been called to do.
• But I know from personal experience that some forms of busyness are from the Lord and bring him glory.
• Paul was busy, in all the right ways. If you love God and serve others, you will be busy too. Sometimes we will get frazzled. We will feel pressure. We will be tired. We will get discouraged. We will feel exhausted. We will say, “Who is weak, and I am not weak?” (2 Cor. 11:29). But be encouraged. God uses weak things to shame the strong (1 Cor. 1:27). His grace is sufficient for you; his power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). For the sake of Christ, we must be content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. And yes, sometimes we must be content with busyness. For when you are weak, then you are strong (v. 10). Paul had pressure. You have pressure too. But God can handle the pressure. Do not be surprised when you face crazy weeks of all kinds. And do not be surprised when God sustains you in the midst of them.
• We are all very busy, but not with what matters most. We must make learning from him and taking time to be with him a priority. The priority, in fact.
• I know you have things to do. I have plenty to do myself. But out of all the concerns in our lives, can we honestly say and show that sitting at the feet of Jesus is the one thing that is necessary?
• If you are sick and tired of feeling so dreadfully busy and are looking for a one-point plan to help restore order to your life, this is the best advice I know: devote yourself to the Word of God and prayer. This means public worship and private worship.
• We have to believe that the most significant opportunity before us every day is the opportunity to sit at the feet of Jesus. We won’t rearrange our priorities unless we really believe this is the best one.
• Making consistent time for the Word of God and prayer is the place to start because being with Jesus is the only thing strong enough to pull us away from busyness. We won’t say no to more craziness until we can say yes to more Jesus.
• It’s not wrong to be tired. It’s not wrong to feel overwhelmed. It’s not wrong to go through seasons of complete chaos. What is wrong—and heartbreakingly foolish and wonderfully avoidable—is to live a life with more craziness than we want because we have less Jesus than we need.
Read Kevin DeYoung’s article “Am I Still Crazy Busy” here: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2013/10/01/am-i-still-crazy-busy/
Kevin will be one of the speakers at the 2015 Ligonier Ministries National Conference, to be held in Orlando February 19-22. To find out more, go to: http://www.ligonier.org/events/2015-national-conference/