Friday, April 16, 2010

Busyness As Usual?

I am starting a series which I call the "Anti-Busyness Campaign." I have not decided how many articles as yet. This will be the first which talks about work.

Here I am again, talking about one of my favourite things to bash. It is the face of busyness. Signs can be intriguing. Sometimes, while construction is going on within part of a shop, the owners will put a prominent sign to tell customers that they are still in business. In other words, despite the ongoing construction, business will be as usual. I want to contend that no matter how we look at the word 'busyness,' it is not the normal state for the human being. In other words, man is not created to be busy 7 days a week.

A) Busyness As Usual?
We live a busy lifestyle. One major factor is survival related. We have bills to be paid. Without a job, one can ill-afford the monthly mortgage for the house, the preferred car or the dream vacation to an exotic destination. We push ourselves to meet the quarterly targets, and to reap our financial rewards. We push ourselves to meet deadlines, and to accomplish an important milestone for a significant business project. We push ourselves to get things done, to stay ahead of the competition that threatens to eat our lunch. We become pushy people. We push the authorities. We push for our voices to be heard. We push others. We push ourselves. Busyness is a continued state of pushing without pausing.

For some, every meeting we attend seems to conclude with a longer than before to-do list. In a culture of cost-cutting and retrenchment, having more things to do, is better than having nothing to do. What is the cost to our inner souls? Can we continue to push and push without harming ourselves inside? Caffeine can only perk us up to some extent. Our bodies are never meant to run non-stop. They are not meant to be in a ‘busy’ mode all the time. In our regime of continual pushing, caffeine perks the mind while tobacco soothes the nerves. Alcohol numbs the worries. Sleep makes us forget our problems, at least for a while. When the alarm sounds in the early morning, the busyness cycle returns, and some of us restart our routines like a headless chicken. Busyness as usual?

Another factor behind our busyness is because of our search for identity, via success. This reminds me of a story of a man who worked his head off in his job, spending so many hours in the office in order to own a nice bungalow, a beautiful car and a large swimming pool. He hires a domestic maid to take care of his property whilst he worked. After calculating the hours, it appears as if his domestic maid spends more time living in the bungalow, polishing his car, and enjoying the garden and swimming pool more than he does. That is quite ironical. The one who owns the properties end up letting others use it. That is so true for people struggling to maintain a vacation home, a time-shared overseas property or a country club membership. When people gets so busy, all these rewards seem to go to somebody else. Perhaps, the satisfaction behind the hard work is the ‘thought of owning,’ not the actual using of the assets concerned. The writer of Proverbs reminds us to pursue wisdom. Otherwise, all of our hard-earned efforts and results will be given to someone else who did not even work for it. We cannot retain our possessions forever. However, we can share our wisdom, and allow our wisdom to guide us in our quest for success.

B) Idolatry Becomes Work
Some of my readers will be quick to point out that nothing is new. Everyone knows we live in a busy lifestyle. So what is new? That is true. There is nothing new in saying we are smack right in the middle of a busy society, where busyness is the norm, and unbusy is unthinkable. My question goes beyond the recognition of busyness. It is summed up:

What are we going to do about it?

Yes, we all know we are busy, but what active steps can we take to address this? Unless of course we are all too happy being busy now and empty later. What about a rhythm of intentional busyness and purposeful unbusyness? The writer of Ecclesiastes calls the reader to wisdom, that there is a time for everything.  Robert Levine, in The Geography of Busyness describes busyness as essentially having two parts. The first part is the activity itself. The second part is the speed of doing that activity. These two components form the ultimate subjective feeling of feeling important because of our activities, and because of our SPEED in accomplishing such activities. In other words, the reason for busyness is the way it makes us feel important.

The trouble is due to our over-emphasis on good works. One good deed leads to many more. We sometimes forget that the key to good works is not the work per se, but the 'good' a person has that is lived out via good works. In other words, it is because of the good in us, before we can authentically do the good works. If we fail to let our hearts be in sync with our hands, we will feel dissatisfied, no matter how altruistic our works are.

Soon all that remains is a busy person frantically working in such a way that work itself becomes a god. When work becomes an idol, busyness is simply another way of justifying our worship of work. We work the activities as if our whole life depends on them. We work hard so that we find a sense of fulfillment. We work feverishly as if our identities depended on it. That is why when unemployment climbs, depression and identity crisis situations climb as well. However, all is not lost. We have wisdom from the Bible.

C) Toward A Rest Day of UN-busyness
The Word of the LORD has a unique prescription for mankind. It is enshrined in the Ten Commandments.

"Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the plowing season and harvest you must rest.” (Exod 34:21)

The Sabbath is one way to halt our own factory that manufactures idolatry of work. Once a week, we do something different. Once a week, we say to the work-idol, ‘I do not need you to define me who I am.” Once a week, we proclaim again, that we live not to work, but to worship God. Once Martin Luther had a friend called Melanchthon. They regularly have debates and discussions over theology and the wonderful things of God. On the Sabbath, Melanchthon was eager to continue his discussion of how God governs the Universe. Instead of agreeing, Luther tells Melanchthon that he is more interested in fishing, and to let God deal with the governance.

It is important to set limits even to the things we enjoy doing. Once a week is a good start. Do something different. It will bring a much-needed respite from a busy world, using ‘busyness as usual’ as a cloak to mold into a workhorse, that knows how to work, but not know how to rest.
The really idle man gets nowhere. The perpetually busy man does not get much further." (Sir Heneage Ogilvie, British Physician, 1887-1971)
Indeed, work can be an idol. It feeds on busyness. It makes us feel important in a false sense. Thus we need to regularly take stock of our lives.  The Sabbath will bring some sensibilities to our culture that worships "Busyness As Usual."


Thought: Are we defining ourselves based on the activities we do, or are our activities based on our identity in Christ?

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