The Busyness Martyr

Dear Jack,

Something I’ve noticed in our culture is our hidden obsessiveness with being busy.  We take pride in hectic schedules that drain us of margin, joy, and fulfillment.  Whether it’s work, church, kids, community involvement, board meetings, or family gatherings, we all seem to have a lot going on.

How many times do you hear someone ask a friend “How are you doing?”

“Good – really busy with work right now.  I’m usually not home till 7 or 8 each night.  Can’t complain!”

“Great – little Jimmy’s on two traveling soccer teams, Suzy’s taking clarinet and ballet lessons, and the hubby decided to go back to school to get another degree while working!”

“Oh man, busy – but good.  So many church projects going on right now I can barely keep them straight, but God doesn’t smile on the lazy ant!”

True, God probably doesn’t smile at laziness, but I don’t think he takes great pride when we suffocate in our calendars either.

It almost seems shameful if we answer the question with

“I’m doing well – keeping my hours at work under control so I have more free time.”


“Great – I decided to keep little Jimmy out of sports this season so we’re not doing as much running around.”

And let me say this – I’m guilty.  Ask anyone who knows me in this season of life – I’ve got a lot going on.


Did you catch that?  Did you catch that slim glimmer of pride woven in the words of mine you just read?  It’s because I have the disease – I somehow want to be a martyr sacrificing myself on the alter of busyness, even though a voice inside me is urging me to free myself, to jump down off the alter that I’ve tied my own heart to.

I have an inclination that the disease was born out of a reaction against the laziness that also prevails in our culture – I’d rather be too busy than too lazy.  But that’s the deadly trap – the area between the two is murky, and I’m relatively sure I haven’t found the path that walks steadily between the reclining sloth and the passed-out carpenter bee.

Sure, I suffer a bit from this.  But you know who really suffers, Jack?  You.  And Lydia.  Those closest to me are those that suffer the most when I allow too much stuff to fill my calendar.  The same goes for everyone – those who are closest to you will suffer at a proportional level to your busyness.  They seem to get our leftovers, our margin.

This Christmas and New Year’s time is a good opportunity to audit ourselves – which is as easy as looking at our calendars, or just honestly examining our stress levels.  Both of mine are at uneasy marks right now.

I’m not offering any suggestions to cure the busyness disease at this point, but I am making an attempt to increase awareness of it.  Too many of us are killing ourselves between our jobs, our roles at church, our roles in the community, and our roles as family members.  We need to learn to say no to more things.  But more importantly, we need to learn to be okay with not being overly busy – and not expecting those around us to be overly busy as well.

I want to be able to answer that question sometime with “I’m great – I’m at home way more than I have ever been in my life.”  It sounds so …  un-American, so un-Lancaster County, so un-Protestant work ethic.  But is that really such a bad thing?  Till next time, Jack.



8 thoughts on “The Busyness Martyr”

  1. Spot on, Jeremy! In all our productiveness, we’ve forgotten the value of Sabbath rest. I’m trying to learn to balance my time better, but that trap of pride in accomplishment and busyness is still there. Maybe we should take a clue from Jesus and get away for some solitude every now and then!

    1. So true, Paul. God knew what he was commanding when told us to respect the Sabbath. One of my friends has a 2012 goal of getting away for an entire day of solitude once a month. I love that goal.

    1. Thanks, Adam. That book was recommended to me a bit ago, so now that it’s come around again I may have to check it out. Thanks! Ha, and yeah… the busyness martyrdom knows no county boundaries.

  2. This problem has reached crisis proportion! It’s especially bad for families with children. Sports and any children/youth activities have become gods to many. And I also admit my guilt. I apologize to you for not setting a better example in our household. Parents must say no to their children. And the typical length of the workweek in Lancaster County is ridiculous! Families and churches get nothing but leftovers. In 2012, Keystone is actually going to be working on a multifaceted plan to address this problem. I pray that it helps.

    1. Yeah, the workweek is rather ridiculous. I think I told you about the stat I came across that the average employed worker logs in 34 (or 32, I forget) hours a week in America. I know of few people who are full time employed and work less than 45 or 50 hours a week. I’m excited to see what Keystone has planned.

      No need for apologies – we certainly weren’t the only busy family on the block!

  3. This will be a goal for the coming months for sure. Reminds me of another common problem: not being able to say no…

    1. Yeah, you and me both, Dan. Although – you did successfully say No to my pleading for you to play QB in our flag football league last year, ha.

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