Carson is a worker at a co-working tech startup space where going the extra mile is (dangerously?) celebrated. There is even a vending machine in the office building with the mantra “Great ideas don’t respect office hours” plastered on it. He was once so “busy” that he abandoned finishing off reading a book called “Crazy Busy”.
Night in a tweet: The rhythm of the Sabbath shows us the deep rest that is necessary for deep work.
This term’s theme is UNCHARTERED. Whether by instinct or deliberation, the way we engage with life seemingly follows a mental map that has been pre-programmed in us. For this week, our focus is on the busyness in our lives. By examining our own busyness in light of the Gospel, are we able to reprogram our minds with a better map? On Monday night, Tim took us through the nature of busyness, the pitfalls of how we may think about busyness, and the Gospel solution with some practical tips.
Busyness As Usual
Being busy is a default state of being. It would be unusual for anyone in today’s society to say that they are not busy. Constant emails. Meeting invitations that squeeze their way into every spare slot on your calendar. Preparing for these meetings. Family. Professional development. Side gigs. Groceries. Sunday service. Serving. Commuting. Exercise.
There is certainly a daily busyness that threatens to send our lives spiraling out of control, and it is easy to feel guilty about this. Yet there is nothing inherently sinful about busyness. The God of the bible is a busy God in creating and sustaining the world. God calls us to be workers and to take the Gospel to the nations. To be excellent and productive at work, to feverishly serve our families, communities and church is a divine calling.
Amongst these mixed ideas about busyness, our culture makes it easy for us to fall for the trap of wearing busyness as a badge, as a social signal to others that we are valued, that our work is meaningful and important. Being or looking busy becomes an end in itself, rather than looking towards the original reason that we work - to serve and to be productive. Yet this line of thinking may also lead us to another pitfall. If we equate busyness with productivity, and productivity with our inherent value, then we can feel burdened by the need to be busy. We might feel that we always have to be doing something. Anxiety builds up and we have lost the ability to relax and be playful.
In Matthew 11:28, Jesus says “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest”. Jesus doesn’t give us time management tips, but he calls us to rest. There are two ways in which Jesus can transform the way we wrestle with busyness.
Firstly, the Gospel frees us from measuring our inherent value by our productivity, or perceived productivity. Our value is simply being children of God. Knowing that God is sovereign and is continually sustaining the world frees us from any illusions of grandeur about our own importance. Secondly, Jesus shows us the life giving rhythm of the sabbath. In Genesis, God created the world for six days, and rested on the seventh. We work hard at all that we do in life. We grow tired and weary, and we rest. Rather than frantically jumping from task to task, we are then able to appreciate the labour of our hands, celebrate what God has done, reflect and look up towards the purposes God has called us towards.
How would such rhythms of work and rest look like for us? Tim’s three suggestions:
We can say no. Our value isn’t derived from our busyness.
We can sleep. Sleep is a way of worshipping, recognising that we are not God.
We can unplug. Living in a connected world disrupts the rhythm of work and rest as we are always connected. To truly rest in a deep way, we may need to be disconnected from distractions.
What I took away from this
“996” is the idea of working 9AM to 9PM, 6 days a week - a common practice in technology companies in China. Just last weekend, I learned of a new concept “007”. Midnight-to-midnight, 7 days a week. It is crazy that culture celebrates “hustling” to such a degree. A few weeks ago, Jack Ma from Alibaba was quoted as saying that it is a blessing to be able to work 12 hours a day. Elon Musk said ‘nobody ever changed the world on 40 hours a week’. The badge of busyness is certainly apparent here.
The Gospel teaches us that we are not God. And all things of this world have been created and sustained through Jesus. Self-delusions of grandeur need not apply.
Busyness is indeed a tempting trap. I’ve fallen and continue to fall in the trap of busyness. I see tasks piling on top of tasks and it is tempting to dive straight in and start tackling them one by one. After some time working full-time, I learned that in most circumstances, this isn’t the best way. At university, there were always short-term goalposts where I could stubbornly work harder through (i.e. be more busy). Each exam has a “pen’s down” moment. Each course had an end date. In the workforce, there is often no such luxury. Customer’s needs and wants continually grow need to be satisfied. Revenues have to continually grow. It became apparent that rather than merely coping with busyness, I needed to deal with busyness in a better, more sustainable way. And I do think the rhythm of work and rest does indeed transform this. Deep rest allows us to zoom out and look at the bigger picture. No longer are we jumping from task to task on our to-do lists, but we can reflect, plan, prioritise and be thankful.
During the evening, one of the Headstarters commented that we have seasons of busyness. For example, starting a new job or the birth of a child. I do agree with this. Different contexts and situations in our lives call for wisdom in our decisions. We have the freedom to unplug from work and rest. But we also have the freedom not to. Throughout my years at work, there have been situations where being connected 24/7 was very helpful to the company and our customers. The case for this is readily apparent for family, friends and new parents as well.
Another pitfall that Tim’s talk made me think about was my use of being “busy” as an excuse for my own poor planning and prioritisation. It is easier for me to say that I am busy, rather than thinking deeply about more effective ways in which I can work, and spending the time to prioritise important work rather than the the most urgent task that is shouting at me the loudest.