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I refuse to say ‘I’m busy’

10.11. 2014 Written By: Janeen Bertsche Johnson 4,060 Times read

There is a word that only appears six times in the Bible which most of us use six or more times a day: the word “busy.”

“Too busy” is the most common complaint of our culture. Most of us feel we have too much to do in too little time, and we lament this to each other.

But busyness has also become a virtue in our society. Researchers say that we talk about being busy so much because busyness conveys social status. Busy people are important people. If you aren’t busy, you are obsolete.

And so our comments about busyness often start to sound more like bragging than lamenting, as if we are competing to see who is more important.

Sociologist John Robinson says, “It’s very popular, the feeling that there are too many things going on, that people can’t get in control of their lives.”

And this insistence that we are too busy leads to greater stress, exhaustion, poor boundary maintenance, and a myriad of poor choices about how we spend our time. Robinson says the answer to feeling overwhelmed by busyness is to stop telling ourselves that we are. (“You’re Not As Busy As You Say You Are” by Hanna Rosin).

A year ago this fall, I started an experiment. I decided that I would not use the word “busy” to describe my life, and I also tried not to ask others if they were “busy.” I’ve only slipped up a few times, and I’ve been amazed at how much my life has changed because of refusing to use this one word.

I am less anxious than I was. I am more mindful of the present moment, and more grateful for the time I have. I’ve been allowing myself to rest and enjoy “wasted” time. I’m learning to enjoy “being” as well as “doing.”

I have found an amazing vocabulary of other ways to describe my life, such as “full” and “rich.”

I have also embraced being an empty-nester, rather than lamenting the loss of my children’s activities. I enjoy going out to eat and visit with my husband and with good friends. I’m spending more time outside, hiking in the woods or exploring the prairie on the seminary campus. I have been more intentional to include Sabbath time in my life.

As I said at the beginning, the Bible doesn’t say much about busyness. But I found two passages which offered helpful counsel. One is:

James 1:9-11:  “Let the believer who is lowly boast in being raised up, and the rich in being brought low, because the rich will disappear like a flower in the field. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the field; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. It is the same with the rich; in the midst of a busy life, they will wither away.” (NRSV)

And from the Apocryphal book of Ecclesiasticus, chapter 11, verses 10-11:

“My child, do not busy yourself with many matters; if you multiply activities, you will not be held blameless. . .There are those who work and struggle and hurry, but are so much the more in want.” (NRSV)

My hope for myself and others who have “full” lives is that we can learn how to live abundantly rather than frantically.

Janeen Bertsche Johnson is Campus Pastor and Alumni Director at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Elkhart, Ind. She also coordinates the orientation class, teaches Mennonite polity, and leads creation care initiatives at AMBS. She and her husband Barry make many trips to Bluffton (Ohio) University for concerts of their children Hannah and Aaron.

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5 Responses to “I refuse to say ‘I’m busy’”

  1. Peter Epp says:

    Awesome. Thanks, Janeen! Any advice for those of us who believe that saying “I’m too busy” is the only thing keeping us from being even more overwhelmingly busy?

    This dovetails nicely with a hot topic up here at your sister institution in Canada, sparked by John Swinton’s presentations at our most recent J.J. Thiessen Lectures: http://www.cmu.ca/about.php?s=events&p=lectures.

    • Janeen Bertsche Johnson says:

      Peter, a few years ago for my Lenten discipline, I didn’t say “yes” to any new commitments. I told people they could ask me again after Easter! Through that experience, I learned to give myself space to consider requests for my time so that I evaluated them from a more holistic space. Another way I have evaluated requests is to ask myself, “Will this be life-giving or life-draining for me and those I encounter?” So instead of answering people, “I’m too busy,” you could say “I don’t think it would be healthy for me to use my energies on that right now,” or “Let me think about that request, because if I say ‘yes’ to this, I will need to give up something else to maintain balance.”

  2. Nita Landis says:

    Thanks, Janeen! I’m going to try your experiment.

  3. Carolyn Heggen says:

    Thank you for this insightful essay, Janeen! I find that Mennonites speak of being “Too busy!” more than my non Mennonite friends and associates. We seem to wear our busy schedules and exhaustion as a badge of honor–and perhaps, as you suggest, of importance and status. Let’s challenge each other to minimize the use of such language and let us begin with ourselves. It is hard to be always busy and still find time to be still enough to sense God’s tender presence.

  4. Clair Hochstetler says:

    I really appreciate this pastoral word to all of us which carries a real breath of fresh air and promised freedom with it. I will take it to heart — and practice. Thanks so much Janeen, and for your wise follow-up comments to Peter Epp, as well! -Clair

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