They often say that in churches, 20% of the people, do 80% of the work. They also say that if you want to find someone who will do something for you, find a busy person, and they’ll surely say yes. I’m not exactly who “they” is, but I’m thinking that as a general rule, “they” are right! For many Christians, it is difficult to say no to doing good things. We are willing to deliver meals-on-wheels, we help decorate the church at Christmas time, we even help undecorate the church when the holiday season is over. Overall, we’re generally willing to lend a helping hand. What happens, then, when we’re so busy and exhausted that we can no longer do one more thing to help another person when they need us? Either we say “no” and feel guilty about it, we get sick so that it’s impossible to say “yes,” or we go ahead and do it, all the while being bitter and grumpy about always having to lend a helping hand!
There are so many great things for us to be involved with that it is easy to get overloaded with a schedule full of really good things. However, as a member of Busyaholics Anonymous, I’m the first one to say, “My name is Ashlee…and I’m addicted to being busy.” Busyness gives us worth—it makes us feel important. When we’re seen rushing off somewhere with a hop in our step, people think we are a person of purpose! Busyness also gives us a sense of belonging—it makes us feel needed. When someone else (who is probably too busy him- or herself) asks me to do something to help them out, I feel great about my own ability to contribute to the cause. Busyness also gives us purpose—it distracts us from feelings of insecurity or boredom. When we’re quiet with not a whole lot to “do,” we must really deal with who we truly are. Busyness anesthetizes us enough to not have to think about the things that really matter to us because we don’t really have time—we’ve got to be productive! Well, Justin Timberlake may be bringing sexy back, but I’m bringing back the popular anti-drug slogan of the 80’s: Just Say No!
Well, I know that it’s not quite that simple…we can’t just quit everything to solve our busyness problem. What I would suggest is that we learn to say yes to the really great things and no to the things that are only just good. How do we begin to tell the difference behind the good and the great things? Well, here are a couple of suggestions:
1. Don’t just reflexively say yes to anything, even if it is something that you really want to do. When someone asks you to do something, ask them if you can get back with them about it. Spend a little time thinking about it and look at your schedule and make sure that you actually have time to commit to something else.
2. Ask yourself, “Will I regret saying yes?” If after examining the reasons why you might regret saying yes and the answer to the question is probably, then definitely say no! If the answer to that question is probably not, then consider saying yes.
3. Consider whether or not saying “yes” to this will negatively impact your other commitments. Often adding a new commitment has unwanted influence on the things that we’re already doing. It’s like adding a piece of chocolate cake to an already full cafeteria tray, only to make your salad bowl run into your mashed potatoes and your jello to tip over onto the tray! It doesn’t ruin all of your food, it just makes it a little less desirable! Same way with taking on too many things. You just don’t have enough time and energy to keep the level of competence that you would desire, so everything gets a little sloppy.
Several years ago, I heard a tape of a sermon that talked about this very principle. The pastor was talking about an ad that he had seen in a magazine selling fine wine. The ad said something along the lines of this: We prune some of the good grapes so that you get only the best! It went on to explain that because of their pruning process, they were able to grow the finest grapes possible. There is definitely a parallel for us in our Christian lives. Of course I think about John 15:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” (John 15:1-2)
We have to cut out some “good” things so that God can do the “best” work in us. That means that we may need to say no to teaching a Sunday School class for the semester so that we can be a good student and learn all that God has in store for us in our classes. It also may mean that we have to work a few hours less a week so that we are able to be a part of covenant group. It may also mean that we have to skip a service project because we need to be available to a friend who is struggling to stay above water with her life. Unfortunately there is no easy answer to how to get off of the never ending hamster-wheel of busyness. We mess up every now and then when we’re trying to figure it out. We end up with a skinned knee because we jumped off of the wheel too quickly or we unintentionally hurt another person in the process because they take it personally when we say no. However, the important part for us to learn that in saying no to something good, we’re saying yes to something great: to do the will of God, the Master Gardener, and bear much great fruit—fruit that will last!
We’re having an event on campus that addresses some of this problem. Builders in Ministry week will be held on campus on Feb. 27-Mar. 1. The conference theme is “Building in Some Margin” and we’re going to be talking about some things that are related to what I’ve said above as we think about leaving space in our lives for spiritual formation, Sabbath, restoration, and prayer. Check out the website: www.sckans.edu/ministry and click on the “Building in Some Margin” logo.