Monday, June 29, 2009

May I Borrow Your Busyness?

I was in a store last week when I heard a lady on her cell phone, chattering away with cheery enthusiasm.

Her side of the conversation basically went like this, "Well, I have to go by the store and pick up the birthday cake and then make potato salad, and then find that chicken casserole recipe I lost, and drop off Kim at ballet class and run by the Post Office and then go and get the oil changed."

Do you know what I wanted to do?

I wanted to march right up to her, tap her on her shoulder and say, "Excuse me, ma'am. May I borrow your busyness?"

Steve and I used to be addicted to busyness. To adrenalin. To crises. To over scheduling. To being needed. To being indispensable.

So when I heard this lady going on and on about her busy life, I felt a brief, strong moment of envy. I wanted someone to be relying on ME to bring the potato salad. I wanted to, once again, have too many things to do and too little time in which to do them.

It has occurred to me more than once that a lot of us seem to derive our self esteem from being over tired, over extended, and over scheduled.

I mean, think about conversations you have with people around you. You ask your neighbor, "Hey, how are you doing?"

She replies, "Well, okay I guess, but if this summer gets any busier I don't know what I'll do. I've been running around like a maniac trying to get everything ready before we go on vacation, and the kids all need me to take them places, and I haven't cleaned my house in a month, and the dog needs to go to the vet, and I had to work overtime three days in a row and I am exhausted!"

Bingo!

She suddenly feels useful and needed because she is frantically (and happily) over scheduled. And you admire her for it, maybe even more so than if she had replied, "Well, I'm feeling very well rested, and I've crossed the last thing off my to do list and I think I'm just going to spend the rest of the afternoon reading a book."

Because Americans are all about busy. We're all about doing stuff faster, doing MORE stuff a LOT faster.

Take communication for instance.

We started out with the Pony Express. Four weeks for your letter to get to your Great Aunt Martha in Boston? No big deal.

A short while later, the telephone is invented. But not many people have it. Most folks still rely on slow and ponderous methods of communication. But it's still okay. Because "frantic" isn't yet the most important word the American vocabulary.

Pretty soon, there is cross-country telephone service. And the pace picks up a little.

And then in the 1930's and '40's, radio and TV start to make an appearance and the soul of the nation starts to change.

Then it's fax machines, the first computers, the first cell phones. The thought of waiting a month to get a message to our dear old aunt in Boston is unspeakable. Because we are impatient! We are important. We are busy! And we are important because we are busy!

Or so we think.

And you know the rest of the story. E-mail, instant messaging, test messaging and Twitter all conspire to pay a visit to a nation of people who can't stand silence, who can't stand to wait for more than a few seconds for ANYTHING.

Three minute oatmeal isn't fast enough. We must have one minute oatmeal. No wait! That's too slow. We must have INSTANT oatmeal!

And busyness becomes the new badge of worthiness. If you're busy, if you're over scheduled, if you're on the brink of a breakdown because of your commitments and responsibilities, then you are looked at with such great admiration that those might around you might even be tempted to ask, "May I borrow your busyness? I want to feel important, too!"

Our pastor is preaching through the Twenty Third Psalm. Yesterday he focused on the verse, "He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside still waters."

Don't you know there weren't any cell phones ringing beside those still waters?

Don't you know that in those green pastures, the only "Twittering" going was bird related?

When Nathan was in Israel earlier this year, he was strongly impacted by the Jewish peoples' weekly tradition of observing Shabbat. Although Shabbat is translated as "rest," its meaning goes even further by encouraging active rather than passive abstinence from work.

In other words, those very wise folks in Israel make it a priority to rest and to cease from their labors. Nathan said the shops close down, and families spend time together and there is a wonderful sense of restful quiet no matter where you go.

He said, "Mom, why don't people in American do that?"

Good question.

Actually, ministers are the WORST culprits for not taking time off. As I said earlier, Steve and I spent a lot of years addicted to adrenalin. We were addicted to the ridiculous belief that if we took off a day or even (gasp!) a whole week, that surely all of Christendom would collapse. We were important and we were needed and we were crucial to what was going on. And that was a great feeling.

But that was then. This is now.

For seven months now we have been unneeded. We have been non crucial. We have had no adrenalin pumping to get addicted to. Our Type-A, workaholic personalities have had to do an about face and our frantic, overworked selves have had to learn the strange skill of lying down in green pastures.

And yes, we have needed this time of rest. Before it came, we were both very "stretched." Steve, especially, was burned out in every sense of the word.

But now, seven months later? I would really like to borrow someone's busyness! I would really like to sew myself back into the fabric of a church and a community--people who rely on me, people upon whom I rely.

Steve and I have stayed active over these past months, simply because we're wired in such a way that doesn't allow us to give ourselves over to doing nothing. But it's not the kind of activity we're used to. It's a little lonely, a little solitary, a little strange to stay busy outside the context of friends, church and community.

We're ready for the pace to pick up a little. We're ready to be needed again. And I know that that time is not far off, when I will once again have so much busyness of my own that I won't be tempted to borrow from someone else.

But when that time comes, I don't ever want to ever forget the serenity of Shabbat. I don't want to be guilty of sprinting by the green pastures God has prepared for me. I don't want to fail to remember that I am created in the image of a God who found it needful and helpful to take a time of rest.

I am not indispensable. And neither are you.

Isn't that the best news you've ever heard?

16 Had Something To Say (Just click here!):

jlsatud said...

Thank you for that, Becky. Your perspective never ceases to amaze me! My husband and I have found ourselves in a different type of limbo, and I have learned from the experience that limbo and me are NOT good friends. Possibly not even on speaking terms. I'm wishing I could un-invite this pesky limbo right now. When we found ourselves in this situation I kept finding my brain wandering back to your family's story (I've read Sarah's blog for a couple years) and thinking that limbo may be frustrating and scary but doable. It could be worse. So thank you for doing what you do. :)

Marysienka said...

What a good, thought provoking, entry Becky! And I have to agree with everything you just wrote.

Not too long ago, I had a Sunday where I had nothing planned; I didn't have to do rounds or be on call, or go grocery shopping or wash clothes, etc. Well, I started pacing in the apartment, because it just didn't feel "right" to do "nothing"! My roommate told me to sit and relax, and stop feeling guilty! Yes, I was at point where I felt guilty for not having a milion things scheduled in a day. It's not something I'm used to!

But, the world isn't going to stop because I decide to "vegetate" one day. In fact, I always end up appreciating this moment of calm more than I thought at some point :)

Sarah said...

Oh how I would love to borrow you for a day (or two or three!). :) How do you feel about Wisconsin?

What you wrote is so true. In our country it seems like so many people are in a hurry, but yet they don't really know or care what they're racing towards. I'm trying to make the most of my car time with the boys this summer as we shuttle from one activity to another, but I long for some quiet waters. We've been dealing with the "how much is too much?" question for the past couple years and we obviously haven't found a good answer.

Enjoy your Shabbat!

MaryH said...

There was a time, when I was a young girl, and contrary to some belief that is not THAT long ago, stores were closed on Sundays - we managed to get it all done by Saturday - we didn't require as much stuff as we do now but we managed - Sundays were spent in church and then there would most likely be a visit to a family friend, relatives or neighbors. There were quiet Sundays reading the paper or listening to music - not watching television - that was only for the evenings. We desperately need to return to the Shabbat of our past - but we will not - we are addicted to shopping, malls, television, grocery stores open 24 hours a day - we are too busy to notice what we are missing - families don't know how to sit and relax and enjoy each other - they feel the need or the requirement to spend time in organized activities - like sports for their kids or dance lessons...our children have no imagination - the inside of their houses are more entertaining than the outside - for goodness sake, there are commericials on television now encouraging kids to P-L-A-Y outside for at least one hour a day! Can you believe that? As a society we are lost in our busyness - I, however, as one person, singularly and without much understanding have been trying to take on this situation in my own "back yard," so to speak. Maybe if we each just try and slowly get some of this back, we will all be more centered on our families, will take the time to enjoy each other and help each other and become a better people.
Okay, I am getting off my soapbox now - but just try it - let's bring back Sundays - the way the used to be. If you think about it, what you had to "run" and get or do on Sunday, wasn't that crucial in the first place. There was probably something right at home that would have made you just as happy or satisfied. I miss Sunday visits and the relief there was from the quiet of that day.

Sue G said...

Mary H, you brought up some good memories, prompted by Becky's amazing post. Yes, stores were closed on Sundays. And every night at five, except for Mondays and Thursdays when they stayed open until nine. How special that was! If you ran out of an egg or a cup of sugar, you went to a neighbor instead of a 7-Eleven! Imagine that. Phone calls? They too were made with the cooperation of a neighbor because you had to ask them to hang up from their party line so you could use yours! Television? It stopped programming by midnight, so if you were a night owl like I am now, you wouldn't be watching reruns of House or Cold Case! You'd be watching fuzz.

Becky, please tell Nathan that there are still places in America where work ceases on Shabbat. They are in Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods where worshippers live close to their temples so they can walk to services because driving is forbidden. In the old days people lived in the dark when candles lit before nightfall would run down and couldn't be relit because it was considered work. Meals were prepared before sundown as well. Now, with modern technology, lights are set on timers and so are ovens, so that people do not have to do the "work" of turning them on and off.

I always found it so amusing that walking to and from temple was not considered work. It would be to me!!!!

Thanks, Becky, for another wonderful post. I knew when I received that wonderful photo of me with Pooh that you were experiencing unique ways to entertain yourself and keep yourself busy!

I do hope you are submitting some of these wonderful blog entries for publication?

Beth K. said...

Becky - Wow!! Thanks so much for sharing such inspiration! Randy and I have discussed this for years and it has taken months to get to the point where we are. We have really been trying to slow down our lifestyle to where it is okay to just have a "free" day. It isn't always easy, because the world does try to dictate our habits - but that is what our frenzy is -- habit. We usually try to have at least one day that we can just enjoy each other's company, to rest and get some revitalization for the coming week. It sure is a lot easier in the summer though -- no school for the kids or college for the parents -- that alone seems to take some real time pressure away! :)

Thanks so much for sharing your heart with us. We will continue to pray for your family as you transition through this period of your life.

God Bless You!

Moonlight Sonata said...

I love this post! I have friends that were probably having that phone conversation you overheard. I am practicing "active rest" myself and this gives me the encouragement that I'm doing the right thing. My identity is not related to how many things I can cram into a day any longer.

Wendy said...

I am Jewish, and while I'm not Orthodox, I am familiar with being "Shomer Shabbat" which is to observe the Sabbath. Not only is driving not permitted, but there is no watching TV, using the phone or playing video games (nothing electronic), no writing, no opening mail, no discussions of money or business, no shopping or errand running. Just a day of going to Synagogue, learning, reading, sharing meals with family and friends and uninterrupted family time. I have friends that are observant and they can't wait for Shabbat! And yes, there are Orthodox communities in each of the 50 United States! I haven't slowed down enough to become Shomer Shabbat, but maybe someday...

~Brenda said...

Thank you for this. I'm going to link this post to my blog, since I've been writing about overcommitment.

((Hugs)),

~Brenda

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