Last year for Lent, I didn’t give up desserts or Facebook as I’d done in years past. I gave up the phrase, “I’m busy.” Forty days of not using that well-worn phrase illuminated three broken and sinful aspects of my life.
After Lent passed, I decided to continue the habit and keep “I’m busy” (and other similar expressions) out of my vocabulary. I realized that every time I said “I’m busy” I was subtly telling myself stories about myself.
I was telling myself that I needed to vent to the people around me. I was telling myself that only I could do certain jobs. I was telling myself there was life I was missing out on, and I needed to do more to find it. I was telling myself that my time was my own.
Lent for this year began last Wednesday, marking a year since I began my new habit. As I’ve gradually ceased saying “I’m busy,” I’ve stopped telling myself those untrue stories. And I’ve changed as a result. Here’s how.
I’ve grown in prayer.
When friends and family used to ask how I was, my standard answer was, “Busy! There’s so much to do.” That reply was a way that I expressed my worry about my work and personal commitments. Proclaiming my busyness on social media, to my friends in conversations, etc. became a coping mechanism. The problem? Talking about my problem didn’t do much except provide a quick release and give me an empathetic response from my listener.
Through removing the words “I’m busy” from my vocabulary, I’ve turned to a way of dealing with my busyness in a practical way: prayer.
Martin Luther wrote: “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” When I first heard this quote, I dismissed it as a sweet sentiment but didn’t think it practical. As I’ve released busyness from my vocabulary, I see the practical truth in Luther’s words.
I certainly don’t spend the first three hours of my day in prayer, yet prayer is becoming my response when I feel the surge of busyness and feelings of being overwhelmed come upon me. I feel less and less compelled to pick up my phone and text a friend about how overwhelmed I am, and more drawn to take my concerns to the Lord.
I’m confident that the Lord is at work.
In the past, I talked about my busyness to prove my worth and establish my identity as someone important.
As I’ve stopped talking about my busyness, I’ve seen the Lord’s work in new ways. Consumed with busyness, I only saw opportunities for me to work more, serve more, be more. Using the language of busyness put my efforts and my work at the center of my life. For example, when volunteer opportunities would come up at church, I never wanted to say no because I feared no one else would say yes.
Over the past year, I’ve learned my busyness was a form of pride that fed kept feeding itself. I pridefully believed that if I didn’t do a needed task, no one else would do it. I said that the Lord was at work, but I acted as if it all depended on me.
As I’ve distanced myself from the words “I’m busy,” I’ve been able to say no to many things I formerly said yes to because of my pride. My life is filled with work and serving in my neighborhood, but I no longer feel the compulsion to say yes to everything, afraid that something won’t get done if I don’t do it. Now when opportunities to serve present themselves, I consider each one carefully and assess how it would affect other areas of my life. If needed, I say no confident the Lord will provide someone else for the task.
I’m learning contentment and thanksgiving.
As I stopped saying I was busy, I was able to see that at the root of my busyness was the pressure I felt to achieve more, do more, gain more and be more. Removing the language of busyness from my daily life has been a tool in cultivating contentment. Much of my busyness was fueled by “fear of missing out” on something better than my current life. While I still struggle with envy and jealousy, my heart is inclined to joy instead of dissatisfaction.
Ann Voskamp writes that “…life change comes when we receive life with thanks and ask for nothing to change.” When I think about the areas of my life where I’m prone to discontentment, I’m learning to receive my right-now life with gratitude and joy instead of adding another task to my to-do list and feeding my busyness.
I consider my mortality.
As I’ve weeded out busyness from daily conversation, I’ve grown more conscious of my finitude. I cannot do it all. While my days often seem long, my years are short. One day, I will die.
When he was 36 years old and beginning his career in neurosurgery, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer. He died two years later. Before his death, he authored his memoir, “When Breath Becomes Air,” reflecting on his mortality. He wrote:
“Everyone succumbs to finitude…most ambitions are either achieved or abandoned; either way, they belong to the past. The future, instead of the ladder toward the goals of life, flattens out into a perpetual present. Money, status, all the vanities the preacher of Ecclesiastes described, hold so little interest: a chasing after wind, indeed.”
Releasing busyness and embracing my finitude has motivated me to live wisely with the time I’ve been given. My little vanities like trying to gain a certain number of Instagram followers and create the perfect capsule wardrobe grow dim when I consider the preciousness of the time I’ve been given to live on this earth. As Moses writes in Psalm 90, I’m learning to number my days, and I’m gaining a heart of wisdom.
I don’t want you to get the impression that my days consist of idyllic calm in which I never grow flustered or frenzied. I’m concerned about social justice, passionate about my neighborhood and Christian community, energized by my work. My life is full. You might even say “busy.”
But since dropping the phrase “I’m busy” from my vocabulary, I’ve re-storied my life. I’m not defined by the need to vent, prove myself, pursue a bigger life and try to do it all. I’m learning to respond to the life the Lord’s given me with prayer, thanksgiving, and joy, trusting that He is at work in all things.
Copyright 2017 Abigail Murrish. All rights reserved.