Column: Are You Busy?

By Heather A.M. Sinclair

Woods Tea Co., the Irish folk band which regularly played at my alma mater, Colgate University, performed an audience participation a song entitled, “Foolish Questions” (I just discovered that Johnny Cash recorded a version of the song as well). The song tells stories of the foolish questions we ask (and answer) in our everyday lives. For example, the person who calls you at 2 a.m. and asks, “Did I wake you up?” or the girlfriend who asks, “Is that for me?” when you bring her flowers and candy. Go ahead, Google the song and enjoy a laugh.

If I was a creative songwriter, I would write a new “Foolish Questions” verse including a person filling their calendar with events, juggling a myriad of tasks and darting in a million directions, while being asked, “Are you busy?”

Think of how many times you ask and answer that question. “Are you busy these days?” seems to be as nature a conversation starter as “Isn’t it lovely weather we’re having?” Worse yet is the statement, “I know you’re busy, but…” followed by yet another request to add something to your already overloaded plate.

Why do we have such an obsession with busyness? We like to tell people how busy we are. Or compare our busyness to their busyness. Or sigh and reflect how this season is busier than any other season. We wear our busyness like a badge because in some way we think it makes us important and valuable and connected. Busyness is what we’re “supposed” to do and be.

I suppose busyness is better than laziness, but busyness without purpose or productivity is just plain exhausting. Like a toddler who runs circles around the playground and finally (hopefully) crashes at naptime. Or a squirrel darting back and forth across the road, risking his life as he hastily prepares for the cold winter.

While traveling on his ministry journey, Jesus visited the home of sisters Mary and Martha. (Luke 10:38-42) “Martha was distracted by her many tasks” — she was busy cooking dinner, setting the table, being the hostess with the most-est! Mary, on the other hand, sat at the feet of Jesus listening to his stories and teachings. As many of us who are too busy often do, Martha got annoyed at the lack of busyness of her sister.

She complained to Jesus saying, “Tell her to help me.” Jesus replied, I imagine in a firm, but reassuring tone, “Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part.” What did Mary choose? To be present in the moment.

Busyness keeps us from truly being present to the people and circumstances around us. When we’re flying around at a million miles an hour, we cannot (do not) slow down enough to appreciate life and the lives of those around us. When we are too busy, we fail to notice the beauty and the gift of each moment, because we are trying so hard to make it to the next moment. And I believe the real reason we allow ourselves to get so busy so often is because we’re afraid to slow down and look inside of ourselves. We’re afraid to confess our struggles, our pains and our fears. If we just keep busy, maybe they will go away. But when we are truly honest with ourselves we know that we need to release those burdens and offer them to God. For only the Creator who formed us and loves us and hopes for abundant life for us, can fill the emptiness of a life absorbed with frantic busyness.

In these next few weeks, the “most wonderful time of the year” becomes the busiest time of the year. Take time to slow down. Take time to appreciate the wonder of the season. Put down the to-do list. Slow down the running around. Spend a few extra minutes with your kids and spouse or lingering over coffee with a friend. Listen to the words of the carols. Enjoy giving gifts out of love, not the desire to impress. Give thanks in everything.

The stories of the upcoming holy-days are stories of light coming into darkness, hope breaking forth in the midst of despair, new life being born into unexpected places. Receive the peace that comes with those blessings.

The Rev. Heather A. M. Sinclair is pastor of First United Methodist Church Greenwich.