Busyness: the Need to Achieve

Oct20

I recently overheard a woman describe how her family had helped her while she recovered from surgery. “They did everything for me, took over all my responsibilities.” Then she continued, “I felt so worthless—I finally had to get up and do something useful.”

Her statements reveal the second lie that I believe keeps us so frantically busy. For most of us our self-worth is tied up in what we accomplish, what we do.

This idea is reinforced in every facet of our society. In the workplace, in school, in sports and hobbies, and even in the home we are encouraged to excel and achieve. The mantra goes something like this: the more you acquire, the more you produce, the more you succeed—the more you are praised, valued, emulated.

One would hope to find something very different within the church system. However, we have actually amplified this compulsion to over-achieve by spiritualizing it. Verses such as “Whatever you do, do it heartily…”, “…make the most of every opportunity”, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” leave us in fear of wasting time, doing anything half-way, or showing weakness. While we reject striving for material gain or personal glory, our faith all too easily can become performance-based.

The danger is that it is tempting to confuse a life full of church-going and Christian activity with a vital, growing relationship with God. Others looking on will certainly make that assumption. And we can deceive ourselves, thinking, “My service pleases God and proves my love for Him.” Secure in our religious busyness, we often settle for shallow, fleeting experiences of God. Usually that’s all we have time for! But as Richard Foster put it in his book Prayer, God “…aches over our distance and preoccupation.…He weeps over our obsession with muchness and manyness. He longs for our presence.” (pg. 1)

I think it is very telling that when asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30) It wasn’t about doing or performing. It was about relationship, about being.

The thing about getting deep and knowing someone on an intimate, heart level is that it takes time. A lot of it. And it doesn’t actually look like much is being accomplished. One author, in his attempt to get to know Jesus more personally, began meditating on passages about Jesus’ life. The problem, as he states it, was, “I wanted to judge it by what I got out of it. When I did, it often seemed to be a dreadfully inefficient spiritual practice. But productivity and efficiency miss the point. What God wants is simply our presence… That is what friends do together—they waste time with each other.” (David G. Benner, The Gift of Being Yourself)

In our fast-paced, results-oriented world, we often have trouble stopping long enough to truly commune with God. To sit still and hear Him. To open our hearts to Him in a vulnerable way and experience His passionate love in return. The inactivity chafes, the quietness is uncomfortable. It is hard to measure progress or find tangible results.

But gradually something does happen. Our sense of significance begins to take root in and grow out of this supernatural relationship; our value comes to be based solely on the fact that we are loved by the God of the universe—unconditionally, dizzyingly, consumingly.

And then, as Myra Perrine writes in her book, What’s Your God Language?, “When we live our lives…knowing the truth that we are already loved as much as we will ever be… then we will not constantly be trying to get it right, striving to do it better, working hard to please God and secure His love… We will be at peace knowing we are fully known, fully wanted, and fully enjoyed.” (pg. 148)

In other words, we will be freed from the lies of performance and achievement. We will find our worth in the arms of God alone. We will learn what it really means to be at rest.

Busyness; the God Complex

Oct10

As I observe the world around me, I am coming to the conclusion that busyness is one of the most wide-spread and damaging diseases of our day. Not only does it rob people of physical, mental, and emotional health, I see it fragmenting relationships and separating us from God. In our frantic attempts to live life to the “fullest” I fear we are missing out on what it means to be truly alive.

Nor do I think this is accidental or coincidental.

In looking at what motivates our break-neck pace of life, it seems that we have deeply internalized three insidious lies put forth by the Deceiver, working hand-in-hand with our cultures and our own fallen nature.

the God Complex

The first lie comes straight from the core of the Evil One’s heart; “I will ascend into heaven… I will make myself like the Most High.” (Isaiah 14: 13, 14) Whether we realize it or not, most of us carry a god complex and run ourselves ragged trying to take His place.

I have so often heard well-meaning people say, “I can’t possibly stop. This [ministry, job, person, etc.] needs me.” “If I don’t do it no one else will…” Change the words as you will, the central idea is the same: “It all depends on me. I am essential.”

I have even heard this inflated idea of our individual importance perpetuated by well-meaning evangelical speakers, “You are His hands and feet; God can’t touch the world without you,” and carried to the extreme: “If you don’t share Christ, you might be responsible for sending someone to hell.”

No, no and no.

I absolutely believe we should live, breathe, and demonstrate the gospel every moment of our lives. But I reject the idea that I have the ability to send someone to hell, nor can I save anyone. It is beyond my power. But if God has chosen someone, nothing I do (or don’t do) can thwart His purposes.

And when it comes to doing His work on earth, if I am essential to a project or ministry for its survival, there’s a good chance it is my work, not His; my vision, not His. Because if it is His work, He can handle it very well without me. To think God’s plan would fall apart without my involvement is mind-blowing self-aggrandizement.

In her book Sabbath Keeping, Lynne M. Baab writes, “…even though God has created us to be his partners in sustaining the universe, he is fully capable of bringing about his purposes without us. We are creatures, completely dependent on the one who created us and sustains us. God alone is in control, and God alone upholds the universe.” (p. 28)

Whether in ministry or in daily life, our efforts to manage or control our personal worlds is to step into a role reserved for God alone. Our fumbling attempts to “keep it together” are self-deception at best, and at worst, a blatant rejection of the fact that “in Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17)

We also equate ourselves to Him when we try to live as if we have no limits. We are finite. We must eat. We must sleep. We cannot be in two places at once, no matter how frantically we multitask. We can’t have it all; to choose one thing necessarily closes the door on other things. Our knowledge of the big picture is woefully incomplete, even with the amazing resources available to us today. To deny these God-given boundaries is to reject our humanity and claim something that belongs to God alone.

While most of us would never actually boast of possessing omniscience, omnipotence or omnipresence, when we live on a practical level as if we are central to the grand scheme of things, we elevate ourselves to the level of the Most High and challenge His rightful place.

– – – – –

The two other lies that keep us busy will be unfolded in later blog posts.

“To be sure, at first we thought solitude was a way to recharge our batteries in order to enter life’s many competitions with new vigor and strength. In time, however, we find that solitude gives us power not to win the rat race but to ignore the rat race altogether. Slowly, we find ourselves letting go of our inner compulsions to acquire more wealth than we need, look more youthful than we are, attain more status than is wise. In the stillness, our false, busy selves are unmasked and seen for the imposters they truly are.”

—Prayer, Richard Foster, page 63

Solitude 2

“To enter solitude, we must disregard what others think of us. Who will understand this call to aloneness? Even our closest friends will see it as a waste of precious time and rather self-centered. But, oh, the liberty that is released in our hearts when we let go of the opinions of others! The less we are mesmerized by human voices, the more we are able to hear the Divine Voice. The less we are manipulated by the expectations of others, the more we are open to the expectations of God.”

—Prayer, Richard J. Foster, page 63

Solitude 1