Busyness: the Need to Achieve


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.

2 thoughts on “Busyness: the Need to Achieve

  1. Vicki says:

    This is something that has plagued me ever since we returned to the states after having lived 35 years in Europe. While we were missionaries “busy” with sharing the Good News, training men and women and children and helping them in their new walk with the Lord and raising 5 children, often I felt that we were cheating God in not giving Him ourselves in alone time, down time. Often some of my Catholic friends would talk about the retreats they went to every year so they could be renewed in their bodies and minds spiritually. Many times they were silent retreats. This fascinated me because I wondered how you could get through several days, much less a few hours without actually talking to anyone. That was the whole point. If we don’t talk but have His Word, His presence, his Spirit 24/7 in our hearts and minds then we don’t have to perform, or be task oriented to prove to God that we have done enough to please Him or rather show to others that we serve Him and are “busy for the Lord.”
    Doing a silent retreat is on my “bucket list” to do. No, I don’t want to just check it off as something I’ve done, but rather truly experience just a smidgen of what it would be like to be totally listening to His voice, reflecting on passages from the Word, talking with Him without checking the time, meditating and walking with Him.
    Thank you Debbie for this reminder, that God is not asking us to achieve. He is asking us to love him, and to show Him that love by knowing Him with all our heart, soul, strength and mind.

    • deborahdwise says:

      We just spent some time at Potter’s Inn in Divide, Colorado. It’s a retreat center where they teach about things like rhythm, solitude and silence, sabbath. It isn’t a silent retreat, but has periods of silence. Could be a good first step… http://www.pottersinn.com/
      Also around Colorado Springs are some monasteries and convents. I don’t know what they offer by way of silent retreats, but it would be another possibility to check out.
      May God grant you this beautiful desire to “be still” with Him!

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