I’ve been busy lately, and I want to say sorry about that. To God, to family and friends, to me- sorry for my busyness, it’s been wicked and evil of me. Granted some of the things I’ve been doing have been important things to do but I think I do need to slow down. You see I’m always “busy lately” and there is no excuse. I’m sick of it.
It’s my own fault too. Somewhere along the line I lost the ability to not be busy. I have to relearn the art of chillin’ out… the art of relaxing and doing precious-not-much… the art of being content…
Busyness has become my god, my false idol, a mask that I wear and I need to stop valuing it as highly as I do and recognise that it is causing me harm. A friend of mine uses the word repent a lot when talking about stopping sinful behaviour. As I think my busyness has hit critical mass and that it has become sinful, then that’s what I need to do. Repent. Repent of busyness.
I guess you might think that I am taking it a bit far by referring to busyness as a sin. Surely it is better than the other extreme which is laziness. I thought that it was much much worse yesterday but this morning I’m not so sure. Rather both can be just as bad as the other depending on the motivation. Yes it is wrong to be a slothful bludger who wastes time doing nothing, but surely it is also wrong be a workaholic who fills time up with things of questionable worth at the expense of worship, calling and relationships. Surely it is wrong to be obsessed with filling up time as much as I am obsessed with filling up time.
I realised this morning while I was walking home from work that I am addicted to being busy. This thought occurred to me when I stopped in the park on the way home to read a little and just relax. After a minute or two of stillness I was already feeling guilty. “Fancy feeling guilty for having a rest on the way home from an eleven hour night shift,” I thought to myself. I couldn’t shake the feeling though. I had to get up and keep walking, so I could get home and get busy doing something on my list.
As I look back over life I see that this “work-worship” has been a habit I have consistently gone in and out of. For example, this Christmas will be the first Christmas in my working life that I have not had to work on Christmas day. Actually, scratch that… not “had to work” but “chose to work”. A few times I have had the option and opted to work. It wasn’t the money either that was causing me to make the choice, but rather a false identity that I’d chosen for myself because I thought it would make me look good or more accepted.I wanted to look like a hard worker as though it was some sort of virtue. As though I would be accepted if I busted my guts to achieve at the peril of loved ones and sanity.
Acceptance through performance is a good way to put it actually. I’ve never put words to it before, because I’ve never been honest to myself about my motivations. Working hard and striving for high results to gain acceptance is wrong. Even if it does sometimes produce results, it is a detrimental approach because our identity and sense of acceptance should not come from what we do or achieve but rather from God alone and from the gospel. But it’s not easy to get your identity from God when you aren’t even taking a moment break to think about Him and to honour Him with time or thought.
I come from a line of hard-workers and I think that I get my work ethic from my family. It is a quality I’ve admired in people ever since I saw my father and mother working so hard to look after their family. I learned early from seeing my grandfathers approach to work too that work is a blessing. I didn’t realise until now though that if we spend too much time working or busying up life with jobs, then work can be a curse instead.
One of my first jobs ever was in a cheese factory sub-contracted through my father’s work. It was insanely hot, insanely physical, and insanely laborious. A lot of mind games occurred while working there. At the time, in the particular factory that I was working in, the job attracted a lot of cockheads for some reason. By cockheads I mean extremely negative, nasty men of all ages who loved to take things out on each other. I’m not sure, but perhaps they were frustrated at working in the same job and for the same pay as someone who had just gotten out of high school.
It wasn’t long before a lot of the negative, nasty aggression was aimed at me. They’d hide my boots, my apron and bag. They’d write derogatory things on my locker and apron with permanent texta. They’d pay out on me for being “the boss’s son”, saying I only got the job because of my dad. This made me ultra-determined to carve my own name, and get my own reputation as a hard-worker.
As the cheese season went on, I worked harder than anyone else there and it began to be recognised by my workmates. I would clock on before anyone else, and clock off after anyone else. I’d have shorter smoke-o breaks. If there was a call for anyone to work back later, or to work a double, I would stick my hand up and do it. This was a sweaty, exhausting eight hours and to do another eight hours on top was seen as crazy by some of the others, but they did begin to affirm my efforts. When I’d show up fresh and ready the next day after having done long shifts the day before they stopped saying I only got the job because of old man. One nicknamed me “Nick the Worker”; a couple others would invite me into their cockhead social circle which mostly meant drinking beer. It felt good to have that type of acceptance and affirmation, and I wrongly connected that good feeling to hard-work.
As I worked in other jobs, I carried the work-ethic into other jobs. When I became a Christian I carried it into my faith and started “doing things for God”. It probably didn’t help that I was (and still am) a part of a pentecostal Christian church that emphasised “doing things” and taught that every Christian was called by God to “do things” or “be a great man of God”. I tried so hard to impress men, and to impress God.
The Bible (and the church) never ever taught that I needed to do (or be) those things for salvation or to receive God’s acceptance, but because of my background of drawing a lot of my identity from what I do, that’s how I interpreted it in practice. Despite knowing and being taught that God’s approval and salvation is His sovereign prerogative not based on any of my works or achievements, I tried to be a great leader, or a great preacher, or a great youth pastor, or a great artist, or great worker, to gain approval. I still do this. Not just trying to get Gods approval, but my fellow man’s approval too.
Being a workaholic is measured differently in different settings but I think it’s internal more than external. Motivation is the thing. To work hard is a good thing if it is done as worship, or to fulfil financial obligations, or because you enjoy it. It is not a good thing when it becomes who you are instead of what you do. If you are measuring your worth by your achievements or by the fruitfulness of time spent, then you are probably focussing on the wrong thing. For me and in my faith and work communities, the measure of spiritual success became measured by what I was able to achieve or project. This morning on my walk home I have realised that I have somehow slipped back into that mentality and that is not a good thing.
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
– Luke 10:38-42
I got home and read my Bible over breakfast. I found and read that account from the life of Christ and realised that God was speaking to me. I want to respond. I didn’t want to write a big long blog today but it has come spurting out of my heart. This is my confession. I am too much like Martha, I want to be more like Mary. I don’t want life to only be about doing things (even for Christ), I want it to be about spending time with Him and in His presence.
I need to embrace to concept of the Sabbath again. When I talk about the Sabbath I am not talking a day of rest every week although that is important. I need to take regular time everyday to recognise that God alone is my source of identity. It is not about me, it is about Him. It is not about what I do, but rather about what He has already done on the cross for me. It is not about what I am called to, but Who has called me and Who I am called to.