Sacrificing Busyness

Every Monday morning I share a reflection with our leadership team on campus. I try to find something that speaks to the season we’re in or to the particular work of the people in that room. This past week I started my search by thinking about spring, then the tensions in Ukraine, then the grief of losing loved ones, and finally came around to the idea of sabbath since we are mere days away from Spring Break. 

These meanderings led me to a blog post from April 2020 by Amy Hulst on the site in which she wrestles with the idea of keeping sabbath in the midst of quarantine and isolation due to COVID. The question before her was how to set aside sabbath time when living in a space of putting everything on hold. It’s a worthy read but this bit in particular caught my attention:

“Sabbath was not only a day to rest, to pause, but it’s to be set aside as a sacrifice to the Lord. It’s a sacrifice to have no other thing to do, to have no other place to be, to have no other obligation.”

Sabbath is the sacrifice of busyness.

Don’t skip over that too fast. It’s tempting to think that sounds ridiculous or that letting go of some busyness for a time of rest is simple. We say we would love a day off, a REAL day off, with nothing to do and nowhere to go. We say that we wish we weren’t so busy.

Truth is, most people panic when faced with “nothing to do.”

Several years ago my kids and husband complained that we were too busy. They weren’t wrong. I have a bad habit of overscheduling all of us, even in our time off. I kept us active and doing things out of a desire to not miss out on opportunities and to make sure we were being good parents by ensuring our kids did ALL THE THINGS.

So, I did an experiment. I blocked off several weekends on our calendar and intentionally didn’t plan anything. I left those as open for a whole lot of nothingness. If people invited us to join in activities or I saw a local event advertised, I resisted the urge to add it to our schedule in order to honor the family’s need for time away from everything.

Can you guess what happened?

Usually by noon on Saturday one (or all) of them would ask me if we had plans or if we could call another family or friends to come over or go out and do something. Friday after school to noon on Saturday was about as much nothing as they could stand.

Now, I could easily blame this on the fact that all five of us are extroverts, and that wouldn’t be wrong, but I also found it very telling.

I’m not good at sitting still and doing nothing without feeling guilt begin to nest in my mind. Even as I sit and write this, the little mouse is running on its wheel in the back of my brain, shouting out the list of things I should be doing instead…PRODUCTIVE things because it cannot bear to think of writing as productive. It isn’t active enough and seems selfish. Writing is for me whereas I should be up and doing something for someone else, anyone else.

Sacrificing busyness. 

Are we not called to sacrifice the idols of our life on the altar of God? Does God not command of us to bust them apart and let them go, with the realization that we have set them above God in the daily machinations of our lives?

And is busyness not the biggest idol of them all?

We don’t have worth outside of our busyness. We cannot gauge the shape of our own being unless it is moving in some act of productivity. Pride wells inside of us when we can “lament” (read: brag) about how overworked and overloaded and busy we are. 

Busyness is the glowing green hologram floating high above the altar on which we lay our lives, sacrificing ourselves in hopes of appeasing this god of worth and value.

But the control and power are ours. It is for us to stand and wrestle out of its hiding place whatever projector we have allowed to cast that idol of busyness before us. Sabbath is for smashing and destroying the illusion that this busyness will somehow bring us purpose or win us…well…anything.

A sacrifice requires effort and heartache. Sacrifice is the giving up of something to the point of hurting. We can’t sacrifice anything we offer up with ease. Sacrifice demands hardship and sacrificing busyness might be the greatest hardship we could face these days.

Think of how difficult it might be for you to not do anything. That includes not filling the void by binge watching your favorite show. We rationalize time set aside for bubble baths or three seasons of Emily in Paris by calling it “self-care,” thus making it productive time. Even our rest time must have a job of some sort, even if that job is bringing us restoration. Rebirth, regrowth still takes effort and work.

Sabbath is sacrificing busyness.

In a real way, consider what this sacrifice means for you, truly. Can you? Can you stand to not grasp for validation in what you do but instead rest quietly in the affirmation that you don’t earn but is freely gifted when God calls you, “beloved?”

I can’t. But I’m going to try. I’ve been committed to trying for a long time now and haven’t succeeded much. This busyness is a hard drug to quit. I like feeling like I matter and have value and our world tells me, tells you, that we don’t matter if we aren’t doing. I haven’t figured out the magic mantra that releases me from the hold of this idol. But I do know that I won’t get there without practice and sacrifice.

When you get a chance this week, when some nothingness time creeps up on you, I invite you to fight the urge to fill it. Join me in some practice of smashing idols in the long and arduous work of sacrificing busyness.

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