How ARE You? "Busy…"
Is it just me, or has the standard answer to the question “How are you?” become almost universally this single word reply: “Busy.” I confess to frequently using this or some similar remark myself.
Maybe it is just the area of the country I live in. Maybe it is just the particular stage of life I am at, or the circle of friends that I have. I would be interested to know if this response is merely my imagination or if, indeed, the “busy” answer has become the truly standard and acceptable response.
But as I ruminate over this rejoinder, I am beginning to wonder about it. What, exactly, does it mean? What does “busy” really tell me about how my companion is? Is it positive? Is it negative? Are they happy? Are they sad? What does it mean to say I am “busy?”
The answer to these questions is critical if one is to formulate and adequate response to this statement. I say “how are you?” You say “busy.” What now? What is my next line? Where, precisely, does this declaration of “busyness” take the conversation? I wonder….
Is sympathy appropriate?
- “Oh, I’m so sorry, how long have you known about this?”
- “Really? I had no idea...we’ll have to put this on the prayer chain!”
- “Don’t lose hope, soon we’ll all be in heaven with nothing to do.”
Or are congratulations in order?
- “Fantastic! Great! Glad to hear it! I envy you!”
You see, I am really struggling over the proper answer. What does “busy” really mean? And how is one supposed to respond?
I don’t think so meanly of my companion as to presume this is some sort of boast. “Ha…I’m busy…TOP THAT!” No, I don’t suppose that is the thinking. When I myself have given the “busy” reply, I don’t believe I was really bragging about it.
Maybe it is a sort pre-emptive defense tactic. The assumption is that “How are you?” is just a clever way of asking for a favor which inevitably will intrude upon my precious time. And so, this skillful reply is designed to ward off that possibility by securely enclosing the defender inside the formidable walls of “busyness.” Whatever you plan on asking me to do, don’t bother…you see…I’m busy.
Or maybe it is just a sort of unconscious excuse. A sort of blanket cover we have created to soften any accountability for forgotten events or commitments. If my life seems in disarray, the grass is overgrown, the laundry in piles and the children unruly...well...you have to understand: “I’m busy.” Thus, it appears, the lovely word “busy” is suitable to cover a multitude of sins.
But sometimes, unless my ears deceive me, it truly sounds like a cry for help. There is something about being so “busy” that doesn’t quite sit well with our souls. There is the faint echo of regret, the soft sigh of sadness in this “busyness” of ours. And the reply, “I’m busy,” carries something of a confessional tone. We don’t, really, want to be so busy. Our lives are often regrettably filled with mounds of the mundane and only very rare specks of significance. We are busy. It is almost like a disease. We would like to find a cure, but don’t really believe that one exists; at least not for me.
It is, therefore, to the “busy” that I would like to address a few words of comfort and encouragement. I do not have any quick fix for your situation. I offer no prescription that will suddenly alleviate all the stress and pressure our “busy” lives have created. But maybe, just maybe, I can suggest a new way to think about being busy. Consider with me, therefore, a few simple observations from Scripture, and particularly from the life of Jesus Christ.
1. Jesus was busy too. Very busy. We never read that He had time for hobbies. He never took a week-long vacation. He never, so far as we know, read a book purely for pleasure. There is no record of Him ever playing a game. Of course, no modern conveniences by way of transportation were available to Him either. He walked everywhere. What did an average day for Jesus look like? The gospel of Mark gives us a glimpse in the opening chapter. It was the Sabbath: a day of “rest,” right? But we are told “immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and taught.” No sleeping in till noon time and reading the Saturday newspaper. And clearly this teaching was not some anemic presentation of dusty doctrines. “He taught them as one having authority (Mark 1:21).” There was clearly an intensity and vigor to His method. But then, having taught, surely He could expect some repose. Right? No. A demon possessed man came crying out into the synagogue. Jesus immediately rebukes the demon and delivers the man. “Be quiet and come out of him (Mark 1:25)” He said. Next Jesus had a lunch invitation. A rest? Hardly. He was surrounded by disciples “Simon and Andrew, with James and John” who surely would be looking for more instruction from their Teacher. Simon’s mother-in-law was sick, and “they told Him about her at once (Mark 1:31).” He heals her. And she serves them. But then, finally, evening comes and perhaps our Lord can take a break from this day of “rest.” Wrong again. “At evening, when the sun had set, they brought to Him all who were sick and those who were demon possessed. And the whole city was gathered together at the door (Mark 1:32-33).” And so our Lord spends a long evening ministering to the sick and needy. And finally He sleeps. But even that doesn’t last long. For Mark tells us that “in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place, and there He prayed (Mark 1:35).” Welcome to a day in the life of Jesus Christ. And that was a day of rest! Imagine what the other days were like. Jesus was busy.
2. Jesus got tired too. Maybe we are tempted to think that, although Jesus was busy, He was “God” and therefore had a bit more going for Him than we do. But such thinking betrays an incomplete view of His nature. Jesus was fully God. But Jesus was also fully man. And Jesus endured every weakness associated with humanity, apart from sin. Therefore, He got tired. He needed rest just like you and I. Getting up early was no easier for Him than for us. There is an interesting account in the gospels in which Jesus is on a boat with His disciples. A storm arose. The boat was being tossed. Winds were threatening and rocking the ship. Where was Jesus? “He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow (Mark 4:38).” Why was He sleeping? Was it because He had such a “peace” about Him that the storm didn’t bother Him? Have you ever tried sleeping in such circumstances? I suggest from the context of Christ’s ministry that there is a simple explanation for His sleep: He was exhausted! Only the sheer exhaustion of constant ministry and labor could explain His sleeping at this time.
Every temptation, therefore, associated with being busy and tired…Jesus endured. When we get tired, we are tempted to be discouraged. When we get tired, we are tempted to be angry, and are often easily provoked. When we get tired we are tempted to complain even about the smallest inconveniences. When we get tired, we are tempted to blame others for the stress and pressures we feel. When we are tired, we are sometimes tempted to simply give up. Jesus endured, in His humanity, every temptation associated with a busy schedule and the resulting exhaustion. "For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin." (Hebrews 4:15)
3. Busy and tired Christians must turn to Christ and look to Him for help. In the midst of our busy schedules and exhausting demands there is always the temptation to seek unbiblical or inadequate solutions. Some will indulge secret sins, justifying them because their uniquely busy and demanding schedule somehow justifies their occasional disobedience. Others grow cold, hard, withdrawn and unsympathetic toward others under the weight of their own self-pity and bitterness. But there is a better way. There is a way to deal with your present busy and stressful life that does not undermine your relationship with the Lord and your fellowship with others. That way begins by looking at Jesus Christ.
Looking to Christ will help us, as Christians, realize several important things:
First, realize that those who pour their lives out in serving others will likely, as Christ, be busy people. Did you expect something different? Did you think that the new priorities in your life to love God and love your neighbor would somehow make your life less busy? A full schedule, even an exhausting schedule as our Lord often endured, does not necessarily mean that something is wrong. It may mean, quite to the contrary, that you are doing exactly what God expects. Denying yourself sufficient sleep, exercise and nourishment is a recipe for both physical and spiritual disaster. I do not want to be misunderstood as promoting a style of life or ministry lacks adequate and necessary times of refreshing. But maintaining a schedule that is full, that offers few if any opportunities for leisure time or luxuries may very well be the plan of God for you right now. Our culture suggests that if your life isn’t decorated with frequent vacations, spa trips, entertainments and social events that somehow you have missed out on the best things of life. If so, then virtually every servant of God in Scripture seems to have missed out on life as well. Listen to these words of Christ. I know of no other phrase of Christ repeated 6 times in the gospels. It is found once in every gospel. Matthew and Luke record it twice, at different times. Sometimes the form is slightly altered. But here it is: "For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it (Luke 9:24).” Meditate upon this. Consider it when you look at your schedule and literally do not see a spare hour anywhere in your foreseeable future. As you pour out your own life into the lives of those around you, remember Jesus’ words “whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.”
Second, realize in looking to Christ, that busy and tired Christians can maintain communion with God. Fellowship with God is not ultimately dictated by our day-timer. Rather, fellowship with God flows from a heart that longs for Him. Psalm 82 is a Psalm that speaks of the joys of fellowship with God. It speaks of how “blessed are those who dwell in Your house (vs. 4)” and “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God (vs. 10).” But where does this communion with God, of which the Psalmist speaks, come from? A leisurely schedule? Hours of free time? A life of minimal responsibilities? No. Communion with God starts with the heart: "My soul longs, yes, even faints For the courts of the Lord; My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God (Psalm 84:2).” Jesus was busy. But in the midst of being busy and tired He always maintained perfect fellowship with His Father. He rose early to pray to His Father (Mark 1:35) and sometimes prayed through the night (Luke 6:12). He was always doing the will of His Father (John 5:30). He displayed the Father to His disciples (John 17:6). In fact, He said, “I am My Father are one (John 10:30).” Christ maintained fellowship with God. Busy Christians can maintain fellowship with God. And this is sure because Christ Himself now dwells in those who trust Him by His Spirit.
Third, realize that there is a spiritual rest offered in Christ that is not diminished even though we find ourselves busy and tired. Jesus speaks of it. He said "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).” Those who have been united to Christ through faith have true spiritual rest. We have the rest of freedom from sin. No longer are we held captive by sin or in slavery to sin. We have the rest of forgiveness. All our sin and guilt has been dealt with once and for all at the cross. And we have the rest of the future. The author of Hebrews puts it this way "There remains therefore a rest for the people of God (Hebrews 4:9).”
I close with a word to those who are busy, tired, but also unsaved. I ask you: What is your busy life leading to? Where is all your busyness getting you? Are you putting off the greatest priority, your eternal soul, because you are simply too busy to concern yourself with that right now? Dear friend, look at your schedule closely. Do you realize that nothing written there is guaranteed? You or I may not live to see the very next item on our agendas. I have yet to meet someone who scheduled death into their day timer. But yet it happens. It will happen to me, and it will happen to you. And then what will be next? What will all your busyness have achieved for you? God said to the busy man in Jesus’ parable: “Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided (Luke 12:20)?” I, therefore, urge you not to delay dealing with Christ another moment.