The Sin of Busyness

I read a insightful article by the Washington Post, comparing American and European (specifically Italian) views of busyness. For the American, busyness is a sign of prestige, proof that you are valuable to a company you work for, or society in general.

As an American this rings true. I’ve started working full time a little over a month ago, and on my days off I constantly engage in the battle for productivity. I often lose, and feel discouraged because of it. I have my to-do list. I need to edit a book, write a blog, read more, pray more, and plan better. But I end up overwhelmed and resign to watching Kubrick’s classic “2001: A Space Odyssey” instead.

This article contrasted the American work ethic with the European. The European worker valued the work produced over the time it took to produce it, whereas the American worker believed the opposite, often valuing busyness over the end result itself.

Additionally, our European counterparts valued rest and play and the enjoyment of life far, far more than we do as Americans. In an American society these things are luxuries we set aside at most an hour or two a week for. Yet for the European worker, these are the essentials.

The American work week is said to be 40 hours. But in reality it’s far longer when you include unpaid mealtimes (+5 hours) and commuting to and from work (+5 to +10 hours). And that’s just the minimum hours often required. Most salary workers in mid to upper level positions clock in far more hours of work both in and outside the office. Add it all up and the American is overworked, stressed out, and addicted to busyness.

In Sweden this year, many companies moved to a six hour work day. This was in part because of various studies which have shown how, on average, the same amount of work will get done in six hours as in eight. When we work more, we become less focus and sharp and spend more time wasting time. Six hours keeps us sharp and focused enough to achieve the same in less time.

But why do we continue to exhaust ourselves with an outdated system? The eight hour work day started during the industrial revolution, when workers were primarily labor workers. But with the desk job being the standard of today, this system no longer feels necessary to achieve the desired result of a productive worker.

So why do so many of us continue down this path? It seems to me for an obvious reason.

Americans are addicted to busyness.

It’ll be Christmas Day in a two days time, and as I’m writing this I’m sitting in a restaurant nearby a large, crowded shopping mall. The world from here looks frantic, hurried, and stressed.

It’s important during this Christmas season to become aware of our addiction. We love being busy, filling our days to the brim with tasks and chores and work. But we often forget the important things along the way. We forget rest, play, and creativity; we forget the slow life. We forget to just be, and to be okay with just being. We don’t need to fill the void of insecurity with busyness. We need to rest in the security of contentment—especially in a world constantly selling discontent and need. But you don’t have to listen to it. You won’t be fulfilled when you _______ or _______, when you buy that ______ or achieve that ______.

You’ll be fulfilled when you realize that you alone chose fulfillment.

Contentment is a choice you make. It’s the choice to simply be okay, where you are, as you are, with all your imperfections and weaknesses—to be human.

I call our addiction to busyness sin because one aspect of sin is our attempt to become god. (The garden of eden story is a perfect example.) We imagine that we are supposed to become omnipresent and omnipotent, always knowing and doing all the right things that only god can really do. We imagine we are in control of our lives, that we are our own lords and masters.

But we aren’t and we never will be god.

Sin is our attempt to become god, to become our own judge and jury, our own king, our own savior.

But Christmas is the splendid announcement that God in Jesus Christ became a human being!

This changes everything. God showed us what humanity is for. All our attempts at becoming superhumans with superpowers are shattered in God’s becoming a crying, helpless baby in Bethlehem.

This is how God saves the world. Not with busyness, not with sales and shopping. God becomes an imperfect, frail, weak, ordinary human being just like you and me. He comes to us as one of us who suffers and fears and dies in our humanity to save our humanity from itself—to save us from attempting to be god. He displaces us in our attempt by taking our place, showing us what God is really like and how unworthy we are of ever being god.

Jesus Christ becomes a human being so that dehumanized human beings might become human once again!

Embrace your humanity!

All the frailty and weakness and imperfection of your existence was celebrated by God in Christ becoming a man. Be human, not superhuman. Give up busyness. Rest in who you are, because, as Brennan Manning says so eloquently, “God loves you unconditionally, as you are and not as you should be, because
nobody is as they should be.”

This is the message of grace, and this is the message of Christmas.

Embrace your humanity, give up trying to be omnipotent and omnipresent with your busyness.

Merry Christmas!

During Advent I’ll be sharing many of my favorite books and quotes on the incarnation. Read my Advent book recommendations here, and read more inspiring Christmas quotes and reflections here.

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