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On being unbusy. . .

Posted on Jun 22, 2016 by in Uncategorized | 1 comment

My sister-in-law Erika has a beautiful way of processing the world. In her monthly recap this month she posted an article from 1981 by the, then, little known Eugene Peterson . . .

We live in a world where we wear “busy” and “exhausted” as badges of our importance. . .as a way to tell the world that our time was necessary for something – that we are needed.

And in this beautiful piece of writing, Eugene talks about the difference between busyness and activity.

He speaks of doing what is necessary and needed, but not feeling busy.  And in that quest for a heart at rest and a body in motion, I recognized part of  my struggle for this time of our life.

I wear my badge of busyness with pride. . .I wear it as a mom. I wear it as a wife. I wear it as a doctor. I wear it as a friend. I wear it for this and that, for here and there.  But I have been told by wise friends that the exhaustion this brings is not sustainable, that I must make changes to survive.


So in the last few months, I tried to cut out things and responsibilities – to make space in the day. To say no. To make boundaries. But peace did not come with that. The need remained. The desire to be in those places did not abate. . .indeed, the restlessness within me increased, not decreased.

Eugene Peterson describes the struggle like this:

“I know I can’t be busy and pray at the same time. I can be active and pray; I can work and pray; but I cannot be busy and pray. I cannot be inwardly rushed, distracted, or dispersed. In order to pray, I have to be paying more attention to God than to what people are saying to me; more attention to God than to my clamoring ego. Usually, for that to happen there must be a deliberate withdrawal from the noise of the day, a disciplined detachment from the insatiable self.”

He wrote it about prayer – and I read it about my entire life.  Cutting things out, saying no keeps the focus on me. On what I can do to control things. But deliberate withdrawal from the noise of the day – not the day itself – returns the focus to God.

Some of the calmest, most beautiful people I know have also been the most active.  They don’t wear their badge of busyness or exhaustion for the world to see. They inadvertently wear a spirit of rest. . of deliberate withdrawal for the noise and the clamoring should’s of the world.

When we first moved to Kenya, my Bible fell open to the story of Mary and Martha more times than was  predictable in normal life, it came up in blog posts, random articles from friends, and I struggled with it daily. I had never understood Mary. I had always stood with Martha, anxious in the kitchen and indignant that her sister would sit. But in those first months, I felt intertwined with Mary, sitting on the floor – not because I wanted to – but because it was the only choice.  And for the first time, deep down, I didn’t think Mary should not sit. I also realized that the verses didn’t say Mary didn’t work at other times. . . it just said that, that day, she withdrew for the noise of the world and sat at the feet of her Teacher.  In many ways, “unbusy” is the difference between Mary and Martha.

And in those thoughts, with the same activities that I had last week, I feel a shift in my perspective, tiny but significant – and my heart is a bit more at peace.


1 Comment

  1. St. Paul wrote, “let the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding guard your heart….”

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