What is this? My first Mexico mission trip, circa 1987, my friend Ken and I were trading off driving our 15 passenger van loaded with kids & hauling a trailer. Back in the day, it was truly the Wild, Wild West; driving single lane roads, dodging big trucks, alert to local drivers on a suicide mission, all while trying to stay together as a caravan. Ken is high-strung in the car. When in the passenger seat and a turn is coming up, his volume will escalate, “left, LEft, LEFT!!” or “no, No, NO!!”. He’s more intense behind the wheel. When we finally arrived at our mission site, Ken’s eyes were bloodshot and we had to peel his fingers off the steering wheel. That is a good image for the busy schedules so many of us try to sustain. We have family counting on us, appointments to keep, work to to, friends to keep up with, church responsibilities, emails, texts, and calls to return, not to mention, get enough sleep, try our best to eat right, exercise, pray, and just plain survive. Just like my friend Ken, there we are clutching the steering wheel with bloodshot eyes, with grim determination to get to our destination. And if we miss a deadline, goal, or opportunity, our souls are in an uproar, “no, No, NO!, NOOOO!!. Yet, this is how we choose to live with a strangle hold on our time and tasks. Notice how when someone asks how you are doing the new stock answer, “Busy”, as if being busy was the equivalent of being worthy.
What does this mean? Why do we do this? Where is the joy? First, some basics, time is a gift from God, that you and I must manage. We are stewards of our time in the same way we are stewards of our money, health, relationships, and so on. Scripture mentions both Chronos and Kairos time. Chronos is chronological time, years, days, minutes we keep track of with calendars and clocks. Then there is Kairos time that essentially means “the time fulfilled”. This is God’s time, when God decides the time is right, such as when the Messiah is born in Bethlehem. Ecclesiastes says, “God has made everything beautiful in its time and put eternity into the hearts of men”. I remain unconvinced that time-saving devices save much time. They sure do cost money. There are robot vacuums, Fit-Bits, coffee pots with timers, and I just saw a new combo tread mill and computer desk (looks dumb!) Busyness has become a barometer of are we valuable enough, productive enough, and worth enough. David Zahl writes, “busyness remains attractive because it does double duty, allowing us to feel like we are advancing down life’s path while distracting us from other, less pleasant realities, like doubt, remorse, and death. When we move rapid-fire from task to task we minimize the mental space available for personal reflection and painful feelings, at the same time accruing extra points (being productive-valuable-worthy enough), whether it be material, emotional, or both.” Guilty! To motivate and move myself through the day, especially when I am dragging, I am constantly keeping score of what I’ve accomplished. As Paul Sehgal writes, “The most purely, proudly American genre of writing might be the to-do list”.
What is the takeaway? After experiencing six student suicides in a year, Penn University did an on-campus study to get to the bottom of the crisis. In the final report they cited “Penn Face” as ‘the practice of acting happy and self-assured when sad or stressed’. Their analysis surmised that students lived with the ‘perception that one has to be perfect in every academic, co-curricular, and social endeavor’. Thus they wore ‘Penn Face’ until some students couldn’t live with the pressure any longer. I would say that that kind of relentless pressure to look, work, and relate like you are perfect goes beyond Ivy League campuses. In the church, we can wear our “Sunday Face” like armor so others won’t see us sweat, sin, suffer, and especially as lazy. The impact of unremitting busyness is big-time- sleeplessness, heart disease, high blood pressure, shorter life spans, not to mention general exhaustion. So how do we get out of the business of busyness? How can we let go of our need to validate our life by performance? God’s answer to this age-old idolatry is the Sabbath, that literally means “to cease”. To honor one day in seven to stop running around like everything depends on you, it doesn’t. Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath and gives it for our sake, for our health and wholeness, physically as well as spiritually. It is so simple, even a pastor can enjoy Sabbath rest. Take one day, consider it your tithe of time to worship, rest, give thanks for stuff like time, just be, and be ruthless in keeping it. I have heard the Sabbath compared to a knuckleball in baseball, kind of slow, wobbly, and keeps us off-balance. Actually, that is from one of my sermons. In a world that keeps pressing, pushing, prodding, producing, and performing, we need the Sabbath Slowdown to save us!