(post 5 of 6 in the "Rethink Your Life" series)
My wife Jamie and I are both extroverts and we believe our three kids are also. Thrashes love the party! Often we will leave a party or a time of hanging out with a family and our kids will say, “Who are we hanging out with next?” It’s like a drug addict looking for his next fix and our drug is people.
With that, saying “no” is tough, especially when it involves people. It goes against our nature and values as Thrashes. I believe God created us this way and it’s good and a strength, but like any strength taken too far, it easily becomes a weakness. By the way, this isn't just an extrovert problem. I'm speaking from my extrovert experience, but introverts have to learn to say "no" also. It might be less about saying "no" to people or gatherings for introverts, but we all have to learn the power of "no".
For us, saying “yes” too much causes us to be very busy which eventually leads to fatigue. We used to go back-to-back-to-back with parties and hanging out, but we began to realize that this wasn’t healthy for us or our kids. With some age, experience, and some suffering along the way (that we brought on ourselves), we now also value space and down time. We are actually growing to value it more and more.
But I have to be honest with you, even though we value it more and more, we still struggle with saying “no”. For us, this is something we are always battling and discussing, it’s something we face weekly.
So as we are rethinking our lives in light of the availability of the Kingdom of God, how do our time and calendars fit into that? If somebody who didn’t know you looked at your calendar, what would they learn? They would actually learn a lot of things: what you value, what you are investing in, how much margin and space you have in your schedule, etc.
The Kingdom of America values you for your production. Your value can be wrapped up in how much you can churn out and at what level of quality. This can easily lead us to become workaholics as we seek to be seen as valuable. Our week can easily get filled with 60-80 hours of work. And that’s just work.
There are many other things that are vying to get on our calendar as well: Friends, family, hobbies, service, church, kids' activities, chores around the house, loving our neighbor, pets, vacation, etc, etc. I often tell people when they ask how I’m doing that “I’m just trying to keep the wheels on.” Life gets full and complicated in a hurry.
So what do we do about this busyness that is after each one of us? We all have responsibilities we have to take care of and varying amounts of “free-time” we can choose to invest.
In thinking through this and writing my first drafts, my thought was that I was going to make the point that busyness is "bad". I'm actually not so sure about that anymore. But here's the question: Why? Why are we so busy? Why are you so busy?
I actually think that a lot of us don't know why. We either haven't thought about it or just believe that this is the way life is.
So instead of making the case that we should be less busy, I think our problem is lack of intentionality. We are filling our calendars because we have FOMO (fear of missing out), or FOOKMO (fear of our kids missing out), or because being busy makes us feel valuable or successful. Think about that last sentence for a second. If I'm right, we are letting somebody else, or some other Kingdom, determine how we spend our time. That feels crummy, doesn't it?
So here's my take, the antidote to busyness is a mixture of two things that are dependent on each other: Intentionality and Space
One major theme I notice from the life of Jesus, the King whose Kingdom we are aiming to live in and expand, is that even though he was busy and got a lot done, he prioritized his time and was intentional. He ministered to the crowds and met the needs around him, but he also:
Intentionally said "no" to "good" ministry opportunities to spend time with the Father.
Prioritized his investment into the disciples.
Intentionally spent time with the Father:
After feeding the 5,000, he withdrew to be with the Father and pray. “Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone.” -Matt.14:22-23
“And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, ‘Everyone is looking for you.’” -Mark 1:35-37
What do we take from these passages? What was Jesus modeling for us? Here are a couple ideas:
He must have really valued time with his Father. In both passages, time with the Father required intentionality by Jesus, breaking free from the crowd or waking up early.
I’ve heard it said before that Jesus’ times of ministry always came after he had spent time with the Father. He was “prayed up”. I like to think that he got his ministry assignments and then went out and executed them.
Intentionally invested in the Disciples:
“Now when Jesus saw a crowd around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side.” -Matt. 8:18
We saw this with the passage above in Matthew 14 and we see it here again in Matthew 8, Jesus is almost saying “no” to the crowd and the multitude of ministry opportunities in front of him. He did this a lot. I’ve also heard it said that if you really stop and think about it, Jesus didn’t actually do that much in terms of scope of his hands-on ministry for the three years before the cross. The miracles he performed were amazing, but in terms of what could have been accomplished, it’s small compared to what it could have been. So why? If you have never read the classic little book by Robert Coleman called The Masterplan of Evangelism I would highly recommend it. Coleman says:
“It all started by Jesus calling a few men to follow him. This revealed immediately the direction his evangelistic strategy would take. His concern was not with programs to reach the multitudes, but with men whom the multitudes would follow. Remarkable as it may seem, Jesus started to gather these men before he ever organized an evangelistic campaign or even preached a sermon in public. Men (and women) were to be his method of winning the world for God.”
You see, Jesus was playing the long game. He had bigger things in mind. His plan was the redemption of all things, to reconcile all people to his Father. In order to do that, he made sure his movement was in good hands before he went to the cross, and that required intentional investment in the people that would lead his movement when he was gone.
Here's something I'm realizing. Without being intentional about creating space, I won't be intentional with my calendar. It starts with being intentional about creating the margin, then in that margin, you are then able to be intentional.
Without time to think, reflect, dream, plan, etc,, you won't know what's going on in your heart and soul. You won't know what is giving you life and what is sucking it out of you.
Without time with the Father, you won't know the difference between the Good Shepherd's voice and the Thieves and Robbers. This is no small thing. The impact of not knowing the difference is life or death (John 10:10).
Without space, you won't be intentional. You will just go with the flow and be victim to what others want for and from you.
Two practical ideas for you:
Monitor your screen time. Said another way, "Turn off your phone!!!" :) I still remember the first vacation I turned off my phone for like 3 days. About every hour I would look it and it felt like it was calling to me, like it had some control over me. It honestly freaked me out. Since that time, I have slipped back into bad habits. Recently I've heard a few talks that woke me up to the effects a phone can have on you and I've been changing my habits, which mostly entails turning my phone off in the evening, on the weekend when I can, and leaving my phone downstairs when I go to bed. I've been doing this for a couple of months now, and here's the thing I'm noticing. When my phone is on, I'm looking at it. When it's off, I've just created some space to think, be more present with people, and I've quieted that little voice that is trying to suck up any down time I have. Jam and I went away for 24 hours a couple of weekends ago. I had turned my phone off and two separate times while I was waiting for Jamie, I didn't have my phone to browse the internet, so I just sat there. It was an odd feeling really, but I actually enjoyed the space. I realized that with a phone in my pocket at all times, when there is down time, I'm usually on it, and that day I realized that filling every gap with more information or noise contributes to the feeling of "busyness".
Protect the Sabbath. This doesn't have to be Sunday, it just needs to be a day of rest. Every time I don't take a full day of rest, I pay for it later. Either that next week or it becomes a build up. Burn out, tired, less effectiveness, etc. Despite learning this lesson over and over, the importance of a day of rest, I still violate my commitment to the Sabbath for the sake of "good things" that I don't have the courage to say "no" to. Again, like I said, saying "no" is a weekly battle for us and we don't always make the right decision. But, when I protect the sabbath, and really take a day of rest, it re-charges me for the week ahead. If you are interested in learning more about the rest God offers us, I would recommend reading The Rest of God by Mark Buchanan, it's a top five book for me.
So once we've been intentional to make space, how do we know what to say "yes" to and what to say "no" to?
I think this comes down to calling. What has God called you to? I don’t want to dive deep into “calling” here as that could be an entire blog series, but simply, what are you passionate about? What gives you life? Where had God used you in the past? What are your family values?
This could be a lifelong calling or it could be a seasonal calling. Our youngest kid Mae is about start preschool two days a week this Fall and Jamie has begun thinking, praying, and dreaming about what her next season might look like and what God might be calling her to since her reality of having a kid at her side every minute of every day is changing. This is an example of how Jamie’s seasonal calling of investing in our young kids is changing. Investing in our three kids will still be a priority for her, but one chapter is about to end and the next one is beginning.
The reason calling is important is because it gives us a priority grid. You have to know what you are saying “yes” to in order to know what to say “no” to. Just like Jesus, he had multitudes of needs around him and never-ending demand on his time, but he prioritized time with his disciples because he understood his calling and had a clear vision in mind.
So is busyness bad? I'm not quite sure. But what about this? What if we re-defined busyness? What if busyness was when we let others define our time and caIendar because we haven't been intentional with it. As I reflect on it, those are the times I feel "busy" in a negative way and when I start to feel like burn out is right around the corner.
Full lives and full calendars don't have to be defined as "busy" in the way we usually think about it. It could actually just be seen as "full", or being a "good steward" of our time, talents, and ultimately our lives. Like with most things, we have to be very careful to not compare with others. We all have different capacities or "plate size", so a full calendar for me might look much different than yours.
I do know this, that Jesus got a lot of stuff done and was a great steward of his time, talents, and calling. But I think his life was "full" rather than "busy". Jesus was intentional about being intentional. He created space to be with the Father and to be with his disciples, and he was clear about his calling.
Without intentionality, our lives and calendars can spin out of control. The scariest part of this is that other people, or other Kingdoms, can determine what fills our time and what we are investing in if we are not careful.
I hope this post was helpful in reflecting on how Jesus prioritized his time and how that might help us to say “yes” and “no” with more courage, clarity, and conviction.
Let’s Dialogue: How do you experience busyness? What do you think about my proposal that the antidote to busyness is "intentionality" and "space"? Do you think it is a helpful paradigm to distinguish between "busy" and "full"? Post a comment below or on Facebook to get the conversation going.
Do a time audit: What are you investing in? Of those things, what gives you life? What sucks life? Do some listening prayer with the answers to those questions and see if the Lord brings up anything for you.
Develop a list of 3-5 family values of which will help you determine what to say “yes” and “no” to. Print it out and put it on your wall
Write out your calling for this season: Don’t overthink it, just write a few sentences describing what you feel called to in this season. Sit with the Lord and what you wrote, what does he have to say?
Next time you are on the fence about saying “yes” or “no”, say “no” and see how it feels. What value did that space add to your life? If you experience "FOMO", sit with the Lord with that and discuss it with him.