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How to Be Less Busy

Here's the honest truth: this project titled "How to Be Less Busy" has been sitting on my desk for the past forty-four 51 days. I've missed the deadline on completing it four times. Every time I've set about to get this thing done, some other dramatic need swoops in to tyrannize my time. I've just been too busy to write about not being too busy.

The only reason I'm able to write this now is because two weeks ago I scheduled this very block of time to write this very article about being less busy.

Now that I've conflated my situation to sound like I'm a person who is so in demand that I scarcely have a moment to breathe, let me be honest about something else: I'm not that important. I just work in an environment that strives to be highly responsive to the world around it. That world has provided a lot to react to lately. It's a field where it's quite easy to get overcome by the "tyranny of now": those situations which arise in the moment that demand our immediate attention.

The tyranny of now can be particularly detrimental to family life and friendships. These relationships are easily taken for granted — it feels OK to set those aside while we attend to the tyranny of now. But deep down we know it's not OK… because forty-four 51 days later we realize we've been too busy to have a date night with our significant others… or to complete less demanding but still important work assignments (like this post).

This is far from being the busiest time in my life. Once upon a time I was a full-time minister, nearly full-time student, part-time athletics coach, beyond full-time dad, and (with all that going on) really cruddy husband. In the midst of that, one of my professors dropped an assignment on our class I felt sure I was going to fail: take a day off a week.

I balked when she dealt this out. "When would I have time to do that?" It seemed unreasonable, because I had school readings to do, a lawn to mow, more readings, my kid's karate class to sit through, a bit more reading, a 50-hour work week, a team practice schedule to set, and then some reading to do. I wondered if my professor had to do ridiculous things like take a day off.

In a phase of life where I felt I couldn't keep up with all the stuff I had to do, taking a break from doing stuff felt really counter-productive.

The basis for my professor's assignment is famously recorded in Exodus 20:

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work…

Being that my professor had couched her assignment in the Holy Bible, I felt a bit uneasy about cheating. So I endeavored to give it a shot. Maybe my professor would still give credit for having tried and failed.

Our working definition for "Sabbath" was a day in which we refrained from toiling to provide for ourselves. We didn't need to be legalistic about it. But it definitely meant we shouldn't be doing schoolwork or work-related tasks. We should be resting, connecting with our important relationships, and letting God provide.

Practicing Sabbath is an exercise in humility. It required me to admit the world would likely keep turning without my toil. There are likely a million-plus-one reasons why the Almighty commanded Sabbath. But certainly a big reason was that Sabbath provides perspective: the world carries on without our efforts. We are not the most important thing in the world. That's a bit freeing to admit.

Practicing Sabbath sounds like a slippery slope towards excessive procrastination. After all, won't we be putting off tasks to tomorrow so we can enjoy a little downtime today?

My experience was quite the opposite. I committed far less procrastination. At least once a week, there was no tomorrow. I couldn't put off tasks to tomorrow, I had to resolve them today. I became more decisive and proactive — those are good things.

Additionally, there was the promise of rest and reward. I discovered it was a bit easier being disciplined today knowing that there was rest and reward tomorrow. I became much more focused and disciplined. Extra effort in the present meant enhanced relaxation and ease in the future. And none of this added to my anxiety about getting things done.

There's a freedom in focusing on rest as a holy practice. Sabbath as a command removes the guilt. I've mentioned that there are likely a million-plus-one reasons for Sabbath. Certainly one is that a Sabbath command is an expression of love. We are encouraged commanded to take care of ourselves and our important relationships free from guilt associated with a sense of busy obligations.

 I take inspiration from that. Sabbath is not an arbitrary command. It's a practical expression of love.

Could you commit to that? There a number of ways to practice Sabbath — it's not just about taking Sunday off. When could you practice Sabbath? 

We can be less busy. The world won't stop. Life won't fall apart. And by taking a day of rest, we might be reminded the presence of love in our lives.

Peace to you.

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Ryan Dunn is the author. Ryan is the Minister of Online Engagement for Rethink Church. He's also improving on being a husband, dad, and obedient Jesus-follower.

[October 6, 2017]

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