I think one of the first things I say after the obligatory "I'm fine" when asked about how I am by someone is "Busy". That doesn't, of course, make me unique. Life is busy and it seems to be getting busier and busier. That isn't anything unique to me or to my profession. Most people are just plain busy, partly because the demands from work are increased and partly because the pace of life has sped up along with the technological innovations which make it possible. Many, many commentators have commented on this increased pace in life and have duly lamented it...often without any serious desire to change it. And, if I'm to be entirely honest with myself, while I recognize the problems of my own over-busyness, I'm not sure my desire to slow down is very strong either.
Busyness, for me, makes me feel like I'm contributing and like what I do matters. In my busyness, I accomplish a fair bit, even if it never quite feels like enough. Despite complaining, in my head mostly, that I don't have time to myself, I have to admit that I like having a project to do, preferably three or four. And that isn't necessarily a bad thing. I know that many of the things I do as a teacher benefit my students in ways that, perhaps, I don't always know. The work I put into curriculum, marking and extra-curriculars are goods for their own sake. They are contributions to the life of my students and to the life of the school. And that is a good thing.
Yet, this week, I kept going back to a comment by Lauren Winner in Still that busyness is the new sloth. That is, we are conditioned in this society to use our busyness to avoid people and obligations and, in the end, God. It is easier for me to say "I'm okay. Just busy" to someone asking how I am because it permits me to limit my conversation with someone, from really engaging with who they are and how they're doing. It is easier to limit my prayer time with God because x needs to be done and, God knows, that is something that needs to be done- I know that because You told me. It is easier to disregard those interruptions where, as Henri Nouwen has pointed out, are often where God is calling us because I've busy doing something else for the Kingdom, thank you very much. Busyness, for me, can be a way of avoiding engaging with people and the world around me. And God, of course.
Ironically, busyness, also, causes me to lose sight of the value of the work that I'm being busy with. My focus shifts from working well to getting it done so I can make a notch for another achievement. Work, real work is an offering of one's skills and creativity, given by God. It is another way to connect with God as we give the work as an gift to those around us. Busyness makes getting it done, accomplishing something more important than the offering. It disconnects me from the value of work-the offering of myself to God and my fellow human beings. It becomes a task, with little intrinsic value- just something to be done and ticked off on a job list.
None of this isn't really a sudden revelation for me. This old compulsion has been and old friend/enemy for a long time. Nor do I surrender to it without some resistance. I recognize that there are times that I just have to drop what I'm doing and listen up to God. I know those interruptions in my day matter, especially when I get that chance to show up when God is calling. And I know that I need to slow down and pray deeply. Sometimes, I even manage it. When I remember all those things, life makes more sense and less like I'm running on ice. It's hard to slow down and just let go and let God. When I do, though, I'm less anxious and less stressed. I can do the work in front of me better and more peacefully.