This past weekend I was on the phone with my Gramma, freaking out over how I was going to accomplish everything I had signed up to do in the next few days. She said I reminded her of one of those people who thought I had to pack my schedule in order to live a profitable life. I impatiently waited for her to finish her thought, then laughingly explained that I definitely was not one of those people. Maybe I used to be, but not so much anymore.
I have learned something in life. It is really hard to think about others when I have a packed schedule – even if the schedule is packed with things others want me to do for them.
When I am busy, my thoughts become really focused on myself and how I am going to accomplish my busyness. My thoughts go in circles and don’t shut off. “How will I? Where will I? When will I? How can I? What if this person screws up my plan? I can’t believe how that person cut me off in traffic! If only so-and-so wouldn’t have done such-and-such, I could have made it. Ugh.”
On and on they go. The word I occurs more frequently than any other. The people around me become irritants who disable me from accomplishing my plan. My plan is so important. Don’t they know if they just cooperated with me, we could change the world together!? And as I walk down the street in my hurry, I forget to smile at the little old lady who is slowing down traffic. Instead I frown, doesn’t she know she is messing with my plan to change the world?
It is too bad I don’t seem to know I am messing with God’s plan. I am not really walking in His love. He never asked me to change the world. He only asks me to love others as He has loved me. When I get busy taking it upon myself to change the world, I tend to get too busy to love those around me. Too busy to do the only thing that will actually change the world.
I happen to believe love, true love, always takes time and attention. True love requires a listening heart. It takes time and energy to listen well. When I am busy, I listen to answer a question or fix a problem, so I can move on to the next topic to be handled as soon as possible. When I take the time to listen well, I see the person who is speaking. I listen to understand and know them. I don’t listen to fix anything. Just to be. Just to experience life with them, so I can rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. I listen, so I can live in harmony with them. I listen to hear their heart.
As I reflect on my life I am certain I have never loved well in a hurry. If I want to love well, then I must schedule my life in such a way as to have time to love well. Time to notice the needs of others. Time to not need to concentrate so hard on physical tasks that I forget that God has called me to a ministry of reconciliation. The purpose of my entire existence is wrapped up in relationship. Relationships don’t do well in a time crunch.
Remember the story I began with? I wasn’t stressed that weekend because my schedule for the next few days was actually tight. I was stressed because the margins that I have placed in my life to ensure I don’t overcommit and overwork were in danger of becoming smaller. The guardrail guarding my precious time with God was getting dangerously close to being hit. I was nervous because I know what life on the other side of this guardrail looks like, and it sucks.
I have found margins are crucial if I want to love people well. Not only do I need time each day to do absolutely nothing as I enjoy God’s presence, I need to allow an extra five minutes when I walk somewhere. I need this margin, so I can talk to strangers, neighbors and friends who I happen to meet on the street without being irritated because they are making me late. I need extra time around my meetings, so I can listen well if the person I am meeting with is struggling. I have a choice. I can have margins in my schedule and be able to focus on the needs of others, or I can fill my schedule to the max and only be able to focus on whether I will finish in time.
It takes time to love well. I can’t be so busy filling my schedule with loving that my focus switches from loving others to completing tasks. God may have asked me to love people by setting up chairs, but having chairs set up isn’t the whole point. I need to take time to build relationships with the people with whom I am setting up the chairs. God’s focus is always people, not mere objects.
This is definitely a work in progress in my life. It is ironic that I am writing this article now because I have been struggling with busyness over the last few weeks. If life didn’t slow down, I realized I was going to end up being too busy to write my article about how not to be too busy! Though I still struggle, here are a few things I have learned along the way.
It’s okay to say no. Good is often the worst enemy of the best. I don’t need an excuse. People won’t always understand. Some will get really mad. It’s okay. If I don’t think what the person has asked of me allows me to prioritize my time and energy the way I believe God asks me, a simple no will do. Say no. A lot.
Never compromise time alone with God! In the busyness I just described, I did for a day or two. Terrible decision! It always works against me. I end up with no energy to do what He has asked me to do. Schedule your time with God in ink first. Then schedule everything else in pencil. (Figuratively, of course! It’s been nearly a decade since I have had a planner not on my phone.)
Always schedule extra time to commute. This is the worst for me. I am almost always running late if I need to make a morning appointment on a weekday. I spend way too much time just trying to get that one last thing done before I leave. The dishes will be there when I get home. (That’s the problem, right?!) If I end up cutting someone off in traffic or scowling at the little old lady crossing the street, what did I actually gain by having less to do when I return? All I did was help ruin someone else’s day.
Don’t create a schedule that will take a miracle to execute. Just don’t. If I don’t think I can, I probably can’t. (At least not without my mind going in circles trying to find a way to execute my schedule when I am supposed to be listening to someone.)
I don’t just need time. I need energy. I need to consider how much energy each scheduled item will use, and adjust my schedule accordingly.
Always remember to make decisions about what is right for you with God in prayer. He knows your personality, emotional needs and relational priorities much better than anyone else. We are all different than each other. Get wise advice, always follow Scripture, but never forget to seek God’s direction through prayer and meditation.