I can remember it like it was yesterday. It was a Friday night, the end of the first week back at school, my spring semester of junior year of college. I was at home in my apartment and let’s just say it had been a week. I was trying to go to bed early, figuring that if I got a good night of sleep then the stress, the fatigue, the anxiousness and worry would disappear.
I was a music major and filled to the brim with stress and overwhelm, completely burnt out. Many factors contributed to this feeling – the music program at my university was the second most difficult major. And in the music world, you had to say yes to everything. Yes to that performing ensemble. Yes to more private lessons. Yes to the gig. Yes to accompanying someone for their recital. Yes, yes, yes. You also had to be involved in several ensembles and classes that only counted as one unit, meaning a “full-time load” was about four academic classes, private lessons, two or three or four ensembles, plus all of the school work and extra practicing that went along with it. Oh and then there was the part-time job, the friendships and roommates, the church services and volunteer work. The list went on and on.
And then there was the competitive factor. Everyone was busier or more stressed out than someone else. Statements like, “I was up until 2am working on a paper last night” were followed by one-upping, “Oh really? Man, I was up until 4am and I had a research paper and a presentation to prepare.” Everyone was busy – “busy” and “fine” being the top responses given when someone asked how you were. It wasn’t so much the fact that everyone was overwhelmed (though being in a community of stressed out people does not help your own attempt to combat the stress) – it was the lack of grace associated with everyone’s busyness.
It was the fact that everyone’s busyness was a point of pride, not lament, a point of competition, not a need for change.
And so, I found myself on that first Friday night of spring semester alone in my apartment, worrying about the previous week, stressed over if I could actually make it as a music major. Before I knew it, I couldn’t breathe. I struggled to sit up or catch my breath or move. My chest felt tight, my emotions felt high, my muscles were in a peak “fight or flight” mode. After several moments I was able to drink some water, catch my breath, and slowly calm down. I woke up the next morning feeling like I had been hit by a bus, every muscle sore and maxed out.
It was my first panic attack and it was all I needed to say, “I’m done. I’m not playing your game anymore.” The next week I changed my major, dropped some classes, and slowly began reorienting my schedule and priorities.
Yet while the busyness competition wasn’t as prevalent in my new degree, it was still there. And it still exists today. I see it in the classmates of my current master’s degree, I saw it in coworkers and friends, I see it in the world around me. Our world has tied a direct line to equate how busy you are to how important you are.
This is a lie that has taken a lot of counseling, prayer, godly wisdom, and encouragement from friends to combat. You and I, our identity is not in our to do list, not in our resume, not in our list of accomplishments. Those are all good things, for sure I love a good productivity hack or tool. But spending a day relaxing, reading, and not being busy does not change my worth.
Beware the barrenness of a busy life.
“Busy” is now no longer my answer when someone asks how I am doing. It’s not even on my radar. It’s not a part of my vocabulary. To me, replying “busy” as a response is so much more than a singular word. It reflects not only my to do list, but it impacts my frame of mind and stress level. It’s more than just reflecting my schedule, it’s adding to the anxiousness or stress I might be feeling. By exercising discipline and not responding with ‘busy” (and trust me, this has taken a lot of practice, muscle memory and habit formation – and I still mess up at times and feed the desire for others to acknowledge how busy/important/self-righteous/etc I am), I am reminding myself that life isn’t more that I can handle, that God’s grace is more than enough, and that I can choose thankfulness and joy even when my schedule feels full.
And sure, I still experience seasons of full schedules. But I refuse to play the competition game. I refuse to buy into the lie that I am more or less important, depending on how full my schedule is. And I refuse to give into the social norm that if I can somehow outdo your stress, I am worth more than you. So now, while my schedule may go through seasons of being more full than other times, my frame of mind is not busy. It’s not part of my vocabulary. There might be a lot of my to do list, but myself, as a human being, am not busy.
// What has been your experience with this? How are you finding rest this week and saying “no” to this busy culture around us?
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