‘Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.’
Ephesians 5: 15-17
Saying no to over-busy
How many of us have bought into the lie that the more you can possibly cram into each day, the more meaningful it will be?
Busyness has become such an idol of our age, hasn’t it?
Just look at the kind of conversations we have:
‘How are you?’
‘Good, busy. Life is just so busy right now …’
‘Sorry I’ve not been in touch, I’ve just been completely rushed off my feet …’
Or perhaps, best of all:
‘Lets get a diary date in to catch up. Oh wait, I’ve not got any free space until July…’
Am I on my own here? I doubt it… The truth is that busyness has become such a social norm for most of us these days, that we barely even pause to question why our lives are so full.
Busyness is not a spiritual gift
But busyness is simply not a spiritual gift. Quite the opposite, in fact. Because when busyness finds us constantly running from one thing onto the next, like human robots, trying to keep up with everyone and everything, it leaves us over-worked, over-stretched, over-stressed, and yet spiritually under-nourished.
And deep down I think we all know that busyness isn’t very good for us as well. It isn’t making us any more productive, or creative, or compassionate, or happy, or fulfilled.
And it prevents us from really connecting properly with God, with others around us too. Heck, it even prevents us from connecting with ourselves.
When we’re too busy and hurried, often we forget to pray and live without any real awareness of God’s presence with us during our days.
When we’re too busy, often we just skim along the social surface of conversations and go through the motions with others, but fail to really engage, to take the time to listen, or to care.
And when we’re too busy, we tend not to make time for proper self-reflection, for processing our thoughts and feelings, and fail to grow as a result.
Have you ever found yourself snapping at someone over something really small and insignificant – and then thinking afterwards, ‘What is wrong with me? Why did I do that?’ Often it’s not even about that thing at all, is it?
Maybe it’s because we’re so frantic and frazzled from running from A to B for so long, that we haven’t given ourselves any time to reflect on or process our emotions – and then eventually they just spill out at the wrong time, and often at the wrong person.
Why are we so busy anyway?
Jeremiah 2:25 says this:
“Do not run until your feet are bare and your throat is dry. But you said, ‘It’s no use! I love foreign gods, and I must go after them.”
Isn’t this just so 2019?!?
And even though many of us know we’re running too fast and working too hard, many of us won’t or can’t or don’t know how to really slow down.
We’ve got money to earn, bills to pay, jobs & family to juggle, and responsibilities to attend, and hey, all this stuff that we don’t really need, won’t just pay for itself!
Sometimes I wonder if we just need to step back from it all for a few moments, to be still, and just to know that He is God.
To know that stuff doesn’t matter.
To know that He is bigger.
To know that we don’t have to continually strive and overstretch ourselves like this.
To know that we are enough.
Be careful how you live
And don’t we need this pause? Because aren’t we all so easily sidetracked and distracted, and swept away from our focus, by the constant changing tides and currents of the day…
Maybe that’s why the apostle Paul’s reminder in Ephesians 5 to be careful about how we live still seems so relevant today as well. It’s a warning to be wise in how we invest our time, making the most of every opportunity.
I used to interpret this verse as ‘Do more to serve God because time is short and you need to make every second count’; but now I actually read it to mean ‘Do less’ instead.
Because this passage is not an invitation to an ever more crammed-full, stressed out, and hurried way of living. It’s an invitation to slow down and to live in a much more considered and intentional way.
In short – it’s about doing the right things; not just doing more things.
It’s about being wise about what those right things are. And it’s about knowing when to say no – even to some perfectly good and well-meaning – things in order to pause in your life and space for you to breathe.
How can I do this in practice?
Here’s a few of my ideas after reflecting on Paul’s words in Ephesians 5:
1. Pause & reflect – ‘ Understand what the Lords will is ‘
Why not start by taking the time to pause, reflect and really understand what the Lord’s will is for your lives? And if you’re not sure what your priorities should be – why not ask Him to show you?
2. Focus in & prioritise – ‘make the most of every opportunity’
If you feel over-extended or spread too thinly, it’s time to prioritise. Don’t just keep on doing everything, because it’s the surest route to burnout… instead identify your key priorities and decide to really focus on these things. Then make sure you give them the appropriate time & effort to really do them well.
3. Let some stuff slide – ‘ be careful how you live’
In order to ensure that this happens, you might also need to be willing to lay some other stuff down – at least for a season. So ask yourself – which activities and commitments needs to stay in your diary and your life, and which ones need to go? Don’t be scared to let some of the unimportant stuff slide for a while…
4. Don’t be easily side-tracked or distracted
It’s so easy to start with good intentions but end up distracted, and before you know it you’ve spread yourself too thinly again. So learn how to say ‘no’ to opportunities that aren’t in line with your priorities for this season a even those things which seem good.
5. Be accountable
Finally – and perhaps most crucial to success – tell someone else about your life reordering and prioritisation decisions. Maybe even a few different people different. Get people close to you to hold you to account and give them permission to challenge you when they see you veering off course and getting over busy again.