Every year about this time, I start a list highlighting my contributions at school- how many times I covered another class, how many letters of recommendation I wrote, how often I attended games or concerts or dances. I account for time; I consider every minute and hour precious; I don’t want to miss any effort I put forth. This same accounting of time happens in conversations with friends: how many hours we spent at our kid’s practices, at work, in the car. And frankly, I’m over it. I’m not wearing busyness as a badge anymore. If, as the aphorism says, Actions speak louder than words, then I would argue, Purpose speaks louder yet. Busyness, in itself, is not evidence: of success, of importance, of value.
Busyness prevents quality. You may be doing all the things, but none are likely flourishing. Your desk may be free of piles, but your family may have eaten peanut butter and jelly all week (that would be quality meals in Anika’s mind, but that’s another argument). Your kids made it to every practice, but you missed numerous opportunities to minister to someone. Busyness is often self-focused, actually. We do all the things for all the accolades. We live to be deemed a great mom, an excellent worker, an active member of any group to which we align. We feel important, needed, fulfilled. But numbers (of time, activities, achievements) do not equal value. They may not reveal our heart or our priorities. This year I have tried to become a curator of purpose. My choices of time spent are museum exhibits of my values, my skills, and my goals rather than checklists of accomplishments.
I don’t engage in comparisons of time to feel important. Tell me your kid went to 7 synchronized swimming practices this week. Boast that she will be ready for the Olympics in no time. Good for you! You have won some invisible battle of whose kid is busier and whose future goals seem more attainable. I’m not in that battle, parents. My kids may do only two practices a week. Why? Because I’ve decided to curate balance in their lives, too. I value strength and skill, but I also value rest, quality time, and curiosity and ingenuity that are built in unscheduled moments. Tell me all the list you accomplish weekly, too. Mine may be shorter, or not, but I have shaved it back, on purpose. I was volunteering for many activities, but when I stopped to fit them into an exhibit of my values, I realized that some of them were simply filling space; they weren’t fulfilling my value of helping others build independence or revealing my love for Jesus. I still volunteer, but my list is shorter and my expectations are higher. I align myself to organizations and efforts that put people first. I focus on moments that I can build relationships, that I can make a future-focused difference in the life of someone else. I take my faith outside the walls of my church. For example, I gave up providing food for events I used to be frequently cooking and baking for and started taking birthday meals to teens living in a group home. I’ll bet you can guess which feels more fulfilling, which reveals my heart for teens in need. I don’t miss the weekly expectation of food preparation for meetings and events, but I love moving my schedule around to sit and sing Happy Birthday to a teen who needs meaningful relationships. I am working very hard to prune my branches. The best fruit comes from a trimmed tree. Overgrowth is a tangled mess; that’s how I would define myself when I take on too much. My fruit is small and meager the more I overfill my schedule and my mind.
You, if you live in our modern American society, might be wearing a badge of busyness too. Your schedule might be teetering on the brink of implosion; you might be weary; your family might be suffering from one too many evenings of minivan meals to and from practices. I get it. I still have busy days. I overcommit, then scramble to fulfill my responsibilities. I’m a work in progress. But I don’t let busyness be my badge of honor. I am taking the reins. My lists are more in response to the big question: How does this show Christ to others? How does this teach my children strength, character, and empathy?
We all have busyness brought on by careers, by babies and children, by family expectations, by hobbies and interests. But when we make busyness our measuring stick of success, we are missing the mark. We are failing to fulfill what makes us useful and purposeful. We are creating a legacy for our kids of stress, of anxiety, of quantity over quality. We are not bearing healthy fruit or making lasting marks. We are exhausting ourselves in futility. If you feel this way, make a list- not a to-do list. Been there, rode that ride. Make a list of values. Then align your activities to your list. If one does not match to a value, cut it. It’s out. You will be surprised how many things we do out of expectation, obligation, or routine rather than out of purpose. You will also be surprised how much fulfillment comes from a well-pruned schedule, one that allows your life to reflect your heart.
*Read Haggai 1:5-11. It has me thinking me about purpose in a completely different way. That’s a conversation I’d love to tease out sometime.