A couple months ago, I was sitting down for lunch at my school's campus. If you can imagine, the lunch area has sort of a pseudo-retro 1980s feel; the walls are spectacularly decorated Picasso-esque shapes that belong in an early 2000s Nescafe retail store. It's reminiscent of Northwest Indianian taste, which I will leave to interpretation. I had been busy that morning, and had regrettably left my headphones on my desk, which meant that I couldn't partake in the usual lunch ritual of watching some Parks and Recreation and eating a slice or two of pizza.
Leaving my headphones at home meant that I had to listen to the people talking around me. The air was heavy with sighs and groans because of finals, and it seemed like everyone was sharing in a long, communal yawn. Oddly enough, however, it was [my own] prideful complaint, this lament of being busy. The yawns were followed swiftly by knowing looks exchanged amongst the other individuals of the upper activity class, the elite of redundant busy work and Apple calendars that look like the steps up a tower.
Badges of honor used to be pinned on a coat, but now are hidden in the day's itinerary and your meeting cue, as well as in the stack of assignments and books that "I'll get around to reading when I have the time, not like I have any with being so busy." In high school, I remember a running exercise that we did in track. You would sprint 600 meters, then walk 100 and do another set. My weeks tend to take the same trend. There's a demand to push yourself to new limits & breach expectations 6 days out of the week, take a quick breather on Sunday and plunge your head under the water for the next cycle. "Thou shall Sabbath [for two hours on Sunday, as long as you finish balancing your budget afterwards]." Everyone seems to be looking at each other and asking, "Are you as tired as I am?"
The pushback against busyness has been floating around in some publications recently, both secular and religious. Kinfolk magazine's Issue no. 15, entitled "Entrepreneurs" focused heavily on slowing down and taking a break:
"If we can be sure about anything in the 21st century, it is that reports of the death of work have been greatly exaggerated. Today, the Age of Leisure looks as feasible as the paperless office. Most of us are more likely to put in a 14-hour day than a 14-hour week. Work devours the bulk of our waking hours. Everything else in life - family and friends, sex and sleep, hobbies and holidays - is forced to bend around the almighty work schedule."
Mockingbird has also provided some great pieces of wisdom on the topic, one of the best being an interview with Brigid Schulte, author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time:
"In the book, I was trying to understand busyness and feeling completely overwhelmed, that there’s no time for anything important. And I would argue that’s a pretty universal phenomenon throughout human history, perhaps not feeling busy and overwhelmed but becoming preoccupied with the stuff that doesn’t necessarily matter. If you think about the end of your life, and you’re lying on your deathbed—which is a really terrifying proposition for most of us—and you look back over your life, what are you going to remember? 'Boy, I got my Christmas cards out on time in 2014?' Are you going to remember, 'Boy, we were amazing, we made it to three Christmas parties in one day?'"
It's also evident in the music industry. A while ago, I was talking to somebody about how enslaved I was to the Activity Mandate, and he referenced me to a song by Jungle, "Busy Earnin'."
You think that all your time is used,
too busy earnin',
You can't get enough.
The struggle is real. There's no denying that there's an issue with the world's doctrine of work and play, and time management has become infinitely more complex with possibility and opportunity. Do not get me wrong; the opening of experience is a benefit in its own right, but as with any good thing, excess is sickening. How can a new era and idea of moderation be introduced, while still retaining the same quota of healthy productivity? Is it possible to rest in the midst of progress?
I think where most of us have mistaken the concept of rest is in what rest really is. The quiet assumption is that rest is still work, as long as it's enjoyable work. This is how some idiosyncratic men brave the world of building elaborate model boats, and why some courageous women decide to take up the detailed task of quilting, both slaving away towards the glorious prize of that coveted ribbon at the biannual convention. Orthodox American rest on Sunday afternoon sometime looks like house projects, like painting or trimming the bushes under a hot sun.
However, when we look at the story of creation, God celebrates the end of a six day long beauty-fest full of spinning together light and knitting tendons, fibers and molecules by doing virtually nothing but resting: "So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation."
Genesis 2:5 follows directly after God rested on the seventh day, cue Adam & Eve. Preceding man & woman, there was rest. The story following involves weary workaholics, carrying the consequence for what happened a chapter later. Not until Matthew did a clear release from the curse ring out to those tired Jewish ears: "Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
What is rest, then? I think it's quietness, purposeless except towards being purposeless. It's realigning, on who you are, who God is, who those in your community are. As alluded to in Tim Chester's You Can Change, it's turning from the shining pillar of the Law of Productivity to the Grace of Resting. The Greeks referred to it as Kairos, a deep opportune moment of knowing. I'd daresay it's even sometimes in solitude, and that's coming from this extrovert. Maybe it involves some music, a book, that movie you've been dying to see but hasn't fit into the time ledger.
How does your view on rest change when you truly believe that you are not enslaved to making something of yourself? The shears get put down, the inbox is shut off, the textbook is stowed away. One of the wisest things somebody has ever told me was, "You are not nearly as important as you think you are."
Further, rest transcends the Sunday and goes into the Mondays, the Tuesdays, Wednesdays and beyond. It reaches out its hand in your workplace, at the dinner table, when you're amongst screaming kids. It can happen when you're walking, in the car, on the Tube or reading the latest gold from the Onion. We can rest in the midst of our weeks because of who we know ourselves to be in the Gospel. To avoid the branding of that being a platitude, let me provide a greater platitude: We are free to fail because Jesus succeeded; we are free to rest because Jesus accomplished the Law's mandate; we are free to be limited because Jesus is limitless; we are free to live in Grace because God gave it freely to us. How does this change your workload? Your 5 year plan? Your stock mutual fund?
This is not an issue of time, or even time management. As Brigid Schulte referenced in her book, Americans have more free time than ever. Researchers estimate that we have approximately 30 hours a week of leisure time. This is instead an issue of identity; Who are you? Why do you do what you do? If God really does love you unconditionally, why are we pleasers? Perhaps overachievers? There is such a thing. Drop the chisel, you don't have to improve your own statue anymore. "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want," said David, who had more kids and greater prosperity than you and I could ever dream for.
I had the privilege of hearing John Piper speak at the first Time to Plant conference here in London last Thursday. The title of his sermon was, "Why Are We So Weak?" He struck me at the beginning by telling the audience that our lives are like vapor, appearing for a moment and passing away after that. Too Existential? Perhaps. But it certainly grants perspective, on who we are and who God is. It's not that you're unimportant, but it's that you can't hope to compare to the importance of God's grand narrative. As Robin William's character in The Dead Poet's Society famously asked those young, aspiring agents of success, "What will your verse be?"
Mine will be one of satisfaction, rest and peace. Active in the best sense, producing what I'm meant to produce, but never becoming disenchanted with my limitations and need for the times of quiet contemplation and a realigning gaze towards the portrait of God's gift of life to me.