Thursday, April 22, 2010

busyness, burnout and the grace of God (3a) time and urgency

October 2007. I'm running out of time. When I think of it, I get a panicky feeling in my gut. I'm nearly 40 years old, and what have I got to show for it? Study, marriage, a few short years' ministry, and 4 children, the youngest not at school yet. I know marriage and motherhood are of immense value, but I don't feel it. I feel the years pressing in on me. If I don't get started on ministry outside the home - soon! - I'll run out of time.

I get too busy when I ... forget that God always gives me enough time.

What I was thinking. "I want to make the most of my life. I want to do something significant, something I can be remembered by. I don't have time to rest. I need to use every moment. I'm running out of time."

What I'm learning.*
1. There's always enough time to do the work God gives me to do.
I sometimes think, "If there were 8 days in a week, I'd be able to get everything done!". But God doesn't make mistakes. When I try to do more than I can in the time I have, with the physical and emotional resources I'm given, I'm not trusting God. But when I do what I can then rest, I show I trust God to take care of the things I can't do, and to give me enough time to do the things he wants me to do. These days, when I rest, it's a deliberate act of trust that God will always give me enough time.

2. Using time well isn't about filling every moment, but about serving God faithfully.
God made days: hours, minutes and seconds are human inventions.* I often feel like I have to pack something useful into every moment. It's even better if I can multitask, and do 2 or 3 things at once! A good day is one where I complete my to-do list (I never do). But when God asks me to "make the best use of the time" he's not telling me to maximise my time, pack as much as I can into every moment, or tick everything off my list, but to live appropriately during these last days: to take up the opportunities I'm given to serve Christ and share him with others (Eph 5:15-16, Col 4:5-6).*

3. Serving God means slowing down and making time for relationships.
I'm learning - gradually! - to not always be in a hurry: to give up my anxiety about being stuck in a slow supermarket queue, to walk slowly with my 3 year old and give him time to explore, to keep a free morning for people who need to talk. Relationships take time, and relationships are where I serve and share Jesus. And as I slow down, I remember to enjoy and thank God for the blessings of his world.

4. God has made us to need time for rest.
My need for rest and sleep is one of the things which keeps me humble and reminds me that I'm not God. I'm tempted to ignore my need for weekly rest and save all my rest for holidays: a pattern which I've found results in exhaustion and burnout. For workaholics like me, rest is one of the hardest things, because work feels productive, enjoyable and even "restful". I'm learning that I need to take a day off a week, even from the work I enjoy: writing. It's early days yet, but I'm already feeling more rested, with more energy to love the people around me.

5. Jesus finished the work God gave him to do, and he didn't do everything.
Jesus was able to say that he finished his work (Jn 17:4), not because he healed or taught every person during his short life, but because he was faithful to the work God gave him to do.* I can't do everything (although I'd like to believe it's possible!). But I can, with God's help, faithfully do his work: the work of serving Jesus and making him known. At the end of today, I won't have ticked everything off my to-do list. At the end of my life, I won't have ticked everything off my want-to-do list! But if I've served Jesus faithfully, I will have done everything that needs to be done, and I can say with Paul, "I have finished the race" (2 Tim 4:7).

This post on busyness and time is already too long, so I'll continue with the last few points next week!

*These insights come from Tim Chester The Busy Christian's Guide to Busyness chapters 4, 5 and 12. So this post is really an extended meditation on Chester's book, which I found profoundly helpful as I reflected on the topic of time.

images are by aussiegall, Rhobbert van der Steeg, visuallegedanke and Range of Light at flickr


Valori said...

This sounds silly, but doing laundry is often the place where my heart is revealed. For some reason, as I'm standing at my dryer, folding clothes into baskets, I am more aware of whether or not my heart is in a restful place. I can feel such strong feelings of "Hurry up and get this done so you can get to what you really need to do!" or "You're so behind in everything!" or "This is such a waste of valuable time!" I have to remind myself that I am supposed to be doing this, this is what God has me doing, this is God's task for me right now, etc. If I can do the mundane things like folding laundry with a peaceful and quiet heart and without feeling rushed, it is a sign that I am trusting God and resting in His sovereignty as I work -- that I am not finding my identity or seeking to please Him through my own performance and accomplishments.
I would like to read Chester's book. On a more devotional note, have you ever read "Keep a Quiet Heart" by Elisabeth Elliott?

Pilgrim Penguin said...

Thanks Jean, a really helpful post.

Kath said...

"there aren't enough hours in a day" is so easy to say. But God knew exactly what he was doing when he made time the way he did.