A Theology of Busy-ness

The last month has been one of the busiest in my life, with new or higher expectations of me as a citizen, mother, Quaker, friend, chaplain, spiritual director – and even a few outright crises. The question that arises for me is where God is in this: What is my theology of busy-ness?

As a general rule, I don’t think God calls us to be in a state of perpetual motion. I usually interpret busy-ness to mean that a person has taken on responsibilities to which s/he was not called. I usually think of busy-ness as a failure of discernment – it means we said “yes” to doing something that we really weren’t called to take on. If there isn’t room for Sabbath, for some regular down-time, it is a sign to me that we have not been faithful.

This latest round of busy-ness in my life has me wondering if that understanding was a bit rigid. I experienced God’s presence pretty strongly throughout, and I didn’t have any indicators of being out in front of my spiritual guide. I never did feel cold and disconnected, nor was I prone to irritability – which are common signs for me if I’m out on my own. Instead, it was as if God was inviting me to engage in each of those areas. Prayer came easily to me in the midst of my activities, and so did a number of other healthy responses, such as an absolute and unusual craving for exercise, so strong that I had to give in, and exercise helped me stay balanced and grounded.

So my “felt experience” was of being called into this busy-ness, which led me to re-think my theology: Perhaps there are shorter time periods when we are called into extreme busy-ness, similar to when I was caring for a newborn? Obviously God doesn’t want any of us to be in a state of perpetual sleep-deprivation, exhaustion, and neglect of one’s own needs. But there is that shortish period in a parent’s life when that is what is required. So might God lovingly call a person into a short burst of extreme busy-ness? I think my answer now would be “yes”.  And what might God’s loving care for a busy person look like?

Part of the answer lies in my felt experience: prayer came easily and naturally, I was readily in touch with  God’s loving presence, and I felt a craving for things that are helpful, such as exercise, and I did a better than usual job of asking for help when I did get stretched too thin. In addition, it seems that my husband and daughters seemed more than usually sensitive to my needs, and I got more than my usual dose of hugs and snuggles, and I cooked fewer dinners than I usually do. There was a lot of affirmation from a number of sources. There were times in the midst of a frantic day when I – to my surprise – felt able to put everything down and take a nap or read a novel. This all felt like God’s care to me.

I also had the awareness all along that things would not be maintained at that level of activity, that this busy-ness was just for a short time. It would be wrong to ask for that level of support and understanding from my friends and family as an ongoing thing. Faithfulness entails looking for ways to slow things down and to put Sabbath rest back into the picture just as soon as possible.

Queries for prayerful consideration:

What is my theology of busy-ness? How does God care for me if I am called into intense busy-ness?

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