In our culture, being busy is a little bit of a bragging right. It might sound strange, but when I complain about all of the things I’ve had to do in a week, and all the things I have left to finish, I feel a sense of pride in how grown up and responsible this activity-juggling makes me feel.
Incessant busyness is what it takes to be an adult in today’s world, after all. Or is it? I’ve recently become slightly obsessed with this question. As a working-from-home mom of an almost one-year-old, I’m surrounded by things to do. And not just things—the same things. On repeat.
Every day I’m surrounded by toys that need to be picked up, a high chair that needs to be wiped down, laundry that needs to be folded, and floors that need to be swept because half of my daughter’s lunch ended up on them. And once I do all of those things, I’ll still have to do them again tomorrow. Or maybe even in a few minutes.
Some weeks these tasks feel overwhelming. But some weeks—and please don’t roll your eyes in disbelief—some weeks they don’t. Some weeks, these are just the things I get to do because I love my family and job which lets me spend so much time with my baby. What is the difference between the weeks I’m going out of my mind and the weeks I’m enjoying the life God has given me? The difference is how much extra stuff I load my schedule with.
I don’t know about you, but most times the “extra stuff” I squeeze into my week seems important.
All of these things are amazing, important things to do, but I’ve noticed drastic differences in my emotions, energy, and spiritual life between the weeks I do less and the weeks I do more. I found myself wondering about the difference between these weeks. On the weeks my schedule was overwhelming, I felt like I was doing what I was supposed to do. After all, I’m supposed to be helpful to others, invested in my job, and involved in my church.
However, in the weeks I agreed to everything that came my way, I ran on tired, my house fell apart, my eating-out budget skyrocketed, and my family suffered. I’d often become frustrated with my inability to keep my life running smoothly while adding in things that I didn’t know how to turn down. When I turn down something “good to do” because I don’t have time, I instantly feel guilty. I’ll overthink it, wondering if I should have made it work somehow. I constantly think of the Bible verse about the sluggard during times like these and wonder if I’m being lazy.
“Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.” Proverbs 6:6
The book of Proverbs is filled with admonishments like this one to be diligent instead of lazy. As a woman, I place a lot of my personal worth and value on how productive I am. After all, the Proverbs 31 woman keeps her family clothed and fed and makes beautiful things to sell to help provide for her family. She’s all about productivity! She “works with willing hands” and “does not eat the bread of idleness" (Proverbs 31: 13, 27).
Being a Proverbs 31 woman, though, doesn’t necessarily mean accepting every productive opportunity that comes my way. From the creation story to the New Testament words of Jesus, God continually provides examples of the importance of rest (Genesis 2:2, Matthew 11:28). God created us with limits to our energy, time, and capabilities for a reason. Perhaps He allows us to feel overwhelmed so we will learn our weaknesses and limitations. Our own physical, mental, and emotional limits are boundaries He has given us for our own good.
While I was thinking about this, a book I was reading referenced the story of Mary and Martha when Jesus was visiting them (Luke 10:38-42). Martha was frantically busy in the kitchen trying to do the work of two people while Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and just listened. When Martha complained about this seeming injustice, Jesus defended Mary.
“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:42
Those words. “One thing is necessary.” Just one.
We can’t replicate this scene in our current time. Jesus isn’t physically present and speaking to us in our homes. If He was, though, it would be our one priority to listen.
The lesson Jesus was teaching Martha still applies to our priorities today. Busying ourselves with work we think is important sometimes gets in the way of our priorities.
Martha let the busyness of meal prep distract her from the fact that the Messiah was sitting in her home teaching the truth. I think we often let our long list of good things distract us from the priorities God has given us.
The most important priority is the same for all of us—the one necessary thing Jesus mentioned. Beyond getting to know our God, though, the priorities He has given each of us look a little different. In a way, I think this is what Paul meant when He talked about singleness is better than marriage. A single man or woman can more easily prioritize their relationship with God because they don’t have as many secondary priorities vying for their attention.
My first priority should always be knowing my God and Savior. But second to my God is the family He has blessed me with. I need to be able to focus on being a godly wife to my husband and a godly mother to my daughter right after that first priority. Those three things need to be at the top of my to-do list. What I’m coming to realize is this: if I only make it to those three priorities on any given day or week, that is okay. I don’t have to feel guilty for turning down outside opportunities if they will interfere with those top priorities God has placed in my life.
That said, there will always be days, weeks, and months that are busier than others. Life is unpredictable in our sinful world, and there will be times when we are truly called to add things to our schedule that make our life a little hectic.
At the end of the day, I don’t need to feel guilty if all I did that week was know my God a little better and take care of my family. God has other things for me to do as well throughout my life, but now I know a little better how to look for them and how to pray for wisdom in knowing which opportunities to accept and which ones to turn down.
If your brain works a little bit like mine, I hope that these thoughts have helped you feel more confident in doing the work God has called you to do without feeling guilty about not being the person willing to do everything.
Remember, with every new thing you choose to do, you are choosing not to do something else. When making these choices, I now always ask myself this question: “Will saying yes to this help or hinder my relationship and time with God and my family?”
What kinds of things have you had to say, "No" to in order to make time for your relationship with God and your family? Sometimes, we have to let go of the good to embrace the great.
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