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Busy. Work, exercise, email, soccer practice, homework, Facebook, church, shopping, blogs, TV, more work—if there is any single word nearly all Americans use to describe themselves, it is "Busy." Kevin DeYoung, a senior pastor, speaker, blogger, father of five, and author of the new book Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book About a (Really) Big Problem (Crossway), would know about busyness. Caught in the middle of hectic schedules and overcommitments, DeYoung decided to uncover the roots of busyness to discover how Christians can find peace amidst the chaos. Jeff Haanen, executive director of Denver Institute for Faith & Work, corresponded with DeYoung on the tyranny of email, "not to-do" lists, "freaking out" about our kids, and setting clear priorities as followers of Christ.
You're a full-time pastor, a writer, an in-demand speaker, blogger, and parent of five children. As someone who has friends who say, "Your schedule is a mess. This is one of your biggest problems," why did you—of all people—write a book on busyness?
I'm the best and worst person to write this book. I try to be very honest in the book that I am not writing because I have reached a state of calm equilibrium and tranquility. My life often feels like a whirling dervish of kids, writing, speaking, and pastoral ministry. And yet, I think that makes me a good candidate to write a book like this. I wanted to do this book, first of all, because I have a problem and need help. Hopefully, some of the thing I've learned in working on this project can be helpful to others who feel crazy busy just like me.
When Americans are asked how they're doing, they often respond, "Busy." Why do you think this is?
There are probably a number of reasons. One, it's a safe, non-threatening conversation piece. It doesn't take a lot of relational effort to talk about how busy we are. Two, I think the confession of busyness has become a socially acceptable way of saying "no." If someone asks you to help move a couch or to come over for dinner you could say, "I have many priorities in my life and frankly you are not one of them right now." Or you could say "I'm busy." The latter will be much more warmly received. Three, there is often a measure of pride in our busyness. If I'm busy, we reckon, I must be important, in demand, and living a worthwhile life. Therefore, it's to our credit that we are busy.
You write that pride—the desire to prove ourselves, acquire more possessions, self-pity—is at the heart of much of our busyness. But you also call readers to "embrace the burdens of busyness" as those called by Christ into his service. How, then, can we tell if we're busy for the right or wrong reasons?
I try to keep in my mind the simple question: Am I trying to do good or make myself look good? Too many of our responsibilities get added to our plate when we are trying to please people, impress people, prove ourselves, acquire power, increase our prestige. All those motivations are about looking good more than doing good. Not a good reason to be crazy busy.
You reference an article by Joseph Epstein on how we live in a "Kindergarchy"—a culture ruled by children. Why is it that we "freak out" about our children and adopt such hectic schedules in the process?
Somehow we've adopted a spiritual determinism when it comes to our children. Even if we know that our children are sinful by nature, and that they must be sovereignly born again by the Spirit, and that the deepest issues arise from their hearts, we can act like they are simply putty in our hands to be shaped according to our wills. The truth is we do not control the spiritual outcome of our children. We want to be faithful and get the basics of discipline and spiritual instruction in place, but after that we can easily make the Bible say absolute things about childrearing that it doesn't address.
You write that digital technology and social media can become a source of addiction and apathy—and can add to our perceived busyness. What kind of boundaries do you suggest for those caught in a whir of email, texting, iPads, and other digital gadgets?
Whatever rules I have to suggest, I've probably broken myself. This is a struggle for me, like it is for many younger Christians. The place to start is with a healthy suspicion toward technology. We don't have to be Luddites, but we should realize that the opportunities technology affords also present new dangers. Besides this initial awareness, it can be helpful to do practical things like: deliberately use "old" technologies (i.e. real books, paper, pen), don't clutter people's lives with needless texts and emails, set aside times in the home when screens are not allowed. Most importantly, we have to remember that the God of eternity does not want us to live our whole lives in the trivial and ephemeral world of sound bites and the tyranny of the now.
What role does understanding your calling play in mitigating busyness?
We can't do every good thing there is to do in the world. Too many Christians live under the terror of total obligation, thinking every act of injustice, every opportunity of ministry, and every urgent appeal are our responsibilities. We have to understand (1) that there is a whole church which must answer the call of God, and (2) that our specific calling will be limited by our sphere of influence and our finite abilities.
Despite the pressures of human need all around him, Jesus often chose not to do lots of pressing things (Mark 1:35-39). How should this influence our view of priorities and time management?
I marvel at Jesus' ability to stay on his God-given mission. He could have stayed in Capernaum for weeks healing people, casting out demons, and meeting important physical needs. But instead he went on to the next town to preach because that is why he came out into public ministry. Even the incarnate Son of God could not meet all the pressing needs around him. He could not say yes to every good request. He did not let others dictate his priorities. But he was always full of compassion and always did just what the Father wanted him to do.
Many of us make to-do lists. But you cite Peter Drucker who recommends making lists of "posteriorities"—things that should be on the end of a list, or not on a list at all. What's on your "not to-do" list?
A few years ago my elders decided I should no longer do premarital counseling. It wasn't because I was ruining marriages (I don't think!), but because they understood that I wouldn't be able to add new things (blogging, conferences, books, pastoral interns) if I don't take some things off the table. I now have a group of elders that act as an oversight committee to help me set priorities and posteriorities. Oh, and I don't mow my lawn anymore. I pay a teenager in our neighborhood twenty bucks, and it is money well spent.
You say that the "One Thing You Must Do" despite our busy schedules is prayer and Bible study. Yet aren't devotions, for many, just one more thing that already busy Christians feel they need to add to their plate?
They certainly can be. I want to be careful not to suggest that we must take X number of minutes in the Bible and prayer every day or we aren't Christians. At the same time, I think the Mary and Martha story shows up at the end of Luke 10 for a reason. After the disciples are sent out on their short term mission trip, and after the moving story of the Good Samaritan, it's no accident that we have this episode where Jesus reminds us not to neglect the one thing that is most needful. If we are busy in a hundred good things—even great things, gospel things, glorious things—but don't sit at the feet of Jesus, we are busy in the wrong ways.