The conversation goes something like this:
“How was your weekend?”
“Oh, it was good! I had to work a couple of hours on Saturday, but it wasn’t that bad.”
“Bummer! I took the kids to a birthday party, and then I had to run a lot of errands. But I also got to start this new book I’ve been wanting to for awhile.”
“You’re so lucky. I wish I had time to read.”
“Yeah, but I only got to read a few pages because I had to pull some stats for this work presentation on Monday.”
“I know what you mean; I’m just so busy.”
This isn’t an actual conversation I had or overheard, but it could be. I participate in or hear some version of it often. It’s become a default line of conversation, like talking about the weather. But why are we falling all over ourselves to prove how busy we are? We like to talk about our forms of work but not our rest, as if one is more productive than the other. We don’t seem to have time for anything, especially something as trivial as leisure—and we’re weirdly proud of this. Why do we glorify times of busyness and minimize times of rest?
The Truth About Our Leisure Time
First things first: We’re actually not as busy as we think we might be. In June, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released the 2014 results of their American Time Use Survey. Some of the areas it reports on include how much time we spend working, caring for children and doing household activities like cleaning and cooking. But another area it reports on is the average amount of time per day that individuals engage in leisure activities. Some of you are thinking, “Leisure time? That’s a joke. I have zero time to relax.” But we have more time than we think—6.0 hours for men and 5.2 hours for women. Per day.
Of course, these are averages, and some of us land on the extreme of either end. There are absolutely times in life when things swing beyond busy, whether it’s having a new baby, taking care of a sick relative, the death of a loved one or other circumstances. But, in general, we aren’t as busy as we think. Or, said a different way, we’re busy by choice.
So what’s behind our desire to be busy? A common phrase that pops up in these “I’m so busy” conversations is have to. I have to plan this party. I have to go to the gym. I have to work on this presentation. But we’re on a hamster wheel of our own making, where we must spin, spin, spin to get everything finished. But we’re never going to finish. There will always be another work email to respond to, another to-do to check off, another expectation to fulfill. We become enslaved to not just “doing it all,” but doing it all completely and perfectly. Achievement and recognition become our golden calf statues, and as a result we’re working at home after-hours, driving the kids to eight different activities and volunteering on five different committees ourselves.
Our quest to be busy often requires us to sacrifice the chance to be excellent at one or two things and settle for the reality of being “OK” at 10 things. But why are we on this quest in the first place? Our list of activities and commitments does nothing to impress God. So who are we trying to impress? Only each other. And this is in direct opposition to the Bible’s admonition, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Col. 3:23).
Our attempts to keep the wheel spinning are our attempts to be God. We want to have Almighty control but we can’t. We want to rely on ourselves and our own self-sufficiency but we fail. And eventually, we burn out. But we don’t have to keep spinning the wheel. The responsibility of how to spend our free time, where to protect it and where to give it away, belongs with us.
Don’t Resist Rest
And how are we filling our free time? The BLS report shows that half of our 5-6 hours of leisure time is spent watching TV. The report doesn’t specify the exact amount of time spent scrolling through our phones or on the computer, but it’s likely taking a big chunk, too. The common thought is, “I’m so tired; I don’t want to think. I just want to watch something.” Our leisure time has become a time not to rest but to zone out.
But zoning out isn’t good rest; it’s a reaction to exhaustion and burnout. Work is good but so is rest. The Bible directs us to do both (Gen. 2:15, 2:3) but also gives examples of how each can be twisted by sin (Gen. 4:12; Prov. 19:15). In Genesis, God creates everything and rests on the seventh day, not because He has to, but because rest is good. This rest serves as an example to us. Because we are not God, we have to rest.
Part of the problem is that most of us don’t have patterns of rest. We plan for work and have set times there, of course, but we don’t plan for rest. Instead we “steal” a minute here and there. This little turn of phrase implies that we’re taking something that’s not ours, but our Father has commanded us to rest. And if He thinks it’s of the utmost importance, we probably should, too. Whether we plan specific times within the day to rest or set aside an entire day dedicated to rest isn’t really the issue. The idea is to thoughtfully plan for it in the first place and then protect that time.
Glorifying God in Work and Rest
God created us for work and rest, and we should carry out both in a way that honors Him. Our work is meant to glorify God, not drive our identity and idol worship. Get off the wheel. Melt down your golden calf statues. Recognize that you’ll never have Almighty control or the ability to “do it all” like you crave.
Instead, find a pattern of rest. Just as each person’s work looks different, so will their rest. Rest isn’t rigid but it also isn’t an excuse to zone out. It should pull you into a deeper love for and worship of the Lord. Read a book, if it’s restful to you and gives you a deeper appreciation of the creative imagination He bestowed. Visit with a friend, if it’s restful to you and gives you a deeper appreciation of the fact that He created us for human connection. Play basketball, if it’s restful to you and gives you a deeper appreciation for how He created the human body. Whatever rest you choose, do so with the knowledge and intention of glorifying the Creator. But let’s stop pretending that busy equals productive equals good. Let’s rest well so we can work well.