Lately, I’ve blogged about big business and some potential problems including the way people misplace their desire for fulfillment into corporate success and the cultural problems caused by large organizations.

Now, I want to focus on the overwhelming busyness of contemporary Americans. As far as I can tell, the extreme busy lifestyle goes back to the 1970s and has only grown. My primary anecdotal support for this conclusion is the difference in the schedules of children from the time I was a child in the ’80s to now. When I was a kid, I played a sport and had practice and games probably three nights a week. I was homeschooled, so I had a much more relaxed schedule than my friends, but I may have been too busy with those activities. By the time I got to high school I did have a sports practice every day on top of a seven hour school day. Then I’d go home and have two hours of homework or so. (The memory alone makes me feel tired!)

Pre-high school kids now seem to take on far more activities than I did. One of my students, an eighth grader, plays football which has 2+ hour practices three times a week, plus tutoring, and school in which he enrolled in a special program for his learning disabilities that requires even more homework of him than his peers. And he’s not even one of the many who takes on oodles of honors classes.

A ninth grade student I tutor goes to a private school an hour away from where he lives. After school he has football for two hours a day and games on Saturdays. He is enrolled in as many honors classes as he could fit in his schedule and he has two tutors. Is he driven? Yes. Is he a happy person with all this busyness? Hmm.

Of course, adults in our culture are worse. I’m sure it doesn’t take much imagining to conceive of what my example students’ parents take on to get their kids everywhere they need to be, work hard enough to maintain affluence, and have a social life of their own.

So, why do we get ourselves so busy? There are a few reasons including the desire to get ahead monetarily, the desire to bring up good kids, and the misplaced idea that fulfillment comes through working really, really hard.

But the idea I want to focus on is this: we max out our schedules because we wouldn’t enjoy life with rest built in.

My insight comes from looking at my own life. When I don’t actually have anything on my schedule I tend to not know what to do with myself. Sometimes, when I know I need a break, I’ll clear out a Saturday. When I come to that Saturday, it’s hard to just be sometimes. The urge to achieve productivity rushes upon me (since I’m a driven person naturally) and I feel unsettled even when I make myself take a rest.

I think God knows this about human beings, which is why he gave us the Sabbath. He intended us to find rest and peace – as well as giving us a chance to put our work in the right perspective.

My roommate in college taught me this principle. When I noticed that he never cracked his books open on Sundays (it doesn’t matter what day of the week you take it on, though) I asked him why. He replied that he was taking Sabbath. I wonderingly questioned how he would get all his work done as he had tough classes and some time-consuming outside activities.

His answer penetrated my heart: “It’s a way to trust God with my life. I pray and trust He will help me get as much work done as I need to get done. That will be enough.”

This is very right and true and it helped my life. But one also needs to learn to rest well. That is the subject of another post.

But for now we might ask ourselves why we can’t handle resting. Why can’t we enjoy the absence of work? What is it about our souls that urges on, on, and ever on? In times before, even Americans knew what to do with free time. They didn’t seem to mind a few hours off from work and activity, and even delighted in it. Without a doubt, “there is no health in us” if we can’t stop and are addicted to work and busyness. The soul lacks wholeness that only feels right when working.

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

One Comment

  1. Hey Andrew, I happened to re-read this post today, and thought I’d leave a comment.

    “So, why do we get ourselves so busy?”

    My good friend Steve (not a Christian himself) calls this “the culture of perpetual distraction” and I think we Christians need to claim this and trumpet it. We don’t like to stop and think, and we’re so afraid the two are connected that we keep ourselves from stopping, lest we be forced to think and reflect. In addition, we’ve been trained to see everything in terms of productivity (a danger of unrestrained capitalism), and when we look at rest, we see only waste.

    Dr. Reynolds said at GBC this year something to the effect of we are in danger of being controlled not by a tyrannical government, but by consumerism and this is precisely what you’ve hit on. To some extent, businesses are executing a form of control by all of the perpetual distraction. People used to think that technology would be this great elevator of man – finally, machines would do all the work and he could live the good life. It seems to have been the opposite – the machines do all the work, yes, but man is constantly working harder, in order to buy more machines, presumably so he can rest.

    What a broken state our sin has given us! Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

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