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Is Busyness a Sin?

By Jennifer Durrett
In Got Questions
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I’m a doer. I love getting things done. Even when I’m doing something I deeply enjoy, I can almost hear the tiny figurative pencil in my head checking “enjoy activity” off my list. It’s easy for me to fill every corner of my day with things both deeply meaningful and completely inconsequential, leaving little room for the spiritual rhythm that offers to most profoundly impact my soul: stillness.  

One thing this post-pandemic pace of life has taught me is that it’s not my calendar keeping me from connecting with God–it’s my heart. In fact, my calendar is looking a lot more spacious these days. So many of my usual appointments and activities are on hold. Even with work and kids, the pace of my life is slower. And yet, faced with the choice between stillness and busyness, I choose busyness every time.    

Busyness can be catastrophically sneaky. It’s insidious. It isn’t a Great Big Sin we feel convicted to confess to a friend or a trait that’s likely to get called out by a fellow believer. In fact, our culture’s constant glorification of busy makes us more likely to be proud of our frenetic pace than ashamed. We may go weeks without experiencing a moment of stillness and hardly notice because the act of being still is so countercultural. And yet, each seemingly small choice to fill our time with one more thing becomes a juggernaut of “doing” that edges out any real possibility of connection with the One our souls were designed for.  

 To be clear, our daily work is good. Even Adam and Eve had things to do! I believe God relishes in both our pleasure and productivity. Enjoying a hobby, or meeting a deadline, or tending to chores can all be acts of worship when we do them well and enjoy them with gratitude towards God. We also have a responsibility to give generously of our time and care for others. But, luckily for us, the work we’ve been given to do was given by a God who himself rested. From the very beginning of creation, God has shown us that constant busyness was never his intention. What our souls deeply need, especially amidst a never-ending news cycle and constant uncertainty, is stillness. A quiet sliver of our day dedicated to simply sit in the presence of the God who sustains this world He so lovingly created.   

In C.S. Lewis’s book The Screwtape Letters, a senior demon named Screwtape exchanges letters with a younger, less experienced demon named Wormwood. Their letters back and forth detail their work fighting the Enemy (God) through their work tempting human “patients”. In one letter, Screwtape explains to his protégé why he need not spend time concocting a provocative sin in order to lure one Christian away from God.  

“…you will find that anything or nothing is sufficient to attract his wandering attention. You no longer need a good book, which he really likes, to keep him from his prayers or his work or his sleep; a column of advertisements in yesterday’s paper will do. You can make him waste his time not only in conversation he enjoys with people whom he likes, but in conversations with those he cares nothing about on subjects that bore him. You can make him do nothing at all for long periods. You can keep him up late at night, not roistering, but staring at a dead fire in a cold room.  

… You will say that these are very small sins; and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy. It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” 

Did you catch that? Everyday nothingness can be as effective as “spectacular wickedness” when it comes to separating us from God. Whatever you’re cramming your day full of - be it work calls or Netflix, service or selfishness - there’s a good chance it’s keeping you in such a state of busyness that you’re unaware of the state of your own soul. To quiet the noise is no small feat, but in choosing stillness we choose to trust that God’s plan for our time is better than our own. In stillness we make space for God to give us whatever only He knows we need. In stillness God can not only reveal where our souls need care and refreshment but provide those needs in full.  

How can you make room to be still this week?  

For me, stillness is a daunting task. I will never understand how an action that seemingly requires nothing of me takes so much discipline. My hope will continue to be that age and wisdom will one day take the reins, and that finding moments of rest in God will become second nature. Until then, it will have to be an exercise in trust and daily, refining work to build a habit that right now feels very foreign. I remind myself that Jesus prioritized solitude and prayer even as he ministered to others. And if Jesus himself chose to stop his work to do the even greater work of meeting with God, then shouldn’t we?  

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