There’s a phrase that, every time I hear it, irritates me to no end. It’s not intended to be an irritant, often the opposite. It’s meant as a sign of respect. And so I take it for what it is. But I hear it a lot, and every time I want to grind my teeth in frustration. “I know you’re busy, but…”
Busy. In our culture it’s the apex of “making it.” In our culture what we do defines our value, our worth. It’s the first question we ask one another when meeting each other for the first time, the first piece of information about ourselves that we volunteer. These days, even when we retire, productive activity is still the expectation. And so, often, when asked how we are our first response is “I’m really busy.” Because busy people are important people.
I recently came across an article that highlighted a study published in the journal Science. It noted that:
“In one experiment, participants were left alone in a room for up to 15 minutes. When asked whether they liked the alone time, over half reported disliking it.
In subsequent studies, participants were given an electric shock, and then asked if they would pay money to avoid being shocked again. Not surprisingly, most said they would trade money to avoid pain. However, when these same people were left alone in a room for 15 minutes, nearly half chose to self-administer an electric shock rather than sit alone with their thoughts.”
The author of the article summed it up: “Just being is so painful that we are willing to hurt ourselves to avoid it.”
As I sit here, reflecting on the upcoming season of Advent, I can’t help but think that churches often get caught up in the culture of busyness. I think about all the things we’ve done together already this fall. We kicked off the Sunday school season with a barbeque, held Brinner Club and confirmation classes for several weeks, searched for our new music director, prayed together for hurricane victims, gathered in meetings for EFM or Vestry or Worship Committee or for various parish life activities, celebrated the renewal of ministry together, went out and served others at Good Shepherd or Hospice, hosted supper clubs, cooked for potlucks and ate oysters, started and finished our annual fundraising campaign, and gave thanks together in another service, and much more. Here we are with Christmas right around the corner, with Annual meeting and the Christmas pageant to be practiced and performed, and this year Christmas Eve is on a Sunday. And on top of our normal weekday routines, we have Christmas shopping and cooking and crafting to do, and holiday parties to attend, and… the list goes on. That’s a lot of activity, all of it good and fulfilling. But definitely busy.
So it’s true when someone says to me, “I know you’re busy, but...” All of those activities do take time. But I’m not frustrated with that phrase because I am busy and facing an interruption. I get frustrated because so often the doing is valued over the being. What often follows the “but” is a pressing need or a request for time. For me, the greatest gift of my vocation is getting to simply be with God’s people, in whatever crisis or joy or questioning or doubting or grieving or celebrating you are living through. And so my priority will always be spending that time being, present to whichever of you needs me to help attend to you and your soul.
Attending to the soul is an activity of being, and one that I’ll be the first to admit I’m not always good at giving myself. But it is so important to be in the presence of God. The season of Advent is a time to remember to “be still and know.” Advent is a counter-cultural season, a gift that our tradition gives us if we allow ourselves to receive it. A time to slow down, a time to breathe. A time to reflect on the nature of the gift that God gives us, the gift of God’s own presence with us in time and space, the gift of the very One who redeems us as God’s own. Emmanuel. God with you and me.
My prayer for you, in this busy holiday season, is that you will find time each day to discover a sacred moment, a moment where God’s presence is made real to you. My prayer for you is that you will make time to just be. I’ll be practicing along with you, seeking God’s presence in the most unlikely places and moments. And if you need to share unproductive time – a walk on the beach, visiting over a warm cup of coffee, sitting together in prayer on a weekday at the church – call me. I’m not too busy to find time for you.