No one ever wants to hear how stressed out anyone else is, because most of the time everyone is stressed out. Going on and on in detail about how stressed out I am isn't conversation. It'll never lead anywhere. No one is going to say, "Wow, Mindy, you really have it especially bad. I have heard some stories of stress, but this just takes the cake."
– Mindy Kaling
Comedy writer, producer, actor and director Mindy Kaling has some pretty good reasons to talk about being busy. After completing her degree at Dartmouth College she wrote and starred in a hit off-Broadway show where she impersonated Hollywood film star Ben Affleck. This role landed her a job as the only female writer for the hit US TV series 'The Office'; a position which expanded to include directing, producing and executive producing credits—not to mention the role of Kelly Kapoor.
These days Kaling is the writer and star of her own comedy series 'The Mindy Project'. She's written a book, has various producing and writing credits under her belt and has appeared in various films. What's more, she's done all of this before turning 35!
Our society has more convenience items than previous generations and more appliances designed to save us time. Yet, we describe ourselves as busier than ever before. Kaling's frank perspective on stress hits a nerve with our busy-obsessed culture. In today's society our busyness defines us. How we spend our time tells the world what we are worth. Our culture calculates our value by what we do.
I remember an encounter I once had after church: “What do you do?” I asked a young woman in her twenties. “Nothing,” she replied. I sat there in confused, awkward silence before reasoning; “You can't do nothing! What takes up your time?” She told me of her interest in travel and photography before explaining she had been battling cancer since she was a child. I realised then the danger of asking that limiting question.
Our culture's other favourite throwaway, “How are you?” often becomes a convenient excuse to talk about being busy. Answering this question I find myself focusing on the negative: how tired I am, how stressed out I am, how overwhelmed I am by my circumstances. What I am really saying is “I matter because I am busy.”
In the Bible, a biographical account of Jesus describes a visit he made to the home of two sisters, Mary and Martha. Mary sits at Jesus' feet, listening to what he has to say while Martha runs around getting things ready, being the perfect hostess. In her frustration she approaches Jesus, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!"
Jesus replies to her with gentle kindness, telling her, "You are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."
Jesus is clear that spending time learning from him—in relationship with him—is better than rushing around. I sympathise with Martha—that poor lady fussing to have everything perfect. Like Martha I have often failed to sit at the feet of Jesus. I have failed to remember that in Christ I am not defined by what I do, but by the one who has saved me.
So how do we break up with busyness? How do we say goodbye to the rushed and stressful lifestyle that we love to hate?
1. Say 'no'
Michael Hyatt is a bestselling author, blogger and former CEO of publishing company Thomas Nelson. He recognises the power of two little letters: "The truth is, when we say yes to too many activities and responsibilities, we are, in essence, saying no to the people or priorities that mean so much to us. After too many years of over-commitment, I've found the key to keeping balance and margin in my life as a leader comes down to one small two-letter word: No."
Physically we are all limited by time and energy: there are only so many hours in a day! Hyatt advises us to consider time as 'currency'. We only have 24 hours in a day, that's 168 hours per week—where are you 'spending' your time? Is it on the people and things which are important to you?
I often spend my time as if I have an unlimited store. As if I can 'buy' more.
2. Change your attitude
Instead of launching into my list of stresses when someone asks: “How are you?” I will try to share moments I have been encouraged by, things I am grateful for and relationships which give me joy. I am not advocating that we should never talk about our worries, stresses and concerns, merely challenging us to focus on them less.
3. Create intentional focus
At the heart of Jesus' words to Martha is the call to relationship. A call to intentionally invest time in the one who created us, sustains us and redeems us. This is a call to sit and spend time in God's word, soaking up teaching which is good for all times and seasons.
I'm making an active decision to break up with busy. For me this will mean sharpening my attitude, my words and my priorities so that I am focused on what is really important. For me this will mean learning to spend my time wisely. I will endeavour to remember that busyness is NOT a virtue. Will you join me?
First published August 23, 2013
Sophia Sinclair is a writer living in Christchurch, New Zealand. After studying, working and training in theatre, English literature and journalism, she joined the non-profit sector to work for the Anglican mission organisation NZCMS where she promotes mission around New Zealand. For more information on NZCMS: www.nzcms.org.nz
Sophia Sinclair's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/sophia-sinclair.html