Saturday, June 30, 2012

Busyness: Industry or Self-Deception?

Today an article was published in the New York Times: "The Busy Trap." It's about how we Americans live overly-programmed, overly-stressful lives, and we're all very, very tired. I highly recommend reading the entire thing. What really gave me pause to think was this paragraph:
"Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day... More and more people in this country no longer make or do anything tangible; if your job wasn’t performed by a cat or a boa constrictor in a Richard Scarry book I’m not sure I believe it’s necessary. I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter."
Wow. Does what I do for a living really not matter? I like to think that I'm helping others as a customer service representative. But am I really doing anything of consequence for 8 hours each day? That's a tough question to answer, and I think, part of why I have never given up on my calling to become a United Methodist Elder. Once I become ordained, then I can really make a difference, I tell myself. Is that true? But for now, while I immerse myself in church work and singing here in Boston, am I pursuing my passions or just trying to avoid the fact that my current day job has less meaning than the one where I eventually see myself?

At Harvard Divinity, the spiritual formation class for future ministers is called "Meaning Making" (BU's less inventive name for it was Pastoral Spiritual Formation). This name reminds me that we make our own meaning in life as we interpret our lives' events through the lenses of the Bible, Christian tradition, and our past personal experience. In a sense, things mean what we make them mean. If I think my current job is meaningless, then to me, it means nothing. But if I find a way to make meaning around what I do for a living, then it has significance for me.

Perhaps becoming more aware of the ways in which we make meaning can help us not to fall into "the busy trap," as the author called it. If we know in our heart of hearts that we are important and valuable to God and to our families, there is no need to try to tell people how important we are by bragging about our busyness. If we know why we make the choices we do regarding voluntary commitments, and we have our priorities straight, then we can choose to say no to things that are less important or meaningful to us. Reflecting on the meaning of our daily activities can take time- and guts. It's hard to face the way we use our time and how that reflects what our priorities really are. But if we choose to it, we can stop avoiding the emptiness of the rat race and start enjoying the little things in life, like sweet tea on a hot summer evening.

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