Crazy Busy (Book Review)

crazy-busy“Hello, My Name is Busy.”  Anyone who begins a book on the problem of chronic busyness with a confession like that gets my attention!  Chances are, if you reading this you are feeling pretty busy.  Maybe even “crazy busy.”  Whenever someone asks me how I’m doing, I almost always answer with the standard “OK” or “pretty good.”  But I find myself always answering the typical follow-up question of “What’s up?” with “Oh, I’m busy.”  Until reading what Kevin DeYoung has to say in his clever book, Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book About a (Really) Big Problem, I assumed that my busyness is a problem.  Kevin’s nuanced and biblical answer is Yes and No.  In bringing the gospel to bear on the issue of super-busyness that so many of us deal with, I was both convicted and encouraged.  I think the book can be summed up with this principle: The cure to sinful busyness is not idleness, but properly ordered rest and life priorities.

Kevin (I call him by his first name not because I know him but because this is a personable book) is the first guy to admit he struggles with busyness.  I can relate, even though when I compare my typical week with his I’m relieved that I don’t have his life.  Sure, I’d like to have, influential friends, bestselling books, a large blog audience, the opportunities to travel and speak occasionally at conferences (well, on second thought, maybe not!), and a senior pastorate in a college town.  But different people are gifted in different ways.  I hope by now I’m over the envy of position of evangelical and reformed celebrities.  I’m very happy to have my hands full with a wife, five kids, an associate pastorate in a small town, and wearing all the other hats God has given me to wear.  I’m busy enough.  So digesting Kevin’s little book was just what I needed to calm my anxious and busy heart.

It is the size of the chapters that makes this book palatable.  At about 10 pages each, they make for quick reading.  About double the size of a normal blog post.  Perfect for busy people!  After his confessional first chapter (“I don’t have all the answers, and I’m writing this book mostly for my own benefit!”), Kevin lays out three dangers to avoid.  They are basically three reasons why busyness can be bad and must be harnessed by Christians who desire to be faithful disciples of Christ.

  1. Busyness can ruin your joy
  2. Busyness can rob our hearts
  3. Busyness can cover up the rot in our souls

With his characteristic sophomoric (in the good sense), straight-shooting humor, Kevin lays the groundwork for why we need to read the rest of his book.  Busy people are tempted to just skim it, or devour it in one sitting.  But a very busy person should be wise enough to slow down to think carefully about whether something has to change.  No joy, empty hearts, and soul-rot are dangers that convinced me.  Since I’ve been a pastor, I’ve noticed that the struggles of the Christian life are not different, only heightened.  Chapter two convinced me that I need this meditation on the dangers and delights of busyness more than I used to.

The heart of the book is chapters devoted to considering seven diagnoses.  Call them reality checks.  We all need a splash of cold water in the face now and then.  Busy people need all of these.  Take them a day (or even better) a week at a time.  Let them shock you for awhile before moving onto the next one.  Here they are, along with a few comments:

  1. You are beset with many manifestations of pride.  This one is first because it is the foundation.  Kevin suggests you are too busy because you have a pride problem.  Are you people-pleaser?  Do you live for praise?  Are you performing for a grade?  Are you busy for greedy reasons—wanting more stuff?  Are you not pleased with yourself—in other words, are you still trying to prove yourself to someone else?  Are you flattered by those who pity your busyness?  Are you just a poor planner?  Kevin asks these diagnostic questions (and others) to get at the root of your particular idol of pride.  We all have one.  He touches most of the bases.  It’s likely he’ll step on your base.  Just “man-up” and admit it.  Get over yourself, laugh at your foolishness, thank God that he loves you anyway, and keep reading.
  2. You are trying to do what God does not expect you to do.  I’m a list person.  Every day I consult my little black book.  It’s not the kind filled with names and phone numbers of past girlfriends (never had one of those…I was a Jughead more than an Archie).  My little book is for my to-do list for the week.  It’s always with me, so when I have a thought of something I’d like to get done, I jot it down for a particular day this week before I forget it.  And when I finish with a task, I open the book, check-off the thing with pride, and consult the list for the next hill to conquer.  I know, that’s kinda sick.  I’m programmed like a robot and sometimes perform like one, not stopping to consider what I may want to do but what I ought not to do because God may have other things for me to do.  You may not be a list person, but you probably struggle with doing things God doesn’t really care very much about.  Think about it.  Seriously.  Then keep reading.
  3. You can’t serve others without setting priorities.  This is organically connected to the last one.  In my judgment, a good day is a day when I get lots of tasks crossed off my list.  Every day, I get home from work at the church building and it’s the same thing.  My wife asks if I had a good day.  My answer depends on how many check-marks I put on my daily list.  Again, sick!  But I rationalize that I sometimes put personal ministry items on my list.  Hey, actually human beings deserve my attention too!  But therein lies the problem.  People are not tasks.  Kevin argues that with mission creep, I’ll never be available or in the right mindset to serve others.  To be available to others.  To be a friend to others.  To be a pastor to others.  To be a relational human being to others.  Unless I value God’s priorities (people) more than tasks, then my time and energy to serve on God’s timetable will be squeezed out.  Prioritize carefully.  Be open to the inefficient time-intensive “divine appointments” that God often puts on your schedule.  Prepare for them by scheduling down-time that is not task-time.  Then keep reading even though you think you’ve got the book’s essential message.  You’ve got more to learn and think about.
  4. You need to stop freaking out about your kids.  I really really needed this one.  Parenting has become an Olympic sport nowadays.  Since when is raising a kid so time-consuming, expensive, competitive, and life-defining?  What will happen if my boys don’t make the all-star team?  Will they be lose out on the college athletic scholarship?  Will they be emotionally stunted compared to their peers for life?  What will happen to my girls if they can’t dribble a ball, perform a cheer, paint a picture, play a song like the kids next door who are never home because they’re always at some activity preparing them to be better at some skill?  What if they ever get bored?  What if they don’t learn everything that the educational experts say they need to know by high school graduation?  Will they end up on the street?  Paupers forever!  Heaven forbid!  Argh!  Stop.  Take a chill pill.  Kevin reminds us that kids are resilient.  They are not fragile creatures we envision them to be.  Some studies suggest that nature (as opposed to nurture) plays a much greater role that we fear.  In other words.  God is in control.  We have a responsibility to raise our children in the training and instruction of the Lord.  But God is the one who is the primary shaper of our children.  We all know that kids require a herculean effort to shape.  Then doesn’t it also stand to reason that kids are extraordinarily difficult to screw up?  You can take it easier with your kids.  Don’t live in a kindergarchy.  Brainstorm ways to make meaningful, measurable lifestyle changes regarding your parenting plan.  Dare to heed the advice to parents with grown kids on what they believe is truly important.  Then keep reading.  You’re not busy-less yet.
  5. You are letting the screen strangle your soul.  Is your blog really important?  Do you feel left behind if your Facebook wall is a week stale?  How much time do you waste reading silly articles, gawking at pics, watching stupid pet tricks, writing/reading in the comment threads, thumbing a text, and looking forward to the next spare moment when you’ll get your next fix?  Kids (and those who never grew up), how much time do you “spend” (trans: waste) on video and computer games?  What are your neglecting that is more important in your life?  Not to mention “old” technology like TV, movies, and email.  Are you becoming at addict?  Are you becoming more lazy?  Chances are, Kevin’s gotcha.  Seems everyone today gets caught up in this net.  The point is not be convert to a Luddite existence, but to be intentionally careful not to get choked to death.  Know that the screen kills you softly.  Beware.  Take stock.  Guard your screen-busyness.  And by all means, keep reading.  You need the rest.
  6. You’d better rest yourself before you wreck yourself.  Jesus said, the Sabbath was made for man, and not the other way around.  It’s such a simple truth.  Sabbath rest is a gift.  But we treat this precious present like tube-socks.  “Psst!  Where’s the receipt?”  When it comes to work and busyness, sometimes, no, *oftentimes*, less is more.  I remember reading of a fiercely driven Japanese man who literally worked himself to death.  The poor guy (who probably was quite wealthy considering all the hours he put in at the office) had a heart attack after habitually working long hours seven days a week for a few years straight.  No scheduled days off, no vacation, no ceasing from regular labors to worship his Creator.  Just work, work, work.  Man, that guy must have had the busy-crown.  Must have been hard to deal with the pride that comes will being the best in the world at something.  Imagine the employee of the month plaques on the break-room wall!  Every one awarded to the human Energizer Bunny!  But tragically, he couldn’t sustain it.  He died prematurely.  And now, like the land of Israel during the Exile, he regains the rest he lost during life, his soul “resting” from his labors until Judgment Day.  I doubt Jesus will pronounce the blessing, “Well done!  Good and faithful servant.”  He eschewed the command to rest.  What will Jesus say of you?  Are you not that man’s trajectory, only at a less intense pace?  Time for a wake-up call.  Sometimes when the alarm goes off, we should start resting instead of start working.  Think about it.  Then keep on reading.  You’re almost done with the book.
  7. You suffer more because you don’t expect to suffer at all.  If you’re like me, the primary “suffering” common to your life is better described at inconvenience.  Life is not a walk in the park anymore like it was for Adam and Eve in the Garden.  Life is full of thorns.  Disease.  Sickness.  Sorrows.  Difficult tasks.  Unrewarding tasks.  Life is not always fun.  We live in a fallen world.  Yes, God is redeeming it and will one day re-create it.  But we still face the fallenness in this world.  The kingdom of Satan is waning, but it is still here—alive if not totally well.  The kingdom of God is waxing, but it won’t shine like a full harvest moon until the Last Day when he comes to consummate his growing and spreading kingdom.  Until then, we should expect to suffer.  Not just now and then.  But in some way or another—every single day.  That sounds like a downer, but there is grace in seeing the world this way.  For one thing, you will avoid the naivete of the eternal optimist (Hurray! the glass is full!).  You will ask escape the trap of the eternal pessimist (Drat! the glass is empty!).  Better to be an optimistic realist (Hallelujah! the glass is half-full!).  (Avoid pessimistic realism too—it is a drag on the soul, and discounts the blessed hope of the Christian.  It is in the end a gospel-less realism, which is really no realism at all because it is blind to God’s promises of salvation.)  Expect to suffer in this life now (not just in the past, or in the distant future), and you will be filled with faith as your attention is turned to God’s agenda and purpose for you, and away from your paltry-by-comparison agenda that is in the final analysis all about you.  Suffering for service in God’s kingdom is a more rewarding busyness that suffering for interrupted service in my own little kingdom.  Which king do you suffer for?  Ouch.  Did that hurt?  Hey, no pain, no gain.  Keep reading.

Kevin concludes his journey to get a handle on his own busyness by concentrating on one last thing.  An incisive meditation on the story of busy Martha and her sister Mary helps us to see that busyness is actually a good thing.  Jesus didn’t rebuke her for working.  But his gentle correction was a call to realign our priorities.  It is commonly said that the good is the enemy of the best.  That is the point Jesus is trying to show Martha.  Don’t choke the best (spending time with God, learning his word, talking to him in prayer, enjoying his presence) with the good (service and work, even that which is done for Jesus).  Don’t we all need this reminder?  Especially busy people.  But also those who are not so busy.  Kevin discovers that crazy busy is bad, but busyness that is managed with properly ordered priorities and regulated times of rest is actually good.  If you’re a person who lives a quiet, contemplative life, who is rarely busy with much of anything, then perhaps you need a push in the opposite direction.  The Bible says faith without works is dead.  Are you working in God’s kingdom, serving others?  Or are you “fat and happy,” essentially serving yourself?  Whether you are crazy busy, just regular busy, or not at all busy, you probably need to read Kevin DeYoung’s book on busyness.  Don’t listen to that whisper telling you that this extended meditative review will suffice.  I hope I’ve whet your appetite to dig a little deeper into your own busyness.  My repetitive advice still holds true.  Keep reading.

You can read chapters 1 and 7 here.

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