I am so tired of chirping about my busyness. We all do this, accepting the perpetual drain of our energy and the greed of the calendar as the implacable reality of modern life. We are busy, and there is nothing to be done about it, no matter our will for it to be otherwise. I am reminded that busyness is a particular malady of the city. I can’t help but feel that the most recent years, the years we’ve been in Toronto, have been unusually frantic. Whether this is technology constantly increasing the speed at which we live or whether it’s the reigning ethos of all cities, I only know that life grows more and more crowded and that somehow, I feel less human in the clamor and compunction.
Even this – this writing to which I set my intention more than two years ago now (yes, remember when you woke up to a new blog post every day?) is difficult to do. There are writers groups’ in which I now participate. These new writer friends write wonderful essays, which I now feel a certain obligation to read and reflect upon. The book I’ve written is to be marketed, and a week has been swallowed in the administrative details of asking people to read and review it, scratching down their addresses, completing the marketing questionnaire whose questions I meet with a troubling perplexity: “What is the central these of your book?” I find myself busied by the periphery of the writing life – and writing less than I want.
I had wondered at the beginning of this year what should be my writing goals. There was an internal goading – set goals! – and the fear that without them, I would be adrift. But I could never commit to anything. When could I get that new book proposal finished? How many articles could I reasonably finish a month? What books did I want to read this year? How was I actually going to get better at this craft?
But I’m back to the page this morning, having no more answers than I did at the new year’s arrival. I don’t know from day to day what a “realistic” and “reasonable” writing life actually looks like. I only know that my actual life – the one I live away from my desk – requires my flexibility and presence. Not to mention I’m up to my elbows in laundry.
How do we find coherence in all the disparate parts of our lives – our various selves and our competing obligations? This is a question that Richard Foster tackles in a beautiful chapter in his book, Freedom of Simplicity. He describes a particularly fragmented season of his own life where he was busied with good—and alienated from God.
He had been reading from Thomas Kelly’s, Testament of Devotion. “We feel honestly the pull of many obligations and try to fulfill them all. And we are unhappy, uneasy, strained, oppressed, and fearful we shall be shallow.” “Yes,” writes Richard Foster, “I had to confess that I was in all those words.”
Kelly again: “We have hints that there is a way of life vastly richer and deeper than all this hurried existence, a life of unhurried serenity and peace and power. If only we could slip over into that Center! [And] we have seen and know some people who seem to have found this deep Center of living, where the fretful calls of life are integrated, where No as well as Yes can be said with confidence.”
“Quietly,” Foster concludes,” I asked God to give me the ability to say No when it was right and good. . . I was deeply committed (to God), but I was not integrated or unified.”
Yes. This is exactly the state in which I usually find myself. Splintered between many goods, all for which I feel some degree of responsibility, and inwardly anxious about their demands. This is not peace. But what to do about it?
Which may be the most fearful question of our lives: what do we do about the sins we recognize in ourselves as the oldest and most chronic, the sins by which we’ve actually built our lives and made it, in some way, habitable? The sins, were we to be most honest, that we cherish? What to do about those sins that are now us?
I’ve written a book about desire, so of course, I want to affirm that repentance begins with desire. Do I really want to be done with this? Do I really want to walk in newness of life? Or is my sin consoling for its familiarity? Am I afraid of the disorientation of giving it up?
Yes, desire is a necessary and important beginning. But Richard Foster also writes this:
“The inner integration I have described in the longing of many. We weary of competing commitments and exhausting schedules. We desire to be obedient to God in all things, and have a growing knowledge that this frantic scramble is not his will. We yearn to enter the deep silences that give unity and force to our service.
Desire, however, is not enough. If we expect to enter the inward simplicity for which we were created, we will need to order our lives in specific ways. The things we do will not give us simplicity of heart, but they will put us in the place where we can receive it.”
I think he’s talking about intention, commitment, courage, habit, discipline, and practice. Repentance will not only produce renewed and holy desire. It will not only produce a change of heart. It will catalyze obedience.
What is this obedience for me? I’m not yet sure about this, but Foster has an interesting exercise for those of us who feel busied to near-death. I’ll admit, I do NOT want to do it.
Keep record of your activities for a month, rank what you’ve done according to the following (1. Absolutely essential 2. Important by not essential 3. Helpful but not necessary 4. Trivial), and “ruthlessly eliminate all of the last two categories and 20% of the first two.”
“We are too busy only because we want to be too busy.”
Maybe this is word for all of us feeling hurried and hustled by life, driven away from the Center who is Christ.