What Moves Us from Busy to Busyness?




I need to confess that I really cringe when I hear the word “busy” or “busyness”. I also see a differentiation of their meanings or connotation. Let me tell you a bit about how I differentiate them.


When I use the word “busy” I see it as a season when true demands are occurring in my life (or the life of someone else) that require my attention. In order to accomplish what is needed, they are not really optional or easily deleted from my calendar. I have had a number of those seasons in my life, but one stands out as I write this.


In 1995 I was working as a marriage and family therapist in a private Christian practice thirty minutes north from our home. My husband was doing the same kind of work in an agency forty-five minutes south of our home. Both of our children were living hundreds of miles away east and south.


Unexpectedly my father (someone who had been very healthy) developed pneumonia that was non-responsive to medication. He was hospitalized and in the midst of that my mother was hospitalized for her ongoing problems with congestive heart failure. The hospital was thirty minutes from each of our offices and our home.


Additionally, my brother who lived with my parents was participating daily in a sheltered workshop setting. His condition had been slipping as he added emotional problems to cerebral palsy and developmental delays. When my parents were hospitalized my brother needed to live with us and we needed to negotiate all his needs and issues and make arrangements for him to ride the bus to the workshop.


To say I was busy would likely be an understatement. There was no one else who could help or handle talking with doctors, making medical decisions, handle my brother, or handle my clients when my time with them was part of our needed income.


My dad died five and a half weeks later and that turned everything up a notch in all of these situations, as I was responsible for all arrangements and dealing with a devastated mother and confused brother. The word “busy” cannot begin to describe that period of time that worsened further when my mother died exactly three months to the date of my father’s death.


Even without more details, I have given you more than enough to provide an example of “busy”. Seasons such as that one and others any of us might face require much grace and often just putting one foot in front of another.


The word “busyness” suggests to me something different. To me “busyness’ can be a time or a season of any length where we choose to stack our calendars with things that keep us running from dawn to dusk and beyond that. Some of the things on the calendar are necessary, but we also have additions we chose to add beyond work or school.


I have also heard more than a few times these very people talk about their busyness or of being “too busy” in ways that sound like it is an excuse from relationship or a prop to demonstrate how important or needed they are.


“Busyness” to me can start to look like drivenness. This is far more of an issue that can become a habit born out of our sense of not being enough, not having what it takes, feeling devalued, feeling shame, or feeling alone.


It exhausts us.

img_2004Chuck DeGroat describes it this way,

“We exhaust ourselves in the restless pursuit of something that will satisfy. And tragically, we sometimes resist and sabotage real living and real freedom when they’re offered to us.”


You see we are often seeking this level of activity to deal with our fragmented heart and the feelings, thoughts, and whispers that come from it.


“People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.” (Thomas Merton)


We also run into those expectations we have set for ourselves on top of many set for us. In order to feel better about ourselves, we often step it up one more notch seeking to be perfect to soothe the anguish we are beginning to experience more and more often. We cannot attain perfection in everything so we might try targeting only one or two, but once again the target usually eludes us and our hearts and lives are pulled apart even more.


In Wholeheartedness: Busyness, Exhaustion, and Healing the Divided Self, Chuck DeGroat describes it.

“We are creatures of such complexity that it seems impossible for us to eliminate the need to be perfect. Junkies for approval, we adjust our personal mirrors to reflect back what others want to see in and from us—appropriately modest in church, creative in the kitchen, circumspect at work, compelling in our many presentations of ourselves.”


 As our approval seeking, people pleasing habits developed gradually over time, we now find ourselves exhausted and separated from our hearts, unsure of who we are to be and where God is in the midst of it. When we don’t measure up to the standards we set for ourselves, our internal messages are also highly critical. Those feeling components of self that Maurice Wagner identifies are beat up. We have no consistent sense of competence, no confidence in our worth, and unsure of where we belong or to whom or what.


What is also true is that we bring some of these habits of striving and always doing and doing more into our ministry service. Even in our church activity shame (the fuel for perfectionism) can be used to hide. All those messages over the course of our lives where parts of our hearts were hidden or broken off, are things we use to keep us from feeling vulnerable. We have been tricked into believing we are a disappointment to everyone around us and even to God.


Many times our hearts are not whole even when we kneel in worship on Sundays or lift our voice in praise.


When we lose our hearts, we lose everything.


As Sandra Wilson writes in Into Abba’s Arms,

 “With ancient echoes of Eden whispering in our souls, we’ve been longing for belonging ever since. And with our sinful self-wills screaming for obedience, we’ve been trying to satisfy that longing every which way but God’s.”


 Instead of trying “to do” lists of self-care that we may know, but often do not connect us with our hearts; let’s learn more about how to reconnect with our hearts in my next post.




16 thoughts on “What Moves Us from Busy to Busyness?

  1. When I taught school, I disliked the busy work given. I found it easier and more helpful to give the kids the needed work to be completed and then allow them to read quietly. Removing the stress of the endless work helped boost the confidence of many of those kids. I love the Thomas Merton quote, sadly it is true for so many. Thanks, Pam for sharing with Thankful Thursdays.

  2. You definitely understand what a season of busy is when suddenly those unexpected events happen! The ‘why’ behind any busyness is always something to ponder isn’t it? I had to recently learn to stop doing to get grounded in who I am (and perfectly okay even if ‘not’ doing.) I learned that doing for ‘people pleasing’ or for validation from the world just left me empty and then trying even harder. I could only stop the cycle by stopping completely and it was hard!! And it is always a daily journey of choices but ultimately I know God wants me to be free in Him only.

  3. I personally would rather not be busy anyway. ha. It’s hard to find the right balance sometimes between all the opportunities out there and our time to do them in. But seeking busyness as a goal is definitely off track. Thanks for your encouragement here to not use busyness as a mile marker for our worth.

    1. Thanks, Lisa! I think we need to have our ears tuned to His heart and voice as we consider how the gift of time He gives us each day is spent, but so many other voices compete we can sometimes lose track of His.

  4. “Junkies for approval, we adjust our personal mirrors to reflect back what others want to see in and from us”
    I remember reading these words the first time and groaning inwardly.
    Committing myself anew today to the task of eliminating that word “busy” from my daily vocabulary.
    Thanks, Pam.
    You’ve brought me up short, again!

  5. Thank-you for sharing this post. It’s such an important message in, especially in our day and age. What a regret it would be to wake up at the end of our lives and realize we were busy for all the wrong reasons. Blessings!

  6. Yes! Your distinction between Busy and Busyness is so true! But even more, this last line stood out to me: “Instead of trying “to do” lists of self-care that we may know, but often do not connect us with our hearts; let’s learn more about how to reconnect with our hearts” Wow. Even in trying to care for ourselves, we can get caught up in the busyness routine. Thank your for these great and thoughtful words! May I listen more to God’s whispers in my heart! –Blessings!

  7. Hi Pam! Yikes. My heart goes out to you and that was so long ago. You’re right, ‘busy’ didn’t even cover it.
    I think I can be my own worst enemy when it comes to ‘busyness’ although I’m trying to rein myself in a bit. Sometimes busy=worth in my head and that’s so wrong. Taking care of ourselves should come first, and then we can help others. As you showed so eloquently, God will challenge us enough. Why complicate that?

    1. Thanks, Ceil, for reading with your heart and head as well. I think that can be true for all of us. I think we can be especially challenged in saying “no” to ministry opportunities or desires when we are already stretched too thin.

  8. What a superb post, Pam. Your distinction between busy and busyness is wise, urgent, and spot on. Busy can be productive, joyful, life-giving.

    But endless busyness? Even the word is exhausting!

    Thanks for sharing words that truly matter, friend …

    1. Thanks, sweet friend! Your encouragement is especially well received today as I work on a new writing project that is filing me with excitement and terror at the same time!!!

  9. Pam, I like your differentiation between busy and business. I’m always fighting the stuff that jumps in and steals the important. Thanks for you great thoughts!

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