As I’ve done interviews, engaged in conversations, and read a few reviews about Crazy Busy, one on the recurring questions is whether I am actually any less crazy busy after writing the book?

It’s a fair question.

The book doesn’t end with a dramatic “that was then, but this is now!” chapter. In part, that was a deliberate choice. There is place for personal books that end with clear success–the dieting book where the author loses 50 pounds, the financial planning book where the author gets out of debt and saves a million dollars, the book on conflict where the writer applies his principles to his real life problems.

There is also a place for personal books that finish by focusing on something other than the author’s personal transformation. I don’t think the only way to write a marriage book is for the couple to be having the time of its life by the end of the story, or for a book on prayer to wrap up with a testimony about how many hours the author now spends on his knees. I chose to have the book end with an exhortation to sit at the fit of Jesus in the midst of our busy lives, rather than with a snapshot of how much my life had changed.

But to be fair, the choice was only partly deliberate. It was also a choice made out of necessity. I really did write the book to learn and grow, and at the end of the writing process–which was when the manuscript was due–there were still plenty of things I was learning and lessons I was trying to incorporate into my life. There wasn’t an opportunity to look back and evaluate the big picture of my busyness.

Perhaps now is a good time. It is certainly legitimate to wonder if the author of Crazy Busy is a little more sanely busy almost a year after writing the book. So here’s a picture of the work in progress.

Spiritual Diagnosis

The most helpful aspect of working on the book for me was better understanding why I so often feel the way I feel and why I have gotten myself into such predictably busy patterns. I didn’t set out to write a “how to” book as much as a “how come” book. I wanted to find an answer to the question, “Why are we the way we are and why do we feel so overwhelmed?” Diagnosis is often more than half the cure.

In particular, I see how pride subtly influences ministry decisions and pushes me to be busy with things I could leave alone. I’ve gotten better about planning for others to preach at least one of our services when I know my week is going to be full. I’ve gotten better at letting other pastors or elders care for members of the body without feeling like I need to be present in every difficult circumstance. I think I’ve also improved when it comes to the “terror of total obligation,” realizing that there is no reason to feel guilty for simply doing what I can where I am.

The insight that we are, in a way, made to be busy has also been helpful for me. Instead of descending into a cycle of distress, discouragement, and self-pity when the busyness dam breaks on a given day (or week or month or season), I try to remember that God said there will be days like this. While God has made no promise to bail us out of every stupid mess we get ourselves into, I’m learning to trust that when life is overwhelming and there is nothing I can do about it, that his grace will be sufficient for today and his mercies really will be new every morning.

Bad Habits

Last week at our monthly prayer meeting for area pastors, I spoke for a few minutes about busyness. The men shared where they are prone to feel overwhelmed and make poor decisions. For me, my worst habits have to do with technology, rest, and rhythm. For better or worse (probably a lot of the latter and a little of the former), I am a compulsive email checker. I check dozens of time every day–in the morning, at night, at home, at work, in lines, during commercials, walking to work, before I got to bed, when I get up, pretty much all the time. That means my inbox is usually remarkable empty. I don’t leave emails sitting around. I feel under compulsion to take care of them immediately or very soon after I get them. I respond as promptly to personal emails as anyone I know (don’t tell Justin Taylor!). The price for this fastidiousness is the debilitating sense (addiction?) that I can’t stay away for long. What if a really cool message comes in? What if they all pile up on my day off? What if I miss something I need to know right now?

I was talking to a friend at church on Sunday who had an emergency in the family and had to miss the better part of three weeks at work. He was lamenting how many emails he had when he got back. But then had made the comment I suspected he might: “You know what, by the time I got back, most of those emails were old news and had been taken care of without me.” That’s a lesson I need to learn. I’ve always considered it wise counsel to set aside certain hours to take care of email, and then to shut it down the rest of the day, but living by this good advice has proven harder than giving it.

If there is one simple, yet increasing difficult thing, I could do to feel less busy it would be distance myself from the screen more consistently and for longer stretches. This would help tremendously with the rhythms of work and leisure, with a more restful Sabbath, and with the gnawing sense that there is some new task or new fulfillment waiting for me in the palm of my hand.

Practical Steps

So in the midst of this internal reflection and self-diagnosis, what practical steps have I taken to be less crazy busy?  Have things actually gotten better? Several things come to mind, in no particular order.

1. No more tweeting at the dinner table. That’s not a mistake I was going to make twice.

2. I will spend a little money if it saves a lot of time. Twenty bucks for the high school kid to mow the lawn every other week is money very well spent.

3. My elders put me on a “no blurbing” diet. Most of us have a hard time saying no to certain requests. My elders saw my struggle and made it simple: you can’t do this for the foreseeable future.

4. We have a wonderful babysitter lined up for every other Tuesday so my wife and I can go out on a date.

5. It hasn’t been my initiative, but we are getting better as church about canceling meetings when the agenda can wait or when the few items can be taken care of over the phone.

6. I find it helpful to do my sermon prep and the rest of my work in different locations. You’ve probably been going to the coffee shop for years. I don’t drink coffee, but even finding another room in the church–away from my computer and my phone–has been hugely beneficial.

7. I try to put my evenings at home into different categories. If I don’t plan ahead, I can feel guilty that I’m not getting work done once the kids are in bed. It’s helped to think this night is for bills, this is for catching up on housework, this is for watching HGTV with my wife, this is for reading PhD books. It doesn’t always fall into such neat patterns, but establishing the categories has made the productive nights more productive and the ones that are supposes to be fun more fun.

8. We just established an extremely important committee at church. All along I assumed I would be on it (and likely do most of the work). In the end, we didn’t put any of our pastors on the committee. Several elders and deacons volunteered and are eager to get to work. They will do a fantastic job. I’m grateful not to be on the committee and wonder how many other committees I didn’t have to be on!

9. I try to come home for lunch more often. I eat better. I get to see the kids. Once in awhile I even take a short nap.

I still have some of the struggles with busyness. I can’t help but think of Ruth Graham’s tombstone “Under Construction: Thank you for your patience.” I’m not there yet, and I won’t get there until I’m Up There. But by God’s grace, I think there’s been progress in the last year.

What about you? What practical suggestions do you have for making your crazy busyness a little more sane?

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27 thoughts on “Am I Still Crazy Busy?”

  1. Donnie Law says:

    I think most of realize we are too busy and it has an impact on our relationship with God and others. So for me diagnosis is not the problem. I’m disappointed there is a not a feel good chapter at the end where you (someone probably busier than I) reveals his transformation. In many situations it’s hard to take advice from someone who doesn’t practice what they preach. Especially if it’s a short/practical/how-to type book.

    I read Just Do Something and it’s something I refer to on an almost monthly basis so I’m going to give Crazy Busy a shot! I’m looking forward to reading Crazy Busy.

  2. LouG. says:

    I think the “Crazy Busy” syndrome hits us all in ways that most of us don’t even see. The impact of being too busy came clearer to me recently when I emailed a friend, someone who I’ve known for nearly a decade, and received no response or acknowledgement whatsoever. So, I wrote back and asked for his feedback and he responded within a half hour with a five paragraph explanation about how busy he is, how many things he is involved with, how he has had to prioritize his activities, and how he can’t always answer every email he receives from everyone who contacts him. Because we have been friends for so long, his response was very hurtful to me. He had enough time to compose a lengthy defense of why he has been too busy to acknowledge my email, but still has had absolutely nothing to say about my original note of encouargement and query. This exchange helped me to see how I might actually be sinning against brothers and sisters in Christ when I respond to their communication attempts with the “too busy” excuse, rather than acknowledging them and being forthright. When I excuse myself with the “too busy” justification, I’m telling them plainly that they are not as important to me as anything else I’m working on, which is not Christlike at all.

    I do look forward to finishing the book in the next week or so..Only on Chapter 1 now, though.

  3. Daniel says:

    My greatest battle is with this thought process: my busyness defines my value as a person. If I am very busy, I prove my worth much more.

    Obviously — as you mentioned — this is a pride issue. In a catechism study with our small group, we discussed the implications of God’s command to keep holy the day of rest. One of the implications is this: God hates the workaholic attitude just as much as He hates laziness.

    This is good theology. But the tough bit is putting it into practice.

  4. Jonathan Hunnicutt says:

    Brother, I was quite harsh about your understanding of the mission of the church in comments in a previous post.

    After reading this post, I have more sympathy for where you are coming from. Your concern to say no to good things to focus on the best things seems similar to your arguments about the purpose of the church.

    I genuinely wonder: Do you think that the church is too busy doing good things and not the great things? (Social justice vs. evangelism) Or perhaps are you projecting your own personal issue onto the church’s mission at large?

    Obviously, it’s probably both, but how much of each and how can you tell? It’s funny how God dealing with specific sin in our lives can both give us unique insight to others blindness to that sin and also cause us to see that sin where it might not be. Or maybe that’s just me…

    Do you talk about any of this in Crazy Busy?

  5. Josh says:

    I haven’t read Kevin’s book, but busyness is a huge problem within the Church. I think busyness is a tool satan uses in order to keep us from doing the eternal things in life. The way I’ve taken this blog, Kevin is saying God is showing him amazing amounts of Grace right now and it actually changing how he will operate in all of life and changing his relationship with him. That is amazing stuff. Maybe he didn’t give us answers in the book because God wants each one of us to ask the Spirit.

    What’s crazy is that about 6 years ago God used a book called the 4 hour work week to change me and slow me down. Now don’t get me wrong, my purposes for reading that book were completely selfish but God used them to begin the process of teaching me to slow down. I honestly can’t remember anything from that book except that I must control my schedule. If not, everyone else will control it for me. (ie… my life is spent doing what others want me to do.) On the front end you may have to train yourself to do this by setting a schedule so that you only return emails and calls at certain times of the day. You may be able to return the call at that moment but sometimes you just have to say no so you can keep control of your schedule. Then over time it becomes natural and you don’t have to be so set in stone with the schedule of doing certain things.

    With all that being said, busyness really comes from a condition of the heart. It comes from a place of unbelief. It comes from thinking I have to do everything or it won’t get done. Good leaders don’t always do things, they make sure they get done. This conversation can easily be approached from a secular position and we can get into good leadership skills, but if we address the unbelief of the heart, the Spirit (our counselor), will move us into a place of being good leaders and unbusying ourselves.

    I had the privilege of working with an area director in Young Life for 3 years and he taught me about the “Holy No” as he calls it. He would continually teach us that we must say no to things (good things) in order to slow down and say yes to the things the Spirit is leading us to. He also has a holistic approach to ministry so his all parts of his life are where he does ministry, not just 9 to 5.

    Honestly this is a topic that I could speak on for hours and for some reason God has put me in a place where I’ve been able to slow down and say no to things. His grace is so abundant. I can’t even begin to describe the freedom in Him he has brought me through unbusying myself.

    One thing I think we have to remember is our culture tells us our value and self-worth come from our success and our success is usually defined by how much money we make and how busy we are. Even some very well-meaning Christians who we look to for guidance may point you to busyness disguised as “hardwork”. It is a huge blind spot in the Church. Always slow down and listen to the Spirit. If he hasn’t given you an answer just keep listening. He will, just read John 14-16 if you have your doubts.

  6. Kevin DeYoung says:

    Jonathan, I hit on some of these issues in my chapter “The Terror of Total Obligation.” Certainly there are many dangers out there, but I do see many churches turning their attention to “social justice” issues as if they are equally central to the church’s calling as proclamation and discipleship. God bless.

  7. Claire says:

    Great timing….I sent an e-mail telling a friend I was “too busy”, and your blog was next in my in-box. I think I will examine my priorities, the motives of those priorities, and start slashing the “to do” list. Thanks for the insight.

  8. Curt Day says:

    I am less busy now because I am in the process of retiring. But I found that much busyness has to do with being more involved with the impersonal rather than the personal, with things and gadgets rather than with people.

  9. Tony Z says:

    I’m sorry, but I’d have to disagree. When people speak about Christian authors with 50 books and wonder how they have time to write all those without neglecting all of their christian duties… church, family, work, evangelism, etc…. it’s a fair concern. One question I ask is whether the Author actually has something to say, or just seems to like hearing himself talk on a variety of subjects (i don’t necessarily think this is you)… but it is important to note that a celebrity-pastor-writing-bunches-o-books thing is a CULTURAL phenomenon, but a dangerous one, considering you will be held accountable for every word you speak. A book is teaching. And there are way too many people speaking on subjects they don’t understand. It depends on how the subject is approached. I am not married, and I think it would be ridiculous for you to read a book that describes marriage by myself. But not only this, I think that what you are proposing is unbiblical. Teaching on a subject (that you imply is “problematic” ) where you haven’t seen any personal transformation. Thats called hypocrisy. And it is counter to the pieces and parts of the Body of Christ working together. I don’t want to hear about how to beat porn by a porn addict. The church needs to feed off of one anothers strengths and weaknesses rather than have one central figure speaking on many subjects. I feel you should read a book about how to be less busy, not write one.

  10. Tony Z says:

    sorry…. i actually thought you were saying that this was more of a “how to” be less busy book (by a person who isn’t less busy) and i re-read and see it is more of an analysis of WHY are we busy….so while i still think its a fine line, disregard my last comment. i meant no offense. i just want to see the church operate well. and from segregating age groups to having super christian leader people speaking on all subjects rather than humbly learning from those with experience with certain issues….. well, it bothers me. if the book is just an analysis though, no worries :)

  11. faithworks says:

    love the photo kev. Where did you get it from?

  12. DLE says:

    As it entered the 20th century, the American Church seemed better equipped to address difficult issues of the day. Today, we seem incapable of any kind of genuine fixes. Instead, the Church seems to encourage people to make peace with problems, “equipping” people to modify their individual behavior to suit the problem rather than fixing the core societal issue.

    Why is it that we seem incapable of asking whether the lifestyles we have adopted as 21st century Americans are foundationally at odds with God’s intentions for mankind? Could it be that our wholesale adoption of the industrial revolution as a positive was flawed and mistaken? By not questioning the way we live and work as a society, has the Church helped create a world that now assaults the very heart of who we are as human beings? How are we complicit in creating the very issue that now wars against us? And how do we as a Church fix that problem at a systemic rather than individualistic level?

    Forgive me for saying this, but no one with a national stage in contemporary Christianity in the West is asking these questions, much less offering any wisdom toward stuffing that genie back in the bottle. I have not read De Young’s book, but I pray that he has taken some steps toward energizing the faithful toward a systemic fix and not just offering the same self-help resolution or merely pointing out an obvious problem that we then do nothing about.

  13. Clyde Godwin says:

    This is a critical area for individual and corporate repentance. We need to ask for the grace of repentance, ongoing repentance. As TK writes, ” Indeed, pervasive, all-of-life repentance is the best sign that we are growing deeply and rapidly into the character of Jesus. Boom! Pray for me as I pray you and our churches to lead the way through Gospel driven, centered, transformation in this crucial area of the obedience of faith.

  14. Josh says:

    DLE:

    I think you may not have run across the people that are addressing this at a national level but it is being addressed. Try Jeff Vanderstelt at Soma in Tacoma, WA. Everyone associated with that network is dealing with this. Also Mike Been and company at 3DM. In the UK, Steve Timmis and Tim Chester.

  15. Marlene Sanderse says:

    Kevin,

    You wrote: “. . . . to sit at the fit of Jesus in the midst of our busy lives, rather than with a snapshot of how much my life had changed.”

    I think you meant to write: . .to sit at the ‘feet’ of Jesus in the. . . .

  16. Jim Clemens says:

    Kevin,

    #9 “I eat better” Really? I know you too well to believe that.

  17. DLE says:

    Josh, thank you for those names. I did more research on them, but did not see how they are addressing this issue. I’m not convinced that they have a “national stage” to the extent that others do (their names are new to me), but if they are indeed speaking to the concessions the Church in America has made to the American Dream and to the styles of work that are increasingly damaging our families and our relationship with God, then more power to ‘em.

  18. Josh says:

    DLE:

    You are correct. They aren’t as well known on the national stage as your standard names of Piper, Platt, etc…. I’m not so sure they really will be either because their different approach to being the church isn’t just some new missional buzzword. It is a complete life change. A change at the core. As I went back and read your message these guys, especially Soma are addressing exactly what you speak of. It isn’t as clear to you because they are addressing the problems at the core, the root.

    I’ve come to realize this isn’t a problem that will be fixed by loudly screaming about it to everyone around you. Living and walking with Jesus happens as the Spirit moves in peoples’ hearts. You can tell a person all day long but they have to see and experience it. It has to be caught. They have to be shown how the Gospel is the good news. Exactly why Jesus had 12 guys live lots of life with him.

    There are some systemic problems that the western church is blind to that seem blaringly obvious to me but for some reason God works in his methodical ways and not mine.

    Josh

  19. Josh says:

    When I said their teaching isn’t some missional buzzword, I meant basically they aren’t writing books that are in LifeWay giving everyone a quick thing to do to perform more for God or understand Grace better.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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