How Can Busyness Become an Idol?

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Busy is the state most of us find ourselves in most often!

I marvel at how women in days past washed clothes by hand and yet still had time to crocket lace tablecloths or sew beautiful quilts — not just utilitarian things but works of art to brighten their homes.

I don’t know anyone personally who “has the time” to make lace. I surely don’t! Yet we have machines to do half our chores and we get our food from shiny stores rather than laboring to coax it from the earth.

So How Have We Gotten So Busy?

Perhaps, busy is easier than relationships. Perhaps, distracted social media pursuits are less complicated than real life. Perhaps, the hustle and bustle stroke our fragile egos more than we realize. Perhaps, we’ve set busy on a throne in our hearts without even realizing it.

Last year, our family made an effort to pursue purposeful time to rest together as a family each week: Scripture reading, and what we soon realized was essentially taking communion together as a family.

One of the realizations that came with it was my need to find tangible, practical ways to pursue rest in Christ. I had a set of steps to pursue that clean slate of forgiveness.

I had a process for re-centering my identity in Christ. I had a process of cultivating the fruit of the spirit in my life. But rest? Real spiritual rest? I had no mechanism for it. Our family didn’t either. And we needed it.

Making time and space for a sabbath rest is not an easy task. Our family didn’t do it perfectly, but we have come to love it. At first, before we found our rhythm with it, we were so stressed out trying to rest we wondered what in the world the Lord meant for this ordinance.

And in truth, we almost gave up it seemed like it was just too hard to joyfully clear this time for worshipping together. We’ve had to cut back on and sift non-essential tasks from the schedule, hone the house projects to just what was necessary, and guard that family time of rest through preparations.

Remembering Christ’s death on the cross until He returns is just as He instructed us to do (1 Corinthians 11:24). With a heart of thanks for what He has done for me and full of hope as I consider the day, I put my tired heart and mind where it needs to be once again.

Before, the place it was in during the week was in the middle of to-do lists and business calls that always came at the wrong moment, homeschool projects, errands, and just life.

But now, the dinner table that was nearly always covered in homeschool work and yet-to-be-put-away laundry, became a place where I find peace. The most important work in the world has already been done and now I get to come marvel at it, celebrate it, rest in it.

This dinner tradition has become that process my heart needed and lacked to do something tangible and practical to drag my heart out of its state of busyness. Out of the marketplace of idols we so cheaply sell our soul to.

There are two commandments given most often in the Old Testament: do not fear and honor the Sabbath.

God knows we need the Sabbath. He made it especially for us. The angels don’t have a sabbath. The animals don’t have a sabbath. Neither does the plant world. Humans need rest that is unique from the rest of Creation.

Why Do We Deny Ourselves Rest?

To deny our need for rest is to deny who we are and how we’ve been made.

And yet so often that is exactly what we do when we inundate our lives with busy activities. Embracing our need for rest, embracing our inability to accomplish that which rescues our souls, obeying the command to rest every week is a place of humility.

Busyness makes us feel important, wanted, in demand. It strokes our precious egos and reassures us that we are needed. It becomes a demanding, consuming idol that robs our lives, yet distracts us enough that most of the time we aren’t forced to even notice the damage it has done.

Busyness proclaims the opposite to each of these re-centering truths. Busyness lies to us, assures us that we are our own, that we can work hard and accomplish our goals (not that goals are bad), that everything we have or will have is from our own getting and doing, and that others need us — we don’t need others or God. Busyness, if we let it, can become a God-replacing idol.

One of the most well-known biblical illustrations about busyness was brought to us through the contrasting choices of Mary and Martha.

But the Lord answered and said to her, Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).

Martha had a legitimate reason to be busy. Jesus and all His followers had dropped by for a visit. Of course, she wanted dinner to be just perfect — fit for her King! But all the other people crowded around must have been so overwhelming as she tried to show hospitality to everyone.

And where was her sister? Sitting. Adoringly collecting dust at Jesus’ feet while Martha worked up a sweat taking care of everyone.

I can see Martha’s flushed cheeks from working over the fire, her hair escaping her head covering something like how mine always becomes a total, crazy, frizzy, mind-of-its-own mess when I am working hard.

Her robes were covered with flour, sauces, and who knows what, while her sister sat there with flawless hair, not a drop of sweat, and her robes crisp and clean, her face beaming up at Jesus just having the time of her life.

Martha wanted to please Jesus. In her own way, I’m sure all her efforts started from a worshipful heart. But something happened in the in-between part of her service, and it got a bit twisted up. I’ve had that happen to me more times than I can count. Maybe you have as well.

I’ve often wondered if Martha hadn’t been slaving away in the kitchen, would Jesus have pulled another loaves-and-fishes miracle to provide for everyone? If Mary was doing the right thing, what was His plan to tend everyone?

I don’t suppose I will get my answer this side of heaven, but I do know, that strangely when my work and busyness cloud my view of Jesus or His people, and I start to feel like Martha, the work is better left undone until I get my heart on straight again — or rather until I stop long enough for Him to get my heart on straight again.

The writer of Hebrews urges us to be mindful of our hearts and to make sure we are resting in Christ’s accomplished work for us (Hebrews 4:11).

Why Does This Matter?

The opposite of rest leads to disobedience. Rest requires intentionality. And it is bizarrely difficult to rest when we are exhausted. This is one of the reasons God calls us for a weekly reset so that we don’t get so lost in the tornado of life we can’t take care of ourselves.

We need the self-control to not over-commit and over-schedule our lives so that we don’t get to those places of exhaustion that lead us into disobedience. And the wrestle to purge our lives of the busy is worth every bit of struggle it will take to get there! (Matthew 11:28-30).

Our Lord leads us this way. With rest, with gentleness, with humility. If we are led in any other spirit than this, it isn’t the Lord leading us. And we’ve followed an idol.

May the Lord give you the wisdom to see the soul spaces where busyness has robbed you and the grace to de-throne the idol that busyness can be, and replace it, instead. with the kind of worship and rest, Mary illustrated for us at the feet of Jesus.

For further reading:

Can Being True to Ourselves Become an Idol?

How Is Jesus Our Sabbath Rest?

How Can We Enter God’s Rest?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Tijana87

April Motl is a pastor’s wife, homeschool mom, and women’s ministry director. When she’s not waist-deep in the joys and jobs of motherhood, being a wife, and serving at church, she writes and teaches for women. You can find more encouraging resources from April here and here

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