Crazy Busy: The Book

Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book about a (Really) Problem. It’s a catchy title. The trailer is the funniest book trailer I’ve ever watched. (Admittedly, I could count the number of book trailers I’ve ever watched on one hand.) Better still, it’s a book by Kevin DeYoung (plus one) with practical wisdom about a relevant issue (plus two).

Busyness can be a big problem for our spiritual lives, DeYoung explains. It can “ruin our joy” (26), “rob our hearts” (28), and “cover up the rot in our souls” (30). One of the quotes that stuck with me most was from the section about robbing our hearts: “How many moments of pain are wasted because we never sat still enough to learn from them?” (30) DeYoung wants us to realise that busyness can cause real problems for our Christian lives.

It makes sense, really. I know that feeling busy can make me feel stressed–or rather, that I can use busyness as an excuse for feeling stressed. Being stressed doesn’t naturally coincide with being peaceful or joyful or thankful and considering that those are qualities Christians are meant to possess, that certainly poses a problem.

So why do we have this problem of busyness? That’s what the bulk of the book is about. (As DeYoung explains at the end, it’s certainly possible to be busy for legitimate reasons. But he deals with the wrong reasons first.) He has seven reasons. I’ll just mention some of them here.

We’re busy because we’re proud (chapter 3). DeYoung creatively comes up with a list of many “p” words that all have pride at their root, such as wanting “pats on the back” or “pity”. We can’t always figure out our motives for what we do, he admits, but he suggests this question as a good beginning: “Am I trying to do good or to make myself look good?” (39)

We’re busy because we don’t set priorities (chapter 5). DeYoung explains that doing some things well means saying “no” to other things. Jesus is a good example of this. “He understood that all the good things he could do were not necessarily the things he ought to do” (55).

Chapter 7 “suggest[s] three ways in which the digital revolution is an accomplice to our experience of being crazy busy” (80). Perhaps, DeYoung suggests, you’re repeatedly sucked in to your digital devices, perhaps pointlessly surfing the net is making you listless, or perhaps the constant hum of things always calling for your attention, the apparent impossibility of every being truly alone, is distracting you. If these are problems for you (and I know they are for me) then this chapter has some suggestions for you.

The last of the seven reasons flips the coin: maybe, DeYoung suggests, we’re busy because we’re meant to be. Not because we’ve sinned or been unwise in the ways he’s suggested in the previous chapters, but because we’re doing what God has called us to do even when it’s hard and overwhelming.

That’s ok.  Busyness isn’t a problem in and of itself, he says. “The busyness that’s bad is not the busyness of work, but the busyness that works hard at the wrong things” (102). Busyness is also an attitude issue. “It’s possible to live your days in a flurry of hard work, serving, and bearing burdens, and to do so with the right character and a right dependence on God so that it doesn’t feel crazy busy. By the same token, it’s possible to feel amazingly stressed and frenzied while actually accomplishing very little” (102).

While there is much practical wisdom throughout the book, in his final chapter DeYoung narrows in on what he sees as the most important thing of all: that whatever else we do or don’t do with our time, we must make time with Jesus a priority.

“It’s not wrong to be tired. It’s not wrong to feel overwhelmed. It’s not wrong to go through seasons of complete chaos. What is wrong—and heartbreakingly foolish and wonderfully avoidable—is to live a life with more craziness than we want because we have less Jesus than we need” (118).

Crazy Busy is a short, easy read. A lot of what’s in there is common sense (whether spiritual or practical), but if you’re anything like me, just because something is common sense doesn’t mean that you’re actually putting it into practice. It’s not a highbrow book, but it’s extremely practical, it’s grace-infused, and unless you have this busyness thing down to a fine art, it should give you something to think about.

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Internet and Doves

Well, hello! It’s  been a while.

Part the first.

Last week I lacked inspiration. Last week I had no internet access at home (although, frankly, that’s not a valid excuse as it didn’t stop me from posting the week before). Last week I didn’t make myself write. And if I don’t make myself do it, inspiration or no inspiration, well–a post will not magically appear all by itself. So this week I have made myself write anyway. And the good thing about writing anyway is that flexing those fingers on the keyboard has a happy way of cranking the gears of one’s brain. Forget about the proverbial hamster. It’s the fingers that power the mind.

When we didn’t have internet at home and I was dependent on going to friends’ houses for accessing that mysterious entity known as the world wide web, I used my internet time efficiently. Very. (For the most part.) I had to. My time was limited. A lot of fluff got removed–I did very little blog-hopping and none or next to none of the idle searches I’d make at home when something crosses my mind and I decide to quickly find the answer to it, however irrelevant it may be to my life. Since the return of the internet (if I capitalised that, it would sound like a film: The Return of the Internet–the long-forgotten fourth in the LOTR trilogy, perhaps?) I have succumbed to the same pattern again. Another email check. “Just one more” blog to visit. Another piece of information to search for.

I’m happy to have the internet back. It’s not fun having an internet-dependent job and no internet, never mind college and friends and all the rest of it. The internet is an oh-so-useful tool which I wouldn’t be without. But I don’t want to be controlled by it. I don’t want to waste lots of time with distractions and trivial pursuits. I want to use it more wisely than I do. Except when I’m in front of a computer, that is.

Part the second.

Last week, I attended a choral concert with a few friends. Meltingly beautiful singing. One of the pieces was Mendelssohn’s Hear My Prayer: I don’t believe I’ve heard it before and I can see I was missing out. Listening to it at home again made me read Psalm 55, which it is taken from. And I read the words and they resonated. I think some things in the Bible sit there quietly, waiting–like a pearl in its shell–to be discovered. Waiting to jump out at you because suddenly your life experience marries up with what’s written. This psalm marries up more than I intend to say here, but I will just say this:

I can understand what the psalmist wanted–somewhere quiet and peaceful away from problems. A snug corner in the wilderness. (If wildernesses can be snug?)

But that’s not the solution the psalm offers.

God is the solution.

God will hear and God will save. God will deliver and God will sustain.

Trust in God is the solution, not dove’s wings.

The escape to the wilderness can wait.

Part the third: when I love it that I’ve thought of a connection I didn’t set out to make.

I’m so self-controlled with my internet usage.

Except when I’m in front of a computer.

I’m so good at trusting God.

Except when I’m faced with a problem.

There’s no reasonable way I can avoid the internet (even when it seems our service provider kindly does their best to facilitate such avoidance….).

There’s no way, reasonable or unreasonable, that I can avoid problems, hard times, troubles–call them what you will. Changing their name doesn’t change their essence.

There are no magic solutions to self-control or trust.

Often the solutions are the ones we know already but don’t want to put into practice.

This would be a negative conclusion if I ended it here, if I ended it with Us. Us and our problems. Us and our failures.

But we’re not really the end, are we?

God is.

And that’s a much better ending!

Mere Christianity

(Thank you to SJ for letting me use her internet!)

This isn’t a proper book review. (Not that I tend to write “proper” book reviews here anyway!) It’s more a sharing of gems from Mere Christianity, which I’ve just finished re-reading. I’ve read it through at least three times now—the time before last was only a year ago and the reason I picked it up again so soon was because it was on the list for the reading challenge I’ve mentioned before.  Not all books can bear repeated re-reading, but Mere Christianity can.

And no, I don’t agree with every word of it. Yes, it should be read with discretion. But so should every book written by, well, a mere man. (Excuse the pun. We like them in our family.) And it could well be that the obvious flaws in someone else’s theology are not as dangerous as the hidden ones in our own.

That being said, there are probably more markings and underlinings in my copy of Mere Christianity than in any other book I have. Of course, that’s partly because they have accumulated over repeated readings but also because, frankly, there are so many parts that are worthy of being underlined. A humble, practical, God-centred Christian who knows how to think and who knows how to write (the two don’t always go together) will write things that merit your getting your pencil out. (I’m a strong proponent of marking books—so long as it is done in pencil!)

Lewis excels  at getting up close and hitting you between the eyes by pointing out a specific sin, and at the same time opening the curtains of your soul and showing you the breathtaking “big picture”. And doing so in language that is clear and striking and beautiful.

Here, then, are some highlights.

Lewis is clear that there’s no point believing Christianity because you think it’s nice. You believe it or disbelieve it based upon whether or not it is true. “If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end: if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth—only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with and, in the end, despair” (32). Furthermore, because truth is truth, it is what it is. Religion is not “something God invented” but “His statement to us of certain quite unalterable facts about His own nature” (41). It could not be any other way. And if we don’t like it, well, as Lewis says in a different context later on: “… there is a difficulty about disagreeing with God. He is the source from which all your reasoning power comes: you could not be right and He wrong any more than a stream can rise higher than its own source” (48). I remember a conference speaker once expressing the same idea. It should be obvious, but it’s strange how often I forget it—which I do any time I think my Plan B is better than God’s Plan A.

Lewis shows how great God is and puts us tiny people in our proper places. But he doesn’t just picture God as immense but also as the source and ultimate expression of all that is good and lovely and desirable. And he shows so clearly that we can’t experience good things apart from God. “God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing” (50). It’s like stubbornly remaining in the wilderness rather than dwelling in the Father’s home, but still expecting Him to send food parcels. It doesn’t work like that. The food is where the Father is. “Good things as well as bad, you know, are caught by a kind of infection. If you want to get warm you must stand near the fire: if you want to be wet you must get into the water. If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them. They are not a sort of prize which God could, if He chose, just hand out to anyone. They are a great fountain of energy and beauty spurting up at the very centre of reality. If you are close to it, the spray will wet you: if you are not, you will remain dry. Once a man is united to God, how could he not live forever? Once a man is separated from God, what can he do but wither and die?”(176)

You’d think then that I’d want to be close enough to get splashed by the spray. But that means taking “Me” from centre stage and putting God there instead. It’s the opposite of what I naturally want. What we too often want is “to keep personal happiness as our great aim in life, and yet at the same time be ‘good’. We are all trying to let our mind and heart go their way—centred on money or pleasure or ambition—and hoping, in spite of this, to behave honestly and chastely and humbly” (197-198). It doesn’t work. Not only will we fail to be truly honest and chaste and humble, but in the end we won’t even be happy either.

It’s true that turning towards God and turning away from ourselves is not easy. It requires a sort of death. But Lewis tells self-centred sinners like me that it is a death that is immeasurably worth it.

“Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in” (226-227).