Reflect

Last month I followed a link from Tim Challies to an article in which the author described how he will choose a book of the Bible and read it and read it and read it again over the course of a couple months. He was saying it is a wonderful way to really understand and be changed by the Bible.

That made particular sense to me, because at that time I was studying half a dozen of Shakespeare’s sonnets. I read them and read them and read them again over the course of a week and I could see that repeated readings could bring new insights.

And of course I wasn’t just skimming my eyes over the sonnets while my mind was relaxing on a comfy sofa somewhere. I was actively looking for rhyme and rhythm and other literary techniques. I was studying. So it makes sense that it would be the same when following this idea of immersing oneself in a book of the Bible. It would take an engaged brain to notice themes and keywords and gain a better understanding of the book.

It’s a case of paying attention. Of noticing the details. Of digging deeper.

I know it works with Shakespeare. I’m willing to believe it works with the Bible too!

And then there’s something else….

In Crazy Busy, Kevin DeYoung asks (and I’m quoting from memory here, but I think I’ve got it right), “How many moments of pain are wasted because we never sat still enough to learn from them?”

And Caroline Weber, in the context of writing a spiritual memoir, has this to say:

1.  Pay attention to your life

 You just can’t make this stuff up! As Frederick Buechner proclaims, “Pay attention. As a summation of all that I have had to say as a writer, I would settle for that.” I think this is particularly true for a memoirist. journal like crazy, record details, look for the story. We often only recognize the importance of details, as C. S. Lewis once said, in retrospect. Paying attention to God’s handiwork in our lives allows for the details to unfold in wonder and significance as you notice them, meditate upon them, or begin to string them together.

I’ve jumped topics here, I know. But there is a connection!

Life goes by so quickly. So many words have passed my eyes this week alone, whether on the page or on the internet, whether skimmed or read with care. So many interactions with other people, so many conversations of varying degrees of importance. How many thoughts have journeyed through my mind this week? I really don’t know, but I’ll hazard a guess there were a lot.

I won’t remember a lot of what I’ve thought about this week. I’ll forget a lot of what I heard and a lot of what I saw.

That’s inevitable.

But some of it should be remembered. Some things deserve a little more attention.  Some events should be reflected on, remembered, learned from, treasured. So should some words, whether spoken or written.

I read someone say somewhere (case in point of too much information!) that attention is the most valuable commodity in this day and age. I think that was in reference to our interactions with other people, and that’s certainly true. But it’s also true that we should pay attention to the Word. That we should, as DeYoung and Weber highlight, pay attention to what’s going on in our lives.

I’m an expert at skimming the surface, whether it’s a book or the Bible or the events of my life. And sometimes skimming the surface is all that is necessary or all that is possible. But I’d like to have more of an eye for detail, I’d like mental muscles that can dig deeper, and I’d like more of a habit of reflection.

And I think that this habit of reflection and attention and an eye for detail, whether it’s studying a sonnet or reading the Bible or paying attention to one’s life, yields riches that would otherwise be passed by.

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.