Busy is Blasphemy
It had been an emotionally charged weekend. On Saturday I was at a leaders thing that was exciting but emotionally tough going, and on Sunday morning I had preached on Psalm 58. I tried to demonstrate to my congregation how the imprecatory Psalms shouldn’t be expunged from our worship but serve as a model for responding to deeply emotional situations in highly emotional terms. There is a context in which, I believe, it is appropriate for the Christian to in some way pray that the teeth of oppressive rulers get smashed and their children slaughtered. Perhaps I’ll post more on that another time. Suffice it to say, it was an emotional experience: it was meant to be, with women sitting listening to me who live in a refuge because of the abuse they have suffered at the hands of their partners, and with the news full of horror stories from Syria and Iraq.
So, I was already emotionally ‘open’ before beginning a counselling session trying to stitch back together the badly damaged marriage of two people I love and care about. Nonetheless, my response to the word ‘busy’ was surprising.
I’ve recently re-read Eugene Peterson’s ‘The Contemplative Pastor’. In a chapter titled ‘The Unbusy Pastor’ Peterson writes,
The word busy is the symptom not of commitment but of betrayal. It is not devotion but defection. The adjective busy set as a modifier to pastor should sound to our ears like adulterous to characterize a wife or embezzling to describe a banker. It is an outrageous scandal, a blasphemous affront.
That’s emotional language!
The truth is, I’ve got lots to do, sometimes too much, and a lot of things I don’t get done nearly so well as I should, but I hate to be thought of as ‘busy’. Busy implies a kind of professionalism that as a pastor I want to be removed far from. It signifies relationships as commercial transactions, with me as pastor in reality acting like a paid psychologist or personal coach. Busy turns ministry into business.
I don’t like the way some people use ‘busy’ as a wall. How are you doing? O, you know, really busy.
The thing is, life is full. There is a lot going on and a lot to do. Pretty much everyone I know is ‘busy’ in that sense; but the ‘I’m really busy’ line is so often thrown out as a kind of weapon – I’m so busy, because I’m so significant; I’m so busy, you’re really lucky to get a moment of my time; I’m so busy, whereas you are a slacker!
I don’t want my pastoring to be weaponised like this.
This morning I was reading Matthew 14. This must go down as one of the busiest days in the life of Christ that we know about. It begins with Jesus finding out about the murder of John the Baptist. In response to this news, Jesus withdraws to a quiet place but the crowds follow him and he ends up feeding 5,000 of them. Later he walks across a lake – on the water! – and then engages in a major healing crusade in Gennesaret. Jesus knew what it was to be busy, really busy, but Jesus never appears rushed. He never uses his busyness as a wall to keep people away.
Part of being an unbusy pastor is knowing when to say no. There are many things I say no to. There are days when I turn off my phone and don’t check my email. There are ‘urgent’ requests, that I ignore, and which suddenly lose their urgency. Life is full. But I don’t want to be known as ‘busy’.
‘Busy’ isn’t personal; it isn’t connected. Busy is blasphemy, and I think that’s why being thought of as busy made me cry.