I am busier than you are

During January and February, I will be using this space to interact with the ideas put forward in David Zahl’s book Seculosity: How career, parenting, technology, food, politics, and romance became our new religion and what to do about it

How are you doing?

What answer comes to your mind when you are asked that question? In chapter 2 of David Zahl’s book “Seculosity: How career, parenting, technology, food, politics, and romance became our new religion and what to do about it,” he points out that more than ever, our answer to that question has become not “fine” or “good” but “busy” or “stressed.”

Sound familiar?

I know that I have noticed how often I get “busy” as an answer to my “how are you doing” question. I have made it a point to try to avoid giving “busy” as an answer, because, well, it seems like everyone is busy. But what does our busyness say about us?

Zahl argues that for many of us, busyness has become a virtue, signaling that we are valuable and important. In fact, it can often subtly become a competition – the one who is busier is somehow more important because of all that they have taken on. And if someone is not busy, there can be an assumption that there is something wrong with them – perhaps they are lazy, or unaware of all that could be done, or maybe they just aren’t needed by anyone.

What is underneath this busyness, this elevation of doing a lot as a virtue? In some cases, perhaps what is underneath is what Zahl calls “performancism,” the belief that it is my performance that makes me lovable and significant. To put it another way: “I am what I do.” If I’m not doing much, then I am not very valuable. But if I’m doing a lot, then I must be significant.

There are many dangers to this white-knuckle pace, of course. All around us, and sometimes in our own lives, we see skyrocketing anxiety, depression, stress, loneliness, and fatigue. Not to mention that the faster we go, the less we are able to reflect on how we are living, face our personal issues, or even consider our mortality.

Unfortunately, the church can too often contribute to our busy lives. Instead of offering us an environment where we can rest in our relationship with God, reflect on how we are living, and be filled up by the Spirit of God and the company of good friends, churches can often pressure people into doing more, as if somehow our spiritual resume is what makes us valuable to God.

Nevertheless, the church also contains the solution to our busyness. The gospel of Jesus proclaims that we do not have to achieve our value or earn love. Instead, the good news is that we are loved regardless of what we do or do not do, simply by trusting in what Jesus has done for us in his life, death, and resurrection. As Paul wrote in Romans 4:4-5: “Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.” Or, as the writer of Hebrews put it in 4:9-11, “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest…”

If you know Jesus, then you do not have to prove anything to anyone. You do not need to earn your significance. You can rest – even in the midst of your busyness – knowing that even if you have a lot going on, your value is secure in Christ’s approval of and love for you.

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