Hasn’t that word become a status symbol in middle class America, like a medal we hang around our necks to show the world that we have achieved or are well on our way to getting there? Or is it an invisible shackle, a collar around our neck, quietly and deceptively leading us to fill our days with tasks, appointments, responsibilities, and sometimes meaningless fluff? Busy is the way we climb ladders.
2 years ago, family life looked like this: busy jobs, a tight schedule, many chores to attend to on the weekends, evenings filled with Bart’s supervision/kids’ activities/homework/showers/crash into bed. Exhaustion. Try to rest up on the weekends, be exceedingly thankful for 3 day weekends, and count down to longer breaks where we could really get away & reconnect to times of refreshing. Sundays: go to church, get the groceries, make sure the laundry is “caught up” (ha!) & put away, take a look at the week ahead, try not to be anxious- you can do it, 5 days will pass in a flash. Take a deep breath, go to bed, and there goes life.
2 years ago, family goals looked like this: stay on top of school work for kids and help them stay on track to get “good grades”, keep them busy with a variety of activities (sign up, practices, games, private lessons too if you can find them) so one day they will know what they’re passionate about and so they will stay busy and not get lazy, plan fun getaways and family vacations when you can (afterall, what is life if it isn’t all about making family memories?), attempt to aggressively pay off debt, save for the future, plan for the next home improvement project, be a good Christian family, stay plugged into church, & be a respectable and giving member of the community.
We were essentially wearing ourselves out to check every box on the American Dream checklist. As writer Shannan Martin said, we were chasing down the elusive American Dream, with a side of Jesus. We wanted to do the right things, move forward, stay ahead of the game, be a good example to our kids. We wanted our kids to have a good childhood and growing up experience. We wanted them to have every opportunity that we had growing up and more, if possible. We were looking at the blueprints we’d just received from our architect to finally give our 3 kids their own rooms and get us the master suite that we had waited for, sacrificed for, and justified that we deserved.
It wasn’t like we weren’t praying or seeking God individually, as a family, and in community. We were growing in recognizable spurts, making shifts where necessary, and trying to find our niche to effectively serve others too. We wanted to please God in all things. But we were exhausted. Something about this setup didn’t feel satisfying, or at the very least that it would be sustainable for very long.
We were slaves to this Christian American Dream and didn’t even know it. We were blind in our bondage to busyness, bowing to the idol of an ideal family life, and justifying the deceptive cravings of our flesh to keep up with the people around us who were marching to the same busy-stressed out beat. We fit in nicely with our name brand clothes and full schedules, but our insides were slowly withering away. How can you pour from a cup that is dry? The secret places of our hearts were being suffocated by all the efforts required to keep all the balls in the air, the boxes checked each day, and the train moving forward.
Surely this could not be the abundant life Jesus speaks of- the mystical branch that bears much fruit. Maybe these years are just meant to survive? Maybe we do, in fact, just live for the weekends, the summer breaks, & look forward to the much longed for retirement years? And so we march on, not even knowing of the shackles we carry as we follow each other around the walls of the pit in which we dwell. Yes, we can see the blue skies above, but somehow that feels like the reward we earn for working hard in THIS season….we’ll get THERE in due time.
Have I ever told you that my biggest fear is wasting my life? I’m not really scared of death or spiders or flying, but the thought of squandering the allotted sand in my hourglass makes me shudder in fear. I’m not exactly sure that I can remember when I first started realizing that was such a driving force in my life, but it has become more powerful with each year that passes. I sometimes wonder if am a minority in that type of thought process or if there are others who wrestle with this stewardship angst in their souls. If I had to guess, I would say that the process of facing up to the realities of death at a fairly young age had something to do with this motivator within me. I just don’t take life for granted. If I’m given a string of days on this planet to know & enjoy God, then that’s what I want to spend my life pursuing. If my days are filled with the grace and resources to turn around multiply that grace and light in this world, then that’s what I want to spend my days pouring into. If I’m not guaranteed tomorrow and God already has my days recorded in His book of life, then the only true thing I have to worry about is squandering my dash. Hence my biggest fear: wasting my life.
The problem I began to find with my pursuit of the American Dream, with a side of Jesus, was that my life was so filled with things to do that I never had time to intentionally reflect and recalibrate to make sure I was pouring out into the right things. I was assuming my “yes” onto such a plethora of activities that I had zero margin. I transposed the hope of not wasting my life onto a life that was busy with good things. In fact, it was bursting with good things. But somehow I still felt exhausted and a bit hypocritical. We had no vision or birdseye picture of the blueprints we were building from outside of this elusive American Dream (with a side of Jesus) that everyone around us was also chasing. If we are given 80 years of life, will we look back then and praise God for the grace to build a life worthy of our calling in Him? Better yet, when we arrive in the kingdom of God, will we watch the reel of our dash played out and know with a blessed assurance that we poured all of our resources out to bring Him glory?
Of course perfection is an impossible standard by which to measure fractured souls, but is it possible to strive after a life not wasted? I think if we look at Jesus, we can find our model of a life poured out, an unwasted life. In the earthly life of Jesus, we see a rhythm for the beat of life and it’s not the busy-stressed out beat of the American dream. It’s the unhurried rhythms of grace that are held in place by margin, intentional space left to seek first His unseen kingdom and His righteousness with no agenda.
Jesus came to redeem and to restore what is broken. On the path to the cross, He modeled for us how to spend our one life, our grains of sand, in a way that is wise and fruitful for eternity. Jesus came to show us the one true God, to fulfill His mission as the One and Only Lamb slain for the sins of many. If anyone had the weight of the world on His shoulders, it was Jesus. He had a messy life, with sinful people surrounding Him, and needs constantly pressing in on Him. Yet, we see these regular rhythms in His life of getting alone to seek His Father. The life of Jesus was one of supreme accomplishment and productivity, but His main goal was to glorify His Father. He never had so much to do that He didn’t allow for margin. He had the wisdom to say NO to certain good works in order to say YES to the time needed to seek His Father in Heaven above all.
So why are we often too busy for that same margin? Why are so many self-proclaimed followers of Jesus too busy to regularly commit to a time of worship, or to a daily discipline to the study of Scripture and prayer, or to embrace the vulnerable fellowship of doing life with other believers? Is it possible that we are a Christian culture, unknowingly wearing our shackles and circling the pit of busyness, squandering the sand in our hourglass without realizing it? As the world around us shamelessly builds kingdoms in the sand, are we doing the same? When was the last time that we pulled away from the hum of activity to be with our Father in Heaven to ask Him for His blueprints, the ones that are built on the Rock of Jesus and that will last for all of eternity? From the Throne of Heaven, do we appear to be like the slaves in Egypt, exhausting our families in labors that are only in vain?
“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” Psalm 127:1
In this current season of life, God has been so patient to teach me about His kingdom and pour out His grace to lead me as I repent over and over about my stubborn habits. In the margin spaces of this time at home with a new toddler, He has been showing me a birds eye view of life in light of eternity- what things will count and what will have been a waste. Repeatedly, I have asked Him for the grace to help me spend my one life in a way that brings Him glory. I know my temptation will always be to swim with the current of the culture and try to make my own kingdom great, but I believe He hears my pleas to save me from that path. I hear His truth reminding me that He will give me my daily bread, the vision/blueprints/resources needed for the fulfillment of the plan for each day, one day at a time. I just have to be willing to come to Him each day and seek all that I am lacking in myself. Margin paves the way to prioritize getting to know the Author, the Architect, the Builder. To know this One and Only Lord is to love Him. In loving Him, we are building a life unwasted.
In looking back, I am finding that God has given me 2 great thermometers in my life to help me gauge which kingdom blueprints I’m building with: how I spend my time and my money. These are 2 great treasures and resources that He has given to each person to spend as we choose.
““Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
When I am living into the eternal kingdom of Jesus, my life will be filled with His rhythms of joyful, sacrificial generosity with both my time and money: my very life will be His for the taking. On the flipside, when my soul has wandered back into the slavery of earthly kingdom building, my life will be marked by rhythms of spending my time and money on my own selfish ambitions that are temporary and exhausting….giving will be stingy and without much personal sacrifice of my own desires. One produces a slow, fruitful abundance that multiplies and lasts forever. The other produces a form of prosperity that eventually withers away and ends in the destruction of all that was built.
The wisdom of Proverbs gives me yet another arrow pointing me in the way of freedom and true abundance:
“The world of the generous gets larger and larger;
the world of the stingy gets smaller and smaller.
The one who blesses others is abundantly blessed;
those who help others are helped.”
Proverbs 11:24-25, MSG
When I am longing for a life marked by blessing and growth, I first need to be generous toward God- not out of guilt, but out of a sincere delight and wonder over what He might build with my meager offering. Building a life of abundance and multiplication can only happen when we seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness (Matt 6:33). Fear of scarcity causes us to hold tightly to what we are already building without considering if it is what will last. Fear of missing out or getting behind only drives us to say yes before we take the time to seek what we should be giving our yeses to; hence wasting our resources. When we make room for more of God to inhabit space in our hearts and our days, His perfect love drives out that fear and makes a way for a life unwasted.
When we live to the glory of God, we can be sure that our lives will in fact fulfill their destiny. We don’t have to march to the stressed-out, busy, keeping up with the Joneses beat of the kingdoms of this world. A narrow gate is open to us, with a Savior beckoning us to come & learn from Him the rhythms of grace that will satisfy our souls forever, even as we build a life on earth that will echo in eternity. Day by day. Grace upon grace. Step by step. The Shepherd will faithfully lead us.