Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Drug Called Busyness

I'm posting excerpts from a piece I've been polishing up for a devotional book. What appears below is neither the author's original composition, nor (I expect) what we'll end up publishing, but something in-between. Consider this a sneak peek! This is from one Mark P., whom I don't believe I've ever met. Yet as I read about his life I see we have more than a few things in common...

He begins the piece by describing walking along a riverbank with his wife on a rare day off:
...Caught up in a frantic and busy schedule, I could not remember the last time I had purposefully gotten away for quiet and rest. Each day I felt more and more pushed, and I knew it was all of my own making.

Other concerns, some beyond my control, were also weighing heavy on my heart. My mother's cancer was not responding to treatments, college tuitions were due again, the business I was running in the Balkans was under some new pressures.

And a pattern of morning anxiety had started. Each day I woke startled, my heart pounding as if a fire alarm had awakened me. I had a horrible sense of impending doom. This so preoccupied my morning thoughts that I rushed through a quiet time with the Lord, thinking all the while, "I need to get going; I have so much to do. I have to get started!" The Lord did not get much quality time from me, and consequently, I was not really listening to Him much. Praying? Of course, but in a frantic, rote way. All the time, the twisting knot in my stomach that I had awoken with would get tighter and tighter.

My loving wife convinced me that I needed to talk to someone about this, and I finally shared it with a mentor who happens to be a professional counselor. His diagnosis? I had been stuffing down my hurts, concerns, and troubles pretty well on the surface, but they were beginning to fight their way out and refused to be stuffed any longer.

I had unwittingly been treating myself for this "illness" with a form of medication that surprised me when I found out. It wasn’t the usual type of drug so common in the world. Not alcohol, not narcotics, nothing "over-the-counter." I was self-medicating with a drug call "busyness."

In my quest to make the anxious feelings go away, I just stayed busy. As long as I kept it up it worked like an anesthetic for the pain. I seldom sat still for very long. When I did stop to take a break - perhaps watching a movie with my family - I would fall asleep from sheer exhaustion, only to wake up and repeat the cycle the following day.

My mentor’s recommended treatment was something quite different: decompression time. He told me I needed at least an hour a day of reflection, meditation, quiet time, and soul searching. No less. In other words, I needed to treat this illness with a healthy dose of daily Sabbath rest.

After more than half a century of living I now had to learn to really "do Sabbath" for the first time in my life. I had just ignored this command of the Lord. And it’s one of the "big ten"!

I began devouring every reading material on the subject, but I paced myself. This could not just be another busy activity; it needed to be an escape from activity.

In his book "The Rest of God" Mark Buchanan sums up what he calls the Golden Rule of Sabbath. It has two parts. The first part: "Cease from that which is necessary." In other words, "stop doing what you ought to do." And the second part: "to embrace that which gives life." Each of us knows the kind of things which we do because we ought to - or at least that's what we think. Likely we could each also conjure up a list of things that would relax us and bring enjoyment.

Simply stop doing the one, and make sure you do the other!

Easier said than done, but possible if you "renew your mind."

Years ago, I often traveled to China on business. The Chinese have one word made up of two written characters for the word "busy." Interestingly the two characters are "heart" and "killing." Busyness kills the heart. It is fraught with "ought to and should do" obligations.

Sabbath rest is like a balm or healing salve to the heart. It's a rest that comes only when we slow down enough…quiet ourselves so that we can hear Him and enjoy Him. There is much that the Lord wants to impart to us, things about Him that we can only experience if we truly have a Sabbath heart…and experience the rest of God.

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