A year ago, I wrote the lyrics “Rescue my restless heart! These lies are tearing me apart, and I know I can’t go on like this.” These words were a response to the many days on which I would wake up with a knot in the pit of my stomach. I felt stressed and I struggled to concentrate. As I searched for the cause of my anxiety, it became clear that it was busyness. I simply had more tasks than time to accomplish them.
I don’t think my struggle is unique. The ubiquitous busyness of our culture is well documented, and the response, “Ugh, I have no time for anything!” has become so predictable that it’s shocking to hear anything else.
We should be asking what Jesus thinks about our hectic pace of life.
There are many causes for our overstuffed schedules. In some cases, it’s accidental. We just keep saying “yes” to things, and before long, we are drowning in a sea of activities. Others have bought into our culture’s elevation of busyness to a status symbol - which is a bizarre development in modern society.
For most of history, success and leisure time were directly linked: the more prosperous someone was, the more time they had for recreation. Now, the opposite is true. As Georgetown researcher Silvia Bellezza points out, “A busy and overworked lifestyle, rather than a leisurely lifestyle, has become an aspirational status symbol.” She argues that being busy projects competence and the aura of being “in-demand.” 1
Is it possible that as followers of Jesus we have been seduced by this spirit of our age?
It was clear to me that I had been. I had allowed my identity to become wrapped up in the things I did. Producing a podcast, writing a blog post, recording a song, going on tour - these were the things that gave me value. I’ve always been an ambitious person and that isn’t necessarily bad, but as the famous YouTuber Casey Neistat recently said, “The monster of ambition is only fed in the doing.”
If I were to be honest, my daily tasks felt for more like a treadmill than a path - it was as if I were constantly moving but never getting anywhere.
In my quest to find peace, I began to wrestle with two crucial questions:
1) Is all busyness bad?
2) Is there such a thing as godly ambition?
While understanding that my progress continues, I do feel that God has given me greater clarity on how to combat the pervasive busyness in my life by implementing three guiding principles. Through them, I hope you will find a remedy for your restless heart, as well.
1) First Things First
Getting the foundation right is the first step to putting ambition in its proper place. God desires for us to dream big and put our time and talents to good use, but being a Christian has never been about what we do. The only thing that satiates the deepest longings of our heart is a personal, intimate relationship with the Creator of the Universe.
The tasks we accomplish cannot add or take away from our worth - that is already safe. For this reason, nothing can take priority over time spent with God. The secret to overcoming the monster of ambition lies in putting first things first.
2) Remember Who You Are
John 15:5 says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing.” This is bad news for anyone wanting to take credit for the work they do, and incredibly liberating for a follower of Jesus desiring freedom from a weight they were never asked to carry. The antidote to an identity built on busyness is reminding ourselves daily that apart from God we can do nothing!
3) Just Say “No”
My pastor said something recently that deeply challenged me. He was talking about the many adverse effects of individualism on our spiritual lives, one of which is busyness. He challenged us that we say “yes” far too often, and have fallen into the pattern of filling every moment of every day with activity. "When is the last time you said no," he asked, "and not so that you could just fill that gap with something else?"
His radical admonition was to… gulp... leave time in our schedule with absolutely nothing planned. I was struck by how simple his advice was, and yet how rare it was for me to actually follow through on it.
A simple remedy for the pervasive busyness and unhealthy ambition of this day and age is to just say no. Leave space to think, rest, reflect, enjoy your family, and be still. Doing this will immediately pay dividends, and you won’t regret it.
The song I wrote ends with the words, “Why do I keep on running? These lies they keep on coming!” We can’t ignore the problem of busyness in our lives. No one is immune. But there is hope. God has a design for your life that is both fruitful and filled with peace. These are not mutually exclusive.
Perhaps King David saw it clearly when he wrote, “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10) If we can grasp this, there will be rest for our hearts, and the proper perspective to accomplish great things, knowing that God supplies the power and we are simply along for the ride.
*This blog post is a follow-up to Episode 118 of the Provoke & Inspire Podcast: “Holiday Day Inn Hot Tubs, Drug Store Encounters, and Having Godly Ambition!”.*
To listen to the full episode click here.