“Sorry I didn’t write back: I’ve been busy.”
“Can’t talk right now: I’m really busy.”
“Man, but I’m busy! When will this stop?”
My contribution to last Saturday’s “Faith Forum” came in, as is often the case with me, very tight to the deadline. That’s been the bane of my relationships with editors, news directors and, in this case, the Faith Forum coordinator.
So, when I went to offer an excuse/apology for the lateness, I started to write, “I’ve been really busy”. And I caught myself, because “busy” has become a negative word – a “four-letter” word, in fact.
(For those of a younger generation than mine, there was a time when the most offensive words in the English language, words like ****, ****, **** and even, if you can believe it, ****, had one thing in common: each had four letters. I realize that these days, pretty much the only place where you can be guaranteed not to hear those words and others like them is a Hallmark Christmas movie, so the idea that a “four-letter word” is necessarily a “bad” word might be outmoded. But work with me on this, OK?)
Do we ever say we’re busy and mean it in a positive way? When my daughter was a toddler, I’d remark that she was a very “busy baby” – always getting into things, touching things I didn’t think she should, always needing to be supervised. It was always spoken lovingly, but there was still that little shake of the head that said, “but I wish she weren’t”.
Some have suggested substituting words like “occupied” or “productive”, or something else more positive. But there’s another aspect to the notion of “busy”.
Doesn’t “busy” tend to mean that we’re really too self-absorbed, too “into” our own “thing”, to pay attention to someone else? Telling someone we’re busy is often a way of dismissing them, implying that whatever is going on in their life – whether it’s a major personal crisis or simply a desire to chat – couldn’t possibly be more important than whatever we’re doing, even if what we’re doing is, well, nothing.
Years ago, a musician friend of mine would call me up to get together and jam. More often than not, though, I’d tell him I was “busy”. One evening, he called me and told me to turn on a local radio station. He had called the DJ to dedicate a song to me – the song had the lyric, “It’s too late when we die.” I took the hint.
Less than a year later, he died. Thirty years on, I still wish I hadn’t been “busy”. O, to jam again with you, Peter! To hear your ideas and work with them, and to hear you take mine to a level I never could have imagined! “Too busy?” My foot!
Certainly, we may be on deadline for other work, or have things that are occupying our minds, but if someone wants our attention, committing to get back to them as soon as possible will let them know they’re still important to us.
To a Christian, being “busy” actually runs against the things Jesus taught us about loving your neighbour. The people who passed by the fellow who was beaten, robbed and left for dead alongside the road were all “too busy” to stop and deal with him. The Samaritan, of all people, wasn’t.
When Jesus Christ tells us that “inasmuch as you did not [minister to] the least of these [i.e. the poor] you did not do it to Me”, (Matthew 25:45), He’s including the idea that we passed up the chance to help someone because we were “too busy”.
When He tells us that one of the two Greatest Commandments is to love our neighbour in the same way that God loves us (my own interpretation of “love your neighbour as yourself” – there are days when I loathe myself: does that mean I can treat my neighbour like dirt on those days?), He is telling us that we should never be “too busy”.
Put another way, if we are never “too busy” for someone else, others will never be “too busy” for us.
Sometimes, being “too busy” gets in the way of our prayer life. Heaven knows, it’s happened with me. I can imagine facing The Big Sir when my innings are over: “So, Drew, why didn’t you spend more time in prayer – more time with Me?”
Drew Snider is a former pastor at Gospel Mission on Vancouver's Downtown East Side, and has been a guest speaker at churches in BC. He writes about the people and events in his e-book, ‘God At Work: A Testimony of Prophecy, Provision and People Amid Poverty’. (available at online bookstor
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