The Disease of Being Busy


Came across the following article just the other day, on the topic of business.  The first several years after we were married, even after the kids started coming along, as a firstborn, workaholic myself, spending some unhurried time just talking would not have fit into my schedule.  I’ve written about that season of my life before…I’ve been on both sides of the equation,  I know what it’s like to be running on empty, and I know what it’s like (now) to be able to have margin.

Trust me, margin in life is worth fighting for…..DM


The Disease of Being Busy

by Omid Safi (@ostadjaan), Columnist

I saw a dear friend a few days ago. I stopped by to ask her how she was doing, how her family was. She looked up, voice lowered, and just whimpered: “I’m so busy… I am so busy… have so much going on.”

Almost immediately after, I ran into another friend and asked him how he was. Again, same tone, same response: “I’m just so busy… got so much to do.”

The tone was exacerbated, tired, even overwhelmed.

And it’s not just adults. When we moved to North Carolina about ten years ago, we were thrilled to be moving to a city with a great school system. We found a diverse neighborhood, filled with families. Everything felt good, felt right.

After we settled in, we went to one of the friendly neighbors, asking if their daughter and our daughter could get together and play. The mother, a really lovely person, reached for her phone and pulled out the calendar function. She scrolled… and scrolled… and scrolled. She finally said: “She has a 45-minute opening two and half weeks from now. The rest of the time it’s gymnastics, piano, and voice lessons. She’s just…. so busy.”

Horribly destructive habits start early, really early.

How did we end up living like this? Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we do this to our children? When did we forget that we are human beings, not human doings?

Whatever happened to a world in which kids get muddy, get dirty, get messy, and heavens, get bored? Do we have to love our children so much that we overschedule them, making them stressed and busy — just like us?

What happened to a world in which we can sit with the people we love so much and have slow conversations about the state of our heart and soul, conversations that slowly unfold, conversations with pregnant pauses and silences that we are in no rush to fill?

How did we create a world in which we have more and more and more to do with less time for leisure, less time for reflection, less time for community, less time to just… be?

Somewhere we read, “The unexamined life is not worth living… for a human.” How are we supposed to live, to examine, to be, to become, to be fully human when we are so busy?

This disease of being “busy” (and let’s call it what it is, the dis-ease of being busy, when we are never at ease) is spiritually destructive to our health and wellbeing. It saps our ability to be fully present with those we love the most in our families, and keeps us from forming the kind of community that we all so desperately crave.

Since the 1950s, we have had so many new technological innovations that we thought (or were promised) would make our lives easier, faster, simpler. Yet, we have no more “free” or leisurely time today than we did decades ago.

For some of us, the “privileged” ones, the lines between work and home have become blurred. We are on our devices. All. The. Freaking. Time.

Smart phones and laptops mean that there is no division between the office and home. When the kids are in bed, we are back online.

One of my own daily struggles is the avalanche of email. I often refer to it as my jihad against email. I am constantly buried under hundreds and hundreds of emails, and I have absolutely no idea how to make it stop. I’ve tried different techniques: only responding in the evenings, not responding over weekends, asking people to schedule more face-to-face time. They keep on coming, in volumes that are unfathomable: personal emails, business emails, hybrid emails. And people expect a response — right now. I, too, it turns out… am so busy.

The reality looks very different for others. For many, working two jobs in low-paying sectors is the only way to keep the family afloat. Twenty percent of our children are living in poverty, and too many of our parents are working minimum wage jobs just to put a roof over their head and something resembling food on the table. We are so busy.

The old models, including that of a nuclear family with one parent working outside the home (if it ever existed), have passed away for most of us. We now have a majority of families being single families, or where both parents are working outside the home. It is not working.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

In many Muslim cultures, when you want to ask them how they’re doing, you ask: in Arabic, Kayf haal-ik? or, in Persian, Haal-e shomaa chetoreh? How is your haal?

What is this haal that you inquire about? It is the transient state of one’s heart. In reality, we ask, “How is your heart doing at this very moment, at this breath?” When I ask, “How are you?” that is really what I want to know.

I am not asking how many items are on your to-do list, nor asking how many items are in your inbox. I want to know how your heart is doing, at this very moment. Tell me. Tell me your heart is joyous, tell me your heart is aching, tell me your heart is sad, tell me your heart craves a human touch. Examine your own heart, explore your soul, and then tell me something about your heart and your soul.

Tell me you remember you are still a human being, not just a human doing. Tell me you’re more than just a machine, checking off items from your to-do list. Have that conversation, that glance, that touch. Be a healing conversation, one filled with grace and presence.

Put your hand on my arm, look me in the eye, and connect with me for one second. Tell me something about your heart, and awaken my heart. Help me remember that I too am a full and complete human being, a human being who also craves a human touch.

I teach at a university where many students pride themselves on the “study hard, party hard” lifestyle. This might be a reflection of many of our lifestyles and our busy-ness — that even our means of relaxation is itself a reflection of that same world of overstimulation. Our relaxation often takes the form of action-filled (yet mindless) films, or violent and face-paced sports.

I don’t have any magical solutions. All I know is that we are losing the ability to live a truly human life.

We need a different relationship to work, to technology. We know what we want: a meaningful life, a sense of community, a balanced existence. It’s not just about “leaning in” or faster iPhones. We want to be truly human.

  1. B. Yeats once wrote:

“It takes more courage to examine the dark corners of your own soul than it does for a soldier to fight on a battlefield.”

How exactly are we supposed to examine the dark corners of our soul when we are so busy? How are we supposed to live the examined life?

I am always a prisoner of hope, but I wonder if we are willing to have the structural conversation necessary about how to do that, how to live like that. Somehow we need a different model of organizing our lives, our societies, our families, our communities.

I want my kids to be dirty, messy, even bored — learning to become human. I want us to have a kind of existence where we can pause, look each other in the eye, touch one another, and inquire together: Here is how my heart is doing? I am taking the time to reflect on my own existence; I am in touch enough with my own heart and soul to know how I fare, and I know how to express the state of my heart.

How is the state of your heart today?

Let us insist on a type of human-to-human connection where when one of us responds by saying, “I am just so busy,” we can follow up by saying, “I know, love. We all are. But I want to know how your heart is doing.”

From this link:


15 thoughts on “The Disease of Being Busy

  1. Oh yes, being busy.
    Two things spring to mind:
    I remember when my first MIL was in hospital, I didn’t visit one weekend because I was busy catching up with all my housework and chores. To explain, she had been diagnosed with terminal cancer two weeks after our marriage in 1977, and when she was admitted to hospital fifteen months later, husband and I took it in turns to visit every night so that she always had a visitor, and had done so for over a month.
    On the Sunday I visited with him, and she said ‘They were all here yesterday, except you. You were the only one who didn’t come’.
    It was the last thing she said to me as she died Monday afternoon. I have tried to not be ‘too busy’ ever since.

    The other was a relative who was always ‘too busy’ working to give his family the best he possibly could so that his wife wouldn’t have to worry financially or his kids go without.
    It cost him his marriage as he was always working, and rarely at home.

    It’s all a fine balancing act isn’t it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are welcome Jane. I feel passionate about this issue because my life choices those first several years of marriage/ parenting were so out of balance….great intentions on my part but clueless.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m traveling to see my daughter soon. The timing of this post is perfect. She created a full itinerary for us. I’m going to make sure our time together, and not doing everything on the list, is most important.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Last weekend while my wife was out of town I visited a nearby Civil War museum. I texted my son a photo I took there with the message that when he had some free time we should go visit a battlefield together, reminding him of how much we enjoyed that when he was a boy. He quickly replied, saying he was working that weekend (Memorial Day) to catch up on some administrative things, that he had some important goals to hit at work this year, that he was going to visit a newlywed friend later this summer, etc. but that maybe we could get together for a day trip like that sometime next year. The song Cat’s in the Cradle came immediately to mind. It’s true that he and I enjoyed visiting Civil War battlefields when he was a kid. But it’s also true that we went exactly one time during his entire childhood–a Memorial Day weekend decades ago when I was in the process of switching to a new job. Nearly every other weekend I was working and always too “busy.”

    What you and your son are doing is a good thing. To be cherished.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Bill I read this right before walking out the door this morning. That song Cat’s in the cradle, haunted me all the years the kids were growing up…I was not an emotionally present dad for most of their growing up years. Having my son want to do this @ this point with me is all of God’s doing…certainly not because of me. Scripture talks about God turning the hearts of the fathers to their children…I believe he can also turn the hearts of the children to their parents. Rooting for you! I know you get it.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I really needed to read this – being the Queen of Busy! We have been pushing ourselves so hard for the past few years to get to the point we can be at the farm full-time. The idea is that when we get there we can slow our pace, spend more time together and put our energy into something we love. It is starting to feel like a Catch-22 situation lately…
    It’s hard not to keep pushing because we are sooo close, but I fear there is an “at what cost” looming…
    Thanks for sharing this post and glad to hear you and your son are spending quality time together. An inspiring “wake up call”!
    Oh, and the part about letting kids get messy, etc… – the other day I was in a toy and game store picking up a word game for some friends – while waiting at the counter there was a bag of “clean” play dirt for sale! What the heck? It just boggles the mind.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Laurie! So what are you saying..Am I sitting on a gold mine? 😉 (ie. Iowa topsoil that I could bag and sell) I have thought about you guys several times, wondering how you were doing…especially w/ Michael training for a marathon. Not having trained for one of them myself, I do know that is a serious time commitment from talking w/ my brother in law who ran one a few years ago. Life really is all about staying balanced isn’t it 🙂 DM


      • he was training for the marathon he ran last November, but funny you should mention it – he just started training again for the marathon this November! it is a serious time, energy and dietary commitment. It is quite impressive that he does it, but I have to say they he also has a great support team – me!
        good luck selling your “clean” dirt!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I really like the idea of how is your heart… I’m ashamed to say I’m just now getting to read this in its entirety… Because I’ve been busy. I did take two hikes with the kids, help a neighbor repair a hay rake, and spend an afternoon with my mom and my family in the last week. So at least I’ve not been the email/office/schedule kind of busy.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.