bird's-eye view of a man typing on a laptop, checking his watch

I’m Too Busy to Do It All

bird's-eye view of a man typing on a laptop, checking his watch

What do you do when you’re too busy to do it all?

“Busy” is the default setting for most working people I know, myself included. My schedule is packed. I’m too busy to do it all.

For me, this leads to a nagging sense of guilt and anxiety. There are things I feel I should get to, but I don’t—whether it’s a chore like updating the family budget, or something life-giving like catching up with a close friend.

The more “behind” I am, the more angsty I get, and that’s not pleasant for anyone. For me, being too busy is almost synonymous with being worried. 

In contrast to my own short-on-time angst, I know certain people who radiate a sense of peace. I often wonder, how do they do that? They’re not superhuman, and it’s not as though they have fewer responsibilities than I do. Somehow, they’ve managed to find a solid spiritual center in the middle of the demands of life. That’s the kind of spiritual center I want in my life.

The person who best embodied this kind of centered, peaceful presence is Jesus. His teachings can help busy people like us find our way.

[Check out our other posts on emotional health for more resources on living an integrated Christian life.]

Better than “Hakuna Matata”?

One of Jesus’ simplest teachings may also strike us as the least plausible to follow: “Do not worry about your life” (Matthew 6:25 NIV).

On the Big Five Personality Test, I rank pretty darn high for “conscientiousness.” I tend to think that people who practice a “worry-free” lifestyle are just being irresponsible, blind to how the conscientious people around them are constantly rescuing them from disaster. I mean seriously, someone’s got to worry about things.

The idea of living life without worry makes me think of Timon and Pumbaa, the meerkat and warthog duo from The Lion King. They taught the young Simba to sing “Hakuna Matata”:

It means no worries

For the rest of your days

It’s our problem-free philosophy

Hakuna Matata!

In the bigger context of the story, the song represents Simba’s decision to stay away from the community that raised him and its problems. By the end of the film, he has chosen to return to that community and shoulder the responsibilities of his claim to the throne. In other words—no big surprise here to conscientious types—“no worries” really means “abandon your responsibilities.” To be responsible is to worry.

That’s what I’m really experiencing when I feel the angst of being too busy to do it all. I’m responsible for the things I need to get done. When I don’t get to something, it makes me worry. Then, when I get it done, I can stop worrying. So worry fuels productivity. Voila! The anxious, busy life of a responsible person.

But then I turn to the teaching of Jesus: Do not worry about your life. Jesus is no stranger to responsibility. He is the one who bore the sins of the world on his shoulders. He also feels no compunction about calling his followers to fulfill a high calling; in another passage he says, “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:38 NIV). 

So Jesus could not possibly be teaching us to abandon all responsibility. In his vision, fulfilling our true calling—even the high calling of costly, obedient discipleship—does not need to involve being worried. Could it be that there’s a version of “no worries” that’s better than “Hakuna Matata”? Can we respond to the demands of life faithfully without being worried?

Birds Don’t Work

Jesus knows that we often worry about our to-do lists. For his first-century agrarian listeners, that list was comprised of tasks like sowing and reaping, gathering crops into barns, and making simple clothes. Like us, they no doubt sometimes felt like there wasn’t time to do it all. So Jesus pointed their attention to creatures who didn’t have to-do lists like that: the birds. Jesus says, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns” (Matthew 6:26 NIV). 

Jesus brings up the birds to give an example of creatures who don’t work but still thrive. As I write this post, my two cats are lying on the table where I type. They don’t sow or reap or store away in barns either. They don’t do anything productive, really. They spend half their time napping. It’s amazing we keep them around.

Why do our cats still thrive despite such spectacularly low work output? Because we feed them. Someone feeds the wild birds, too. Jesus says, “they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them” (Matthew 6:26 NIV). Here we come to the crux of the issue. Jesus’ no-worry teaching hinges on his vision of God as a good Father.

I’m tempted at this point to end the blog post: If we just meditate on the goodness of God as a Father who provides for us, we’ll worry less.

Indeed, we would all do well to set our minds on God’s generosity to us. That alone can do wonders for the soul. But for conscientious folks like me, there’s another side to Jesus’ teaching that can help further.

Freedom in Fulfilling God’s Expectations

Jesus’ no-worry teaching comes from a bigger sermon, and the section just before is his teaching on money and possessions. That section concludes, “You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24 NIV).

The notion of “serving” money may sound strange to our ears. Isn’t money something that we control? But Jesus is wise, pointing out that often it’s the other way around: Because of how we arrange our lives around it, money controls us. His statement that you can’t serve God and money is a statement about allegiance. Who are you going to be faithful to? Who do you arrange your life around? And—here’s the kicker for our present discussion—who are you responsible to?

In our busy lives, making money is almost always one of our responsibilities. We often feel that we “have to” do something in order to make ends meet, or we “can’t” do something else, because it conflicts with our work obligations. We’re constrained by money. We serve it.

But Jesus says that we have another option: serving God. Even in the details of our work, we have an ultimate responsibility to God. The notion of God as a Father who cares for our needs is paired with the notion that God has the final authority over the commitments we must fulfill.

If God is good, then that’s really good news for busy people. It means that our only true responsibility is to do what God expects of us. Here’s a question worth pondering: Is there enough time to do what God expects you to do?  

If God is good, and is the ultimate master of the universe, and of time itself, then the answer to that question is always, “yes.” Even when it feels like it’s totally impossible to do everything that we have to do. In truth, there is enough time to do it all—if we limit “all” to what God expects of us.

There is not always enough time to do what our boss expects of us.

There is not always enough time to do what our loved ones expect of us.

There is not always enough time to do what we expect of ourselves. 

But there is always enough time to do what God expects of us.

To put the same thing another way, there is nothing that God expects us to do that he will not empower us by his grace to accomplish. There’s immense freedom here: freedom from false expectations that truly are impossible to fulfill. Freedom to do what’s needed, no more and no less. Freedom from worry.

Prioritization as a Spiritual Virtue

Life hack bloggers will sometimes recommend tools for prioritization, like the Eisenhower matrix. These tools can serve us well if we’re overwhelmed by tasks, helping us cut to what’s essential. But prioritization is more than a hack or a kind of time management.

In the bigger scheme of our lives, prioritization is a spiritual virtue. It’s the habit of making time for what God expects of us, and letting other things fall away. It requires us to discern what it is that God expects us to do. We need our imaginations to be honed by Scripture to set the boundaries in the right places—to prioritize what matters most to him. It’s costly, in that it also requires us to be willing to disappoint others’ expectations (and our own).

But as we make a genuine, faltering effort to serve God with our time, we’ll find the spiritual center we long for.

Under his care, there will be time.

Reflect and Practice

    • Do you feel too busy to do it all?
    • How conscientious do you tend to be? Is this a challenge for you in terms of worry?
    • Looking at how you spend your time, what seem to be your top priorities?
    • What do you feel that God expects of you?
    • Do you find the idea of being responsible to God freeing? Why or why not?
    • What’s one way you can set your mind on God’s care for you in the middle of your responsibilities this week?

Photo by Brad Neathery on Unsplash. 

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4 thoughts on “I’m Too Busy to Do It All”

  1. Chris – this blog reminds me of a comment you once made to me about a church leader. “He disappoints a lot of people.” Because he has a clear sense of what his priorities are; what God has called him to. Saying yes to the most important things means saying no to other things. I have to be willing to disappoint others (including maybe myself) to do the essential things.

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