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Death by detail

The pitfalls of being too busy

Issue: "Will Kurds stand alone?," June 1, 2002

I'm really too busy to write this essay. I've been slighting people all day long, perfecting minimalist, utilitarian exchanges till it's almost an art form. The newspaper makes an arc from the front porch to the back recycling bin with nary a skid across the kitchen table. My youngest child told me she doesn't remember what a family dinner is, and the house has gotten licks and promises the past three years.

You're too busy to read this too, I know-which is why it's nice to have this one-page, 750-word format with a drawing in the middle. A bite size you can wolf down over your half cup of coffee.

I don't know how we arrived at this place. It's all part of the "unintended consequences" of scientific advances in convenience, I guess, like the way electronic mail just gives you one more thing to check every day.

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A Minnesotan missionary to Turkey thanked me once for not saying, in my letters, how "busy" I am, like everybody else in the States does (A close shave! I was just about to mention that to her!). "What is everyone so busy doing?" she wrote, with gentle reproach, and then proceeded to expand on the importance and joy of lingering over humble meals with her Kurdish neighbors, something with which I am principally in total agreement.

I've asked the Lord to make me smarter, or diminish my need for sleep, so that I can be more efficient, but I'm not sure He works that way. He'll probably say, "My grace is sufficient for you, My power made perfect in weakness." As it is, the present situation curtails my independence and keeps me nagging God for help all day long-which I suppose is the whole idea.

A friend grabbed me at the cafe and shared amazing news. Something inside had told her to phone her brother last week. "If you hadn't called, I was going to commit suicide the next day," he said. It wasn't idle talk; he had the method, the time, the place, the note, all planned. She dropped everything and met him-and took an "F" on her Hebrew exam. The story gave me pause.

But just for a moment. Then it was off to Restaurant Depot after hours for supply buying, as my helper had just resigned (she was too busy), and then to see about the van's pull to the left, the diseased tree in the backyard, a leaky hot water tank, laundry and dinner before "Pioneer Girls" at 7, a desk that resembles a Middle Eastern tell with just the top layer excavated, and my son's 6th-grade teacher who wants a conference ASAP. Death by detail.

I heard that John Wesley or Martin Luther or somebody (I don't have time to track down the reference) prayed three hours daily-except when he had a busy day ahead, and then he prayed six hours. I hope that's apocryphal.

A pitfall of being busy is that one tends to look down on others who "waste" time in idle pursuits-such as having conversations, going out to dinner, or coloring unicorns with 8-year-olds. Perhaps a self-study on the Martha and Mary story of Luke 10:38-42 is in order. When I have time.

I remember the day, in mid-marriage implosion, when Donna B. stood with me in the church parking lot till the shadows shifted and lengthened across the pavement. I don't know what list of chores she mentally "X"ed off as I emotionally purged, nor what her family had for dinner that night, but as for me I drove away filled. Tough call, Donna. Thanks.

I sense there is something wrong with a day whose projected success is predicated on an allowance of 30 seconds per conversation. Jesus brooked interruptions (Matthew 14:13-14). I am groping toward some solutions: such as, henceforth, not to let the "perfect" be the enemy of the "good" (the friend I cannot invite for dinner I will at least phone), and to meditate more on the parable of the Good Samaritan. Moreover, a nebulous insight is taking shape: that there is really only one priority in life-the glory of God-and under that its several distributions, and necessary trade-offs, to sort out "with fear and trembling." Any help in fleshing this out will be greatly appreciated; just contact my e-mail. But for now I've gotta run.

Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again.


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