Kevin DeYoung is a pastor in East Lansing, Mich., and the author or co-author of excellent books including The Hole in Our Holiness, Why We’re Not Emergent, and What Is the Mission of the Church? In a book due out on Sept. 23, Crazy Busy, DeYoung shows how trusting in God’s providence helps us work hard without going crazy. He also points out that many parents live in a kindergarchy, over-programming their children.
Why did you write Crazy Busy? Because I know I have a problem. You could talk to anyone in my congregation: When I would tell them I was writing a book on busyness, they’d say, “You? Don’t you think you need to figure this out before you write a book on it?”
‘Sometimes feeling overwhelmed is part of what it means to be a Christian. You can’t bear somebody else’s burden unless you are taking something of their load and it’s weighing you down a little bit.’
You say the busyness that’s bad is not the busyness of work, but the busyness that works hard at the wrong things: trying to please people, trying to control others, trying to do things we haven’t been called to do. How does the Bible help us to sort out priorities? God tells me that I need to provide for my family, discipline and teach my children, and love my wife as Christ loves the church. If I don’t do that, I’m being unfaithful and sinful. You put in those big rocks and then you take into account the gifts that you have and where God has put you. Sometimes Christians live in a terror of universal obligation: AIDS over here, people to be saved over here, a crushing sense of low-level guilt every day of our lives. Question to ask: Where has God put me right now? I need to say no to a whole bunch of other things because if I don’t say no I can’t say yes to others.
You write about child-obsessed parenting, noting that parents who are crazy busy concerning their kids should realize that “it’s harder to ruin our kids than we think and harder to stamp them for success than we’d like.” Many of us think in terms in parental determinism: If I push all the right buttons my kids are going to turn out OK. I want to instill in myself and my people a wonderful dose not of carelessness, but of God’s sovereignty. He knows the hairs on your kids’ heads.
Can we fight our tendencies to worry by understanding God’s promise that His grace is sufficient? Yes. God will give new mercies on a new day when there are new troubles. Parents specialize in borrowing tomorrow’s trouble: What if they don’t get into this school? What if somebody gets pregnant? What if they get sick? What if they aren’t going to church? Every parent will have one or more of those concerns—that’s the world that we live in and we need to trust that God will have grace for us when we get there. We don’t have to be anxious now. That’s a good thing about worry. If worry is just a personality quirk, well, sorry. But if it’s a sin, which I think Matthew 6 says it is, then there’s hope that God can forgive it and can actually help us change.
You write, “If you have creativity in addition to love you will be busy. We are supposed to disciple the nations. We are supposed to work with our hands. We are supposed to love God with our minds. We are supposed to have babies and take care of them. It is not a sin to be busy.” Do you get the sense that sometimes in Christian culture it’s considered sinful to be busy? Sometimes feeling overwhelmed is part of what it means to be a Christian. You can’t bear somebody else’s burden unless you are taking something of their load and it’s weighing you down a little bit. I hope in addition to freeing people from unhealthy expectations, we also can be freed from the unhealthy expectation that we never ought to feel busy or frazzled in life— because that just makes it even worse.
Feeling frazzled can be useful in that sense? If you have five small kids at home you’re going to be worn out at times. That’s how we should feel. The big question is: Does your life have any rhythm, or are you just overwhelmed? God made us for work, exhaustion, rest. It’s the lack of rhythm that is unhealthy.
Good example, because you do have five children—how old are they? Nine, 7, 5, 3, and 1—stair steps. This year we can say we have very odd children.
Do you hope they’ll become even-tempered? In the next few months.
Let me ask about your next big project: While remaining a pastor, you want to get a doctorate by writing a dissertation about Reese Witherspoon’s ancestor? Yes, on John Witherspoon, the only clergyman to sign the Declaration of Independence. Reese Witherspoon claims to be a direct descendant.
It’s impressive that she knows to claim that. It is. Good for her, that she’s happy to claim a Presbyterian pastor.
What do you have to say about Pastor Witherspoon? He hasn’t received enough credit as a consistent Reformed thinker and the product of late Reformed orthodoxy more than the Scottish Enlightenment.
I see you’re already deep into your research: You write that children can also be crazy busy at times as parents take them from one activity to another activity, but you quote Witherspoon saying, “The best exercise in the world for children is to let them romp and jump about as soon as they are able according to their fancy.” Parents have this idea that their kids have to be in another play group, on a travel soccer team when he’s 5, and then he’s got to go to gymnastics. I’m giving you a list of things we actually do, but as our kids get older we have already said we’re going to guard our weekends and not become taxi drivers as much as we can help it. In middle class America we can’t fathom an opportunity that we wouldn’t be able to take advantage of.
Everyone plays lacrosse ... So I ought to try lacrosse. No, you know what? Play lacrosse in heaven.