Shepherd’s Care: Battling Busyness

For the next four weeks, I will turn to suggesting ways to address the four areas of the downward spiral.  Today, battling busyness.

I say “battling” busyness, because it is a cultural condition that will never go away.  In some ways, that is the first key to understanding how to deal with it.  There is no “quick fix” or series of steps that will eliminate the problem once and for all.  It is a lifelong struggle, and we will find ourselves experiencing fluctuation in our ability to handle it.

The second thing to do is to differentiate between a “busy day” and a “busy life.”  We cannot ever eliminate the first, but we must remain vigilant about the second.  When we have a busy day—or even a string of them, we must “get out ahead” on our calendars and provide compensatory “down time.”  Ministry cannot be “put on the clock,” so when we find ourselves working into the night, we need not feel that we are “not working” when we take a morning off, or come back a bit later from lunch.

A third approach to busyness is to schedule a weekly sabbath day.  I honestly believe that clergy should have a 5/2 schedule, just like most laypersons do.  One day is for “catch up,” and one day is for “rest.”  Obviously, Sunday is not a pastor’s sabbath, so we must look for it elsewhere.  I’ve recommended Mondays because it is often a day when we are adrenaline depleted from our work on Sunday—a good day not to do a lot anyway.  But I also know some pastors who like a Friday/Saturday combination, so that they can experience the two-day break like others do with a Saturday/Sunday pattern.  But whatever the decision, a weekly sabbath is important.

The point is simply that busyness can often be addressed with minimal effort.  That’s not the case farther down the spiral.  Creating a reasonable schedule for yourself and keeping a weekly sabbath will go a long way in diminishing the feeling of busyness.

For some, it will be necessary to restore equilibrium “little by little.”  Sometimes our schedules get so lopsided that we cannot correct them all at once, and sometimes we have gone so long without a sabbath day that we may need to create mini-sabbaths (e.g. coming back from lunch an hour later) before we can put a whole day into the picture.

At this level, it is essential to remember that we are self-employed (unless you happen to be on a church staff—and if so, you’ll need to work this out in community) and are able to make these adjustments, because we are ultimately in control of our calendars.  When we complain about being “busy,” it is almost always the result of decisions we have made.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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