After a long winter of piano lessons, violin lessons, guitar lessons, karate lessons, three different basketball teams, cub scouts, Young Womens, and various cleaning and decorating projects, I found myself, this afternoon, with two hours of free time.
Two whole hours.
Oh, the things I could do with two free hours! The kids were gone, the house was clean, and dinner was simmering beautifully in the crockpot. The laundry was done and the carpool was a blessed 120 minutes away. I had nothing to do and nowhere to be. The only thing I had to do was decide how to spend my two free hours. What in the world would I do?
Well, I’ll tell you what I did: I panicked. Why? Because I didn’t know how to handle the free time. Shoot, I didn’t even recognize it.
Who has free time these days? Children and homeless people, that’s who. Everyone else is busybusybusy! And if you’re not, you should be. Because busy equals productivity. Busy equals ambition. Busy equals importance–as in, the busier you are, the more important you must be. Right?
I am not immune to this sordid train of thought; in fact, I wear the Busy Badge whenever I can. Just ask my sister. I call her every day ranting about how, even though the kids are in school, I’m “still soo busy!” Her four young children scream in the background as she clucks sympathetically, graciously validating my busyness when she can’t even get five seconds alone for a phone call. But validate me she does, because she knows how important Being Busy is to my self-esteem. I mean, I’m a stay-at-home mother of three children. If the Busy Badge doesn’t convince people I’m important, what will?
And therein lies our society’s obsession with who’s-busier-than who. We are all, to some degree, constantly trying to prove our importance—to others, to ourselves. We may not be spectacular at everything (or anything), but if we’re “busy!” we are at least relevant. We are contributing, we are needed, we are important. This may be why stay-at-home moms seem to cry “busy!” so often; they are scared of seeming irrelevant in a season of life that is often dismissed by others. I’m not saying that stay-at-home moms aren’t busy, because they are. I’m just saying that they seem to have a special need to prove it. Busy gets respect.
And I respect Busy, too—to a point. I respect motivation and hard work and the whole sucking-the-marrow-out-of-life thing. But I wonder: could we respect Not Busy a just little bit more? Could we, instead of anxiously skimming online articles and self-help books about how important “downtime” is, just actually, um, have some? On purpose and with no apologies? Could we wear the Not Busy badge with as much pride as we do the Busy one?
I have a new kind of favorite person: the person unafraid to say “I’m not busy.” I once had a young mother say to me, “You know, I’m really not that busy,” and I was awestruck. It just showed such a rare confidence. She knew her life’s value didn’t hang on how full her calendar was, and she didn’t need to convince others that her schedule warranted approval. She was one of the few people content to stand still while Busy whipped itself into a frenzy all around her. I think the word for such people is gracious. Because they can ignore Busy long enough to ask about you.
Most of us can’t escape Busy; we are adults, and much is expected of us. But we can knock Busy off it’s twenty-first century pedestal and put it back where it belongs: as something to be tolerated instead of something to be worshipped. Then maybe we’ll stop trying frantically to be busy even when we’re not. Then, when we do get two whole hours of free time, we’ll allow ourselves to use it simply to think. And surmise. And remember. And find meaning. And feel sorry. And feel grateful. And feel, and feel, and slowly, privately, genuinely feel.
And then, having calmed the choppy waters, having paid this kind attention to ourselves, when someone asks us how we are, we won’t need to respond by screaming about all the things we have to do. Instead, we can draw a breath and say, “I’m good. But what I really want to know is: how are you?” And, no longer ruled by Busy, we can actually listen to the answer.