"I Don't Have Time for This" (Or Why Stress Isn't a Virtue)

It’s the end of semester—the end of my very final semester of seminary. This means stress and anxiety have been the dominant themes. The hundreds of pages left to be read, the brilliant thoughts that must be conjured up or fabricated for papers, last projects, final exams—and all the while the minutes tick by and time slips away.

Do you know that feeling of stress? When your pulse feels always slightly elevated, and your mind and body are jittery with nervous energy? When you feel a knot or a churning in your gut? When you’re paralyzed and inactive from the overwhelming weight of what must be done? When your emotions are taut and delicate, at the breaking point of tears, irritation, or absurd laughter at any moment?

To increase the absurdity of the situation, in the midst of all the busyness and the pressure, I have to take a retreat. Yes, a full-day retreat, preferably in silence and solitude, exploring practices of medieval spirituality. My reaction?—I don’t have time for this. I don’t have the time to be still because I need to be productive.

Isn’t this just life? We fill our lives to the brim, busy with work, with study, with family, with activities. Our busy and stressful lives mimic what our culture considers "virtuous"—as if it’s the expected (and perhaps applauded) default setting. Productivity has become an American spiritual virtue, and I find myself quietly submitting to its mastery as much as the next person.

And so we respond: I don’t have time for this. The time for prayer, the time with a distressed friend, the time to talk with the neighbor who unexpectedly dropped by, the time to converse with the barista you see every morning, the time to just be and take the time to attend to the world and people around you.

I increasingly wonder how appropriate this stress is for the Christian life—particularly the American form of busyness that typically produces it. Long, relational, un-productive hospitality and the willingness to let your plans and schedule be derailed by the need to love and care for our neighbors are more in line with the Christian life pictured by Jesus.

Our lives should never be so busy that we can’t stretch open spaces for the Lord or other people to enter. In fact, I think that we should expectantly hold open spaces for Him to work. We should never be so busy that we are actually missing life—the moments of beauty and joy, the little feet and little hands entrusted to us, the moments when Grace breaks through the veil, those moments we miss if we aren’t still or present enough to look for them.

Life isn’t about just doing. It isn’t all about being productive. We can run busily through life at the expense of the abundant life held out to us.

And with that sermon to myself, it’s time to get back to the reading…