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When I'm too busy

Let it be recorded.  I’m now preaching to myself.

I’ve come to recognize that there are two types of personalities – “be”-ers and “do”-ers.  That’s not to say that everyone always performs according to those designations, but I think everyone naturally leans in one way or the other.  I’ve also come to realize that I tend to be a “do”-er.

That’s not bad but it does present its challenges.  It means that I quite often become too busy.  It means that often, if there’s a finger to point toward somebody who will get “it” done, there is a high probability the finger will point at me.  Being a doer, I almost always rise to the challenge.  It can be good for the Church but bad for Geoff.

I’ve found that, at times, I can even be highly productive when I focus on that one thing that needs to be done.  The nature of ministry and work in the Church is that all too often there are many priorities, several tasks, many various things that need to be done all at one time and seldom is anything actually ever finished.  That’s a challenge for a doer who needs to see conclusions in order to experience satisfaction and move on to the next task.  Add that to insights by personality type theorists about the “type” of person ideally suited for ministry being the “be”-er (not the “do”-er) and one has a dangerous combination with a high potential for what has come to be called “burnout.”

There are some basic realities about the human creatures God has made.  God made them all, even the doers, and no doubt for very good reason.  A buzz phrase we hear continuously these days is that everyone needs to “learn to multitask.”  I maintain that multitasking is not a natural characteristic of the human being, especially of the doer, and maybe if the truth were known, not a natural component of human nature at all.  The result is, many of us get too busy.  I’m one of those.

I know I’m too busy when I miss important meetings I had every intention of attending or when members of my family ask me my name when I finally make my way out of my study at some late hour.  In today’s world both inside and outside of the Church I expect being too busy happens to a good number of us, even those who believe they are skilled at multitasking.

I can’t help but think of the familiar gospel narrative of Luke 10: 38-42.  Mary is the “be”-er sitting with a certain level of content at the feet of Jesus while Martha does her best to be the “do”-er and attend to all the things that need to be done. The frustration for Martha may have been more basic than I ever imagined – simply that, with her personality trait, more than one thing at a time is being too busy and it sends her into a tailspin that prompts her criticism toward the “slacker” – Mary.  Jesus steps in, and the correction he offers is of Martha, not Mary.  “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things ... one thing is needful.”

We assume that Jesus intended to validate what Mary was doing and suggested that Martha “do” that instead of what she was doing.  Maybe Jesus was also offering Martha the perfect piece of advice for a “do”-er.  Doing is not wrong, but especially if you’re a “do”-er, one thing at a time is probably all you can handle.  We all have to just “be” sometimes.  We make decisions about when that’s necessary.  Maybe Jesus was also saying that Martha,  for her own spiritual well-being, needed to narrow her focus and concentrate on the one priority.

I find walking is good exercise, but it also serves another (spiritual?) purpose for me with my personality type.  Walking requires taking one step at a time.  That’s good discipline for me and tends to bring a peace I too often don’t experience in most of what I do.  Praying the daily offices is a similar experience. If one takes the time to just follow the pattern, one step after another, there’s no need to multitask – just focus on the one thing at a time.

Could there be wisdom for Anglican Christians in what some would identify as the old style, mundane, traditional and all too familiar aspects of faith practice?  The next time I’m overwhelmed and too busy, I’ll try to remember again the need to practice what I’ve preached.

The Ven. Geoffrey Hall is Executive Assistant to the Bishop of Fredericton, Secretary of Synod, Diocesan Archdeacon and Territorial Archdeacon of Fredericton.
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