The old adage goes that a man wanted to figure out why he was so busy, but he just didn’t have the time to do it. Do you feel the same way? Most of us fall into the trap of thinking that we are too busy. But this is a trap; it is a mistake to think of our times in terms of how busy it is.
We will always be busy, our entire life. Time will always fill up and we will spend most of our life working, all those hours we are awake. The monks have a secret to share with us about busyness. The question we should be asking ourselves, those robed figures suggest, is not: How can I be less busy? The better question to chew on is: What am I doing while I work? Am I distraught by busyness, or by meaninglessness?
All We Have to Fear
Here’s the secret of the monks: All we have to fear is not busyness, but meaninglessness. The real heart of our search is not for free time, but for meaningful activity. If our time is full of meaning and purpose, we will not be flailing in a frantic wave of busyness. But without meaning, however much we have to do or not do will be too much for our spirits to support.
Monks and Meaningfulness
Monks are active all day, every day, usually with no vacation and no retirement. How do they maintain this? How are they not exhausted by a sense of being too busy? The secret is that they are always engaged in meaningful activity; they believe that even the most mundane actions are part of their greater vocation to love God.
Coupled with this is the reality that monks’ daily and weekly schedules allow for appropriate leisure; time for holy rest is embedded in the monks’ schedule and does not get thrown out the window when life becomes full of practical tasks that need to be done. To live their call to contemplation and love of God, monks realize the vital importance of times of leisure. “Repose, leisure, peace, belong among the elements of happiness,” writes philosopher Josef Pieper. “If we have not escaped from harried rush, from mad pursuit, from unrest, from the necessity of care, we are not happy,” he continues. “And what of contemplation? It’s very premise is freedom from the fetters of workaday busyness.” This is not something specific to monks; rather, all Catholics are called to have leisure in their life as well as work.
Trying to Escape Busyness
Contrast the monk’s consistent and maintainable pace with the desperate need we sometimes feel for a vacation. Philosopher Dr. John Cuddeback, while himself on a family vacation, reflected on the need we often feel for vacations in our lives:
It seems to me that the better ordered our life, the less our need for vacation. By vacation I don’t mean just any down-time, but rather a length of time where we travel to some destination for the sake of ‘getting away’ and relaxing. The normal routine of our lives ideally should include wholesome work, quality leisure time, and significant opportunity to be-together with, or live in communion with family and friends. But since a number of socio-economic conditions can make such things especially difficult, we will need to be intentional about making them happen. Much more important than any vacation is making quality time happen in our homes and communities. No amount of vacation—or entertainment and distraction at home—can ever make up for the absence of either of the twin brothers: good work and good leisure.
Ideally, we shouldn’t need a break from our life; our daily and weekly rhythms should be sustainable ones for our human spirit! The more meaningful we make our daily lives, the less we will need to get a break from them.
Business and Meaningfulness
How can this principle of living meaningful schedules (with room for both good work and good leisure) be applied to business? How can you make your business actions meaningful? Here are a few suggestions.
Offer It Up
First, offer up your work struggles and strain as a prayer of sacrifice. When the feelings of having too much to do threaten to overwhelm you, choose to immediately offer up the pain for your family or another special intention. Offering up the strain of work automatically adds profound meaning to what you are doing. You are no longer just doing a tedious or painful task; you are praying for someone in need.
Connect to the Bigger Why
Second, connect what you are doing to the greater “Why” of your work: It is a mission from God. There is meaning in your work; it is a way you provide for yourself and/or your family. Intentionally look to see the positive impact of your work in your life and in the lives of others. Where is God in your work? As St. Josemaria Escriva wrote, “Since we are convinced that God is to be found everywhere, we plough our fields praising the Lord, we sail the seas and ply all other trades singing his mercies.”
Take Pride in Work
Third, take pride in what you do and share more about your work with your children and spouse. How can you invite them into what you do, bridging the divide that can seem to exist between family and work life? Think about how Christ worked as a carpenter for many years, a trade He learned from his father. Is there a way to share lessons from your workplace with your children or those you mentor?
Don’t Be Allured by Busyness
Fourth, don’t give in to a temptation to see busyness as a status symbol. Built on a strong Protestant work ethic, Americans can tend, even while lamenting being so busy, to see busyness as a sign of high social status. Wealthier people often work longer hours than those poorer than them, and bragging about busyness can actually be a way of asserting social status, that one’s talents and skills are in high demand. Living in this social context that emphasizes work, productivity, and busyness can affect us more than we might expect. We need to combat this tendency by reminding ourselves of our priorities: Life is about meaning, not busyness!
Focus the Search on Meaning
While it is tempting to complain about our lives being too busy, it wouldn’t really make sense for us to complain about our lives being “too meaningful.” Let’s focus our search for simplicity on honing in on the meaning and why of our life, even if this means cutting some unnecessary commitments out.
For further reading, check out How Do I Find Meaning in My Meaningless Job?, by Dominick Albano.