For a few (too many) tortured months in seminary, I was working multiple jobs, taking a full course load, and doing my internship as a chaplain in a hospital. It was a season where the math just did not add up: I was putting in 20 hours at the hospital, and I was on call 24 hours once a month or so. I was working 20-30 hours. I was in class 12 hours. Reading and writing. Cooking, eating, doing laundry. Having a relationship. Trying to occasionally still be a friend. Sleeping? Socializing?
So, if you had asked me on a given day—assuming first that I happened to look up and acknowledge your presence and take the time to have a conversation—if you had asked me how I was, the answer was simple: Busy.
It’s a common refrain for too many of us.
I would go on to enthusiastically bore you with exactly how busy I was, with all the complicated scheduling, with the missed parties/concerts/movies. Because I was Just. So. Darned. Busy.
It’s easy to hide behind busy.
Busy hides sorrow, grief, and frustration.
Busy hides self-doubt, a challenging season of discernment, pride in accomplishment, and longing for God.
Busy dulls genuine enjoyment and delight.
Busy put me in control: I like feeling like I am in control.
Busy made me feel important: I like feeling important.
Busy gave me an out if I didn’t do my best because I was doing so much: I like having an out when I am afraid of success.
Busy allowed me an excuse to keep from engaging in difficult relationships and conversations: I like having an excuse to avoid vulnerability.
Busy also gave me an excuse to be a less awesome partner. Did I mention I like excuses?
Busy was a shield against the microagressions I dealt with in every domain of my professional and academic career, allowing me to prove and declare to myself, I am worthy! I belong!
As a woman of color I knew I had to work harder, put in more hours, do more. Well, I was busy and it proved to the world I could make it!
But busy was wearing down my body and my spirit.
Slowing down invited me to notice, but I had no time to move in ways that gave me joy.
Slowing down forced me to see, but I had no time to contemplate, simmer, or reflect.
I had no time to create beautiful things
Everything was go, go, go!
Busy stands in between me and my relationships: with God, with my loved ones, with potential friends and colleagues, and with my own body.
I decided after that hectic season that my personal and professional goal would be to avoid the busies.
And it may be one of the hardest goals I’ve ever set for myself—harder than when I quit smoking. I could remind myself that smoking was stinky and bad for me. But busy? Busy is social capital; it means you are important! Busy is a badge of honor.
Our culture glorifies busyness. The expectation heaped on capitalist subjects is to constantly produce. Recent statements justifying budget cuts to vital programs that protect the environment, promote the arts, and feed hungry children and seniors because they “don’t show results” highlight this thinking: Our personal, political, spiritual, and financial worth is tied to our tangible output.
Mainstream United States culture is not so good at slowing down.
I come from a culture where slowing down is a way of life. I grew up in a small surf town in Puerto Rico. It was not uncommon for a business to close because the waves were just too awesome not to ride, because it’s a good day to go fill a few buckets with the ripe mangoes falling off the trees, or because a family member had something important going on. To some people that may seem inefficient or lazy. I would call that slow-down Holy instead. These are colonial labels that have been given to my people for centuries now. I consider it a gift that other cultures can learn from.
To be attentive to the needs of our bodies, our families, our surroundings, and our spirits is not irresponsible. It is practicing attunement and prioritizing connection over calendar.
It’s getting out and playing the first warm and sunny day of spring that demands our attention.
It’s taking a personal day to enjoy and/or steel ourselves for the winter ahead during the first snowstorm of the year—sage advice from a colleague that I’ve heeded faithfully!
It’s shifting around schedules and responsibilities to be available to a friend who is in need.
It is the busyness I aspire to.
I am living in the U.S.
I am married. My wife and I have an infant daughter.
I am a friend, a daughter-in-law, a painter, a pastor, a hiker, a writer, an activist, a city human relations commissioner, a crafter, and a theologian.
I don’t always have free time to do all the things I would like to do. When I stop trying to fill every minute with accomplishment, I make time for the things that matter: for giggles with our baby, for heartfelt prayers, for time in nature.
When we give up the glorification of busy, we focus our attention where it belongs: back on the sacred pulsating life of God around us; back on the presence of God within us; back on the love of God connecting us.
We remember that God loves us because of who we are, not because of what we do.
Thea Racelis is a Latina Queer Theologian and Pastor; educator, dreamer, and activist. Thea is committed to ministry from/with the margins and at the intersections.