The Busyness Trap: Sabbath Practice Part 1


In an essay he wrote in 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted a 15-hour workweek by 2030, when we’d all have time to enjoy “the hour and the day virtuously and well.”

During the 1950s during the post-WWII boom in productivity, along with rising incomes and standards of living, led economists and politicians to predict that by 1990, Americans would work 22 hours a week six months of the year and retire before age 40.

While accepting the Republican Party’s nomination for president in 1956, Dwight D. Eisenhower envisioned a world where:

…leisure…will be abundant, so that all can develop the life of the spirit, of reflection, of religion, of the arts, of the realization of the good things of the world.

And here we are today. If you ask most of your friends and neighbors—and indeed, even yourself—how you’re doing, how you are, what do you hear? BUSY. I’m BUSY. We’re BUSY. Things are busy! Super busy! Crazy busy! SOOOOOO busy.

In a 2012 New York Times article entitled “The Busy Trap,” Tim Kreider wrote:

Even children are busy now, scheduled down to the half-hour with classes and extracurricular activities.

Sound familiar?

Saying we’re “BUSY” has become a standard answer for many of us. A way of life, even. So what happened? Well, for one thing, life got moer expensive. Childcare is more expensive than public college here in California. Wages have fallen while housing prices have increased dramatically. Yet even beyond that, leisure scholar Ben Hunnicutt says, “Work has become central in our lives, answering the religious questions of ‘Who are you?’ and ‘How do you find meaning and purpose in your life?’” Taking time for yourself is tantamount to weakness.

But how many of us are tired? How many of us aren’t sure how life got this way? How many of us believe that it just will be this way, and there’s not much we can do?

We are busy. Work. School. Sports. Errands. Music. Appointments. The house is a mess and someone needs to get dinner on the table. Exercise… sometime. The kids are growing out of their clothes… again. Do you ever get to the place where you just want to shout, “Help! I’m busy and I can’t stop!”

God wants our good. He wants us to flourish. In John 10:10, Jesus says:

I have come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.

That doesn’t mean God wants us to have more THINGS in our life. More busyness, more activities, more stuff, more schedule-fillers. God wants our good. Jesus came for us. The words of Scripture are the words of life—words that teach us how to live in this abundance and joy and peace and hope and freedom that God offers to us.

So what if God gave us permission to set everything down? Imagine it. Letting go of the schedule and the errands, the endless “to do” lists and the never-stopping calendar. What if we just stopped? How good would that feel?

What if God didn’t just give you permission to stop, but commanded you to set down your burdens—the burdens of time and schedule and exhaustion and doing, doing, doing? Now, you can’t stop forever, of course. The kids need to get fed, work needs to get done, laundry needs to get folded. But what if God commanded you to set that busyness burden down once a week, for a whole day, no matter what?

Of course, I’m talking about Sabbath. The day God has given to each of us for peace and rest and worship. In Exodus 20, God gives his servant Moses the 10 Commandments. No other Gods. No idols. We shouldn’t take the Lord’s name in vain. And then—number four—before commands about not killing one another or sleeping with each others’ spouses or stealing—is this one:

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter.

And we think—gosh, that’s a tall order. Easy to tell Moses this—he was a sheepherder. He didn’t get his work email at home. He didn’t have to worry about his kids getting into a good college. He didn’t need to serve two mornings a month at the PTA. His kids didn’t need braces. He wasn’t on Facebook.

Who could possibly keep this commandment? What modern person could practice it? But then the Scripture continues, in Exodus 20:8:

For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

If God can rest, can take time to be with himself, can’t we? Mustn’t we? For the sake of our families, ourselves, our souls? For God?



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