Buy This Book: Quick Review of “Crazy Busy”

Crazy Busy

I was able to read Kevin DeYoung’s Crazy Busy yesterday (it is, as the title says, a mercifully short book for those who are extremely busy), and came away with an impression that I could give this book to anyone in my church (whether they are students or parents, working or staying at home, etc) and they would profit greatly from it.

DeYoung starts by stating there are three dangers which we need to avoid: that busyness can ruin our joy, rob our hearts, and can cover up the rot in our souls.  The last danger, that busyness can cover up the rot in our souls, seemed quite applicable, as he goes on to say

The presence of extreme busyness in our lives may point to deeper problems— a pervasive people-pleasing, a restless ambition, a malaise of meaninglessness.

The next 6 chapters are spent going over specific diagnosis’ that are at the root of the busy problem.  The first diagnosis is “You are beset with many manifestations of pride.”  Pride reveals itself in many ways.  DeYoung lists a number of them, such as: people pleasing, living for praise, looking for pity, power, possessions, and performance evaluation.  With regards to people pleasing, DeYoung says (with incredible pinpoint accuracy in describing me)

We are busy because we try to do too many things. We do too many things because we say yes to too many people. We say yes to all these people because we want them to like us and we fear their disapproval. It’s not wrong to be kind. In fact, it’s the mark of a Christian to be a servant. But people-pleasing is something else. Doing the cookie drive so you can love others is one thing. Doing the cookie drive so that others might love you is quite another. So much of our busyness comes down to meeting people’s expectations. You may have a reputation for being the nicest person in the world because the operating principle in your heart is to have a reputation for being the nicest person in the world. Not only is that a manifestation of pride and therefore a sin; it also makes our lives miserable (living and dying by the approval of others), and it usually hurts those who are closest to us (who get what’s left over of our time and energy after we try to please everyone else). People often call it low self-esteem, but people-pleasing is actually a form of pride and narcissism.

Just to be clear, DeYoung is not advocating that we never try to help others out or serve.  And he is not saying that every bit of busyness is a result of pride.  He gives a helpful diagnostic question that gets at the heart of whether our actions are out of pride: “Am I trying to do good or make myself look good?”  He gives an example that illustrates this question perfectly that each and every one of us can relate to.

Opening our home to others is a wonderful gift and a neglected discipline in the church. But we easily forget the whole point of hospitality. Think of it this way: Good hospital-ity is making your home a hospital. The idea is that friends and family and the wounded and weary people come to your home and leave helped and refreshed. And yet, too often hospitality is a nerve-wracking experience for hosts and guests alike. Instead of setting our guests at ease, we set them on edge by telling them how bad the food will be, and what a mess the house is, and how sorry we are for the kids’ behavior. We get worked up and crazy busy in all the wrong ways because we are more concerned about looking good than with doing good. So instead of our encouraging those we host, they feel compelled to encourage us with constant reassurances that everything is just fine. Opening our homes takes time, but it doesn’t have to take over our lives. Christian hospitality has much more to do with good relationships than with good food. There is a fine line between care and cumber. In many instances, less ado would serve better.

Skipping ahead a few chapters, DeYoung also addresses another issue that overwhelms a majority of people: their children.  As a disclaimer, I must state that I do not have children.  I have a dog.  BUT, this author has 5 children under the age of 10, so I think he has the ability to speak to this issue and make valid points.  The chapter is titled, “A Cruel Kindergarchy,” and the diagnosis that accompanies it is:

You need to stop freaking out about your kids.

Here are a few snippets from the chapter…

There is almost no way for parents to completely remove busyness from their lives. Children don’t afford that luxury. But with a little effort— and a lot of lightening up— most of us can be a little less busy and a lot less   crazy. We live in a strange new world. Kids are safer than ever before, but parental anxiety is skyrocketing. Children have more options and more opportunities, but parents have more worry and hassle. We have put unheard-of amounts of energy, time, and focus into our children. And yet, we assume their failures will almost certainly be our fault for not doing enough. We live in an age where the future happiness and success of our children trumps all other concerns. No labor is too demanding, no expense is too high, and no sacrifice is too great for our children. A little life hangs in the balance, and everything depends on   us. You might call this child-obsessed parenting an expression of sacrificial love and devotion. And it might be. But you could also call it Kindergarchy: rule by children. “Under Kindergarchy,” Joseph Epstein observes, “all arrangements are centered on children: their schooling, their lessons, their predilections, their care and feeding and general high maintenance— children are the name of the game.” 1 Parents become little more than indentured servants attending to their children as if they were direct descendants of the Sun King. “Every child a dauphin” is how Epstein   puts it. Becoming a stern, exacting disciplinarian is not the antidote to Kindergarchy. Epstein is not pining for parents to be harsher, just less harangued. It’s worth remembering that not long ago the nuclear family was much less child-centered.

As nanny parents living in a nanny state, we think of our children as amazingly fragile and entirely moldable. Both assumptions are mistaken. It’s harder to ruin our kids than we think and harder to stamp them for success than we’d like. Christian parents in particular often operate with an implicit determinism. We fear that a few wrong moves will ruin our children forever, and at the same time assume that the right combination of protection and instruction will invariably produce godly children. Leslie Leyland Fields is right: “One of the most resilient and cherished myths of parenting is that parenting creates the child.”

We must reject our well-meaning but misguided spiritual determinism. As it turns out, it doesn’t all depend on us. The Bible is full of examples of spiritual giants producing rascally children and noble kin coming from polluted loins. While the proverbial wisdom of Scripture (Prov. 22: 6) and the promises of the covenant (Gen. 17: 7) tell us that good Christian parents and good Christian children normally go together, we must concede that God is sovereign (Rom. 9: 6– 18), salvation is a gift (Eph. 2: 8– 9), and the wind of the Spirit blows where it wishes (John 3: 8). As Fields puts it in her Christianity Today article, “Parents with unbelieving children, friends with children in jail, the discoveries of the geneticists, and the faith heroes in Hebrews 11 are all powerful reminders of this truth: We will parent imperfectly, our children will make their own choices, and God will mysteriously and wondrously use it all to advance his kingdom.”

I worry that many young parents are too sure that every decision will set their kids on an unalterable trajectory to heaven or hell. It’s like my secretary at the church once told me: “Most moms and dads think they are either the best or the worst parents in the world, and both are wrong.” Could it be we’ve made parenting too complicated? Isn’t the most important thing not what we do but who we are as parents? They will remember our character before they remember our exact rules regarding television and Twinkies. I want to grow as a parent— in patience and wisdom and consistency. But I also know that I can’t change my kids’ hearts. I can’t make their decisions for them. I am responsible for my heart and must be responsible to teach my children the way of the Lord. But there’s no surefire input— say, the right mix of family devotions, Tolkien, and nutrition— that will infallibly produce the output we desire. Ten years into this parenting gig, I’m just trying to be faithful and to repent for all the times I’m   not. I have five kids and, besides the Lord’s grace, I’m banking on the fact that there really are just a few nonnegotiables in raising children. When you think about it, what does the Bible actually say about parenting? Child rearing is hardly the main theme of Scripture. God doesn’t provide many specific instructions about the parent-child relationship, except that parents should teach their children about God (Deut. 6: 7; Proverbs 1– 9), discipline them (Prov. 23: 13; Heb. 12: 7– 11), be thankful for them (Ps. 127: 3– 5), and not exasperate them (Eph. 6: 4). Filling in the details depends on the family, the culture, the Spirit’s wisdom, and a whole lot of trial and   error. There are ways to screw up our kids for life, but thankfully the Happy Meal is not one of them. There is not a straight line from Ronald McDonald to eternal rebellion. Much like there is not a direct correlation between doodling loudly in the service as a toddler and doing meth as a teenager. Could it be that, beyond the basics of godly parenting, most of the other techniques

The last thing I want to mention about Crazy Busy is that the book does not say you should never be busy.  In his last diagnosis, he says this:

After several chapters with lists of 10 or 7 or 3 (at least they weren’t 40 or 144,000!) let me start this chapter by getting right to the conclusion: the reason we are busy is because we are supposed to be   busy. This may seem like a strange way to (almost) end a book on busyness. But keep in mind that this is the last of seven diagnoses, not the only one. If this were the only point of the book you’d think, “Great, life is going to stink! I’m supposed to feel overwhelmed. I should be neglecting family and strung out on four asleep. Super! I guess I’ll sign the kids up for tae kwon do.” I wrote the rest of this book because that’s not the way we should feel. Busyness is a big problem. It comes with serious spiritual dangers. There’s a reason this chapter is not the only chapter in the   book. And there’s a reason it’s one of the chapters. I don’t want you to think the best thing we can do for ourselves and for the world is to take a pass on every difficult request, live for leisure, and throw ourselves a giant “me party.” I don’t want you to think that hard work is the problem, or that sacrificing for others is the problem, or that suffering is necessarily the problem. If you have creativity, ambition, and love, you will be busy. We are supposed to disciple the nations. We are supposed to work with our hands. We are supposed to love God with our minds. We are supposed to have babies and take care of them. It’s not a sin to be busy. It’s not wrong to be active.

Please, if you are feeling overwhelmed with life, read this book.  If you think you are too busy to read this book, read this book.  It is written with a target audience of crazy busy adults who don’t have much time in mind.  If you are a student or a parent, this book is for you.

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