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25th June: Two Sides of Life (2) -- The Tyranny of Busyness

'... so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat. Mark 6:31 (NIV)

Does that sound familiar to you? It happens often enough -- too often -- in hospital life and in many a medical practice. It happened again and again to Jesus and his personal band of followers during his ministry. Great crowds followed him everywhere (Matthew's Gospel has at least 15 separate references to such crowds). Their motives were sometimes mixed, as he was not slow to tell them (Jn 6:26). But he taught them and healed their sick. At the same time, we read again and again that he dismissed the crowds or avoided them and got away to a quiet place. Repeatedly he took his disciples away so that they could rest. The one motive that overruled his need for rest was compassion.

At times in a medical life there just seems to be too much to do. It can be genuinely inevitable, and then one must cope. Nevertheless it is well to examine one's motives if life seems constantly too busy. In looking at the tyranny of busyness, we need to look honestly for the real tyrant. Is the tyrant perhaps ourselves? Is there always genuine pressing need? Is there sometimes a wish to impress others? Is there sometimes a wish to impress ourselves -- to feel important, to feel 'needed', to satisfy an excessive perfectionism, to enjoy a little self-pity, even to be 'very Christian'? Most of us have a remarkable capacity to deceive ourselves when it comes to motive. It is worth some frank thought.

A young Christian once said to me: 'I've been told that Christians should not take holidays. What do you think?' I said: 'As a doctor, I think that is nonsense'. It is not a sin to have a holiday when we do absolutely nothing useful or to take an afternoon off for golf or to go fishing.

Of course we must do our work well and willingly, and with compassion, but we shall not do it efficiently if we are physically and/or mentally exhausted. Of course we must play our reasonable part in the work of the Kingdom, but we do not need to be on 57 committees. We do not need to flatter ourselves that nobody else can do anything properly (which means like we would do it!). Certainly there is no warrant to think that busyness is next to godliness. The Master says to us as he said to his disciples long ago, after they had been on a busy and demanding assignment (Mk 6:31 NIV): 'Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest'.

Lord, take from our lives the strain and stress
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of thy peace.

J G Whittier

Further reading: Mk 6:1-12, 30-44.

RRW

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