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For Your Marriage

Dennis and Mary Jo Weiss have been married for more than 30 years. They write about a shared love of nature, prayer, and their children and grandchildren from their home in Hamburg, New York.

Busyness…The Thief of our Joy

I have a confession…a deep, dark secret…something I don’t share broadly…here it is:
I AM NOT BUSY! WHEW! There, I said it!

Our culture has come to place so much emphasis on our activities that if we are not sufficiently “busy,” then there is something wrong with us. Our identity and value seem to be determined by the things we are involved in. Our phone should be ringing with calls and texts, demanding our skills and talents…ah, so many demands and so little time!

“Busy” has become the default answer we give when people ask how we are doing.

It is also the grand excuse for not getting things done on time or at all, causing people to back off and not question us.

But this way of thinking fosters a self-centered and frazzled mode of existence. We are constantly “flying by the seat of our pants,” rather than prayerfully and thoughtfully moving through our days. Instead of doing one thing well, our culture encourages us to “multi-task.” Yet, how do we model for our children our best efforts at tasks if we do not have time to do our best at even one?

Now, skeptics will conclude that I am not busy because I am retired, and I am not claiming that every day is free of obligation. But the truth is, Dennis and I have always fought the good fight throughout our marriage to keep from getting on the “hamster wheel” that overinvolvement entails. And yes, it has seemed like a fight indeed at times, for many good opportunities have presented themselves over the years. Sometimes we had to learn the hard way, because there is a fine line between busyness that brings health to the family, and busyness that disrupts our mission.

For us, it has been a balancing act. At various times we have found ourselves overcommitted and running like chickens with our heads cut off. But we noticed that at those times we were overcommitted, our family life deteriorated. People were grouchy, rushed, and short with each other. Meals were hastily served and eaten for the sake of moving on to the evening activity. We didn’t appreciate the little things in life, because we had little time to notice them. Busyness was threatening to steal our joy in the greatest gift of all – our family.

It was when we began to treat family life itself as our main activity that we started to scrutinize outside commitments that took us away from that focus. Some outside involvements were healthy, some worthwhile, and some necessary, but we had to make those rushed evenings the exception, not the norm.

As Dennis and I more carefully discerned our family schedule, we saw good fruits in the creation of more free time. Our children were more peaceful when we were less committed, and our family life more joyful. We could encourage better efforts at homework and chores, not a standard that settled for “good enough to get by.”

Our summers became blessedly “un”committed. We spent many a summer day at the top of Chestnut Ridge Hill, reading books on blankets, looking at the clouds, and pondering what life would be like without elbows. We hiked in woods, waded in creeks, caught fireflies in jars and watched as our “homemade lanterns” magically twinkled. I suspect that when our children think of past summers, their thoughts will turn to eating warm poppyseed bread at an afternoon break in their play, or the unabridged joy of running through the sprinkler, probably not the soccer game where they triumphed.

I am not judging those families who do a lot of running around, for each family is different and must decide what level of activity is acceptable. I simply realized that I was a much better person and mother when I had the time to do my job the way I felt I needed to do it. The home was healthier when the “heart” of it was less stressed.

And as for multi-tasking, I am not good at it – never have been. I grew up in Rochester, New York – the second generation of Italian and Irish immigrants. I spent many days with my Italian grandma and grandpa, simply sitting on their front porch glider, lemonade in one hand, homemade biscotti in the other. I treasure the memories of those summer afternoons!

In fact, when I am in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, those days come to mind, as I sit and adore and wait upon the Lord. Since the spiritual life requires both time and silence, how can we hope to pass on the legacy of faith to our children if our lives are a cacophony of busyness and noise?

Perhaps sometime this summer we can beg, borrow, or steal some time to sit in quiet at the edge of a field lit by fireflies at dusk, and ponder the level of busyness we have allowed into our family life.