Creating Space: Lessons from Our Youth

Erik AndersonCommunity News

A few weeks ago a friend sent me an op-ed piece from the New York times entitled “The ‘Busy’ Trap”. In it the author, Tim Kreider, does an insightful job diagnosing a common affliction as he bemoans the busyness of modern people’s lives. He begins his article,

If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: “Busy!” “So busy.” “Crazy busy.” It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint.

Kreider then goes on to describe that this boast/complaint is not necessarily a lifestyle many people want, and yet it has ever increasingly become the modus operandi for many Americans. They just seem to acquiesce to it, because… well… because everybody does.

This article came as a stark contrast to the two weeks I got to spend at Forest Home, taking the High Schoolers to summer camp in the end of June and the 4th grade through Jr. Highers in early July. Our time in the San Bernardino Mountains was an experience of getting to enjoy margin, space, and free time. In fact, it became kind of an inside joke with our leaders as we laughed at how often we heard a Forest Home staffer describe what we were going to do next as “creating space for…”. And yet, laugh as we did, this was exactly what our students needed.

For too long our youth have been caught in the “Busy Trap,” which explains why so many commented on how thankful they were that at camp space was created. They were glad that they were forced to have 40 minutes of solo time, where they had to be alone and quiet, and were encouraged to read their Bible and pray. They were glad that they had to surrender their cell phones (well, to be fair, only some were glad) and were not allowed to text for an entire week. They were glad that they got four hours every day of free time to play, talk, recreate, and to do what ever they wanted. Not all of their activities provided physical rest – but they were all restful.

As adults, many of our regular lives lack any sort of space – created or inadvertent. As Kreider writes, those caught in the busy trap are almost always people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed: work and obligations they’ve taken on voluntarily, classes and activities they’ve ‘encouraged’ their kids to participate in. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.

Now what we must note is that from all appearances Kreider is a non-Christian secular writer, and therefore lacks the vocabulary of rest in God, Sabbath, and their opposite: idolatry. Yet he is an astute observer of our problem. Did you notice that last line of the quote above? Many of us are addicted to busyness and dread what [we] might have to face in its absence. Ouch! (If it stings, you, too, may be caught.) He goes on:

Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.

What Kreider touches on, but is unable to holistically address, is that our own busyness often masks a lack of confidence in God to provide our lives with significance, meaning and worth. When we do not fully grasp how the gospel fills our lives with worth (Christ died for us!), and with meaning (Christ calls us to glorify him), and significance (Christ sends us on mission), well, then we become afraid of the void that might be exposed if we do not keep our plates spinning in our busy lives. (Interestingly, Kreider’s solution is idleness, but this is clearly insufficient to address the deeper problems he identifies).

This is where we need to take a page from places like Forest Home and our experiences like summer camp and the church retreat. Our students crave the space they are given (or forced into) at camp. They come from lives filled with really great “things,” but their lives are full – and not necessarily in a good way. (Don’t misread my emphasis on these things as sarcasm. These “things” are particularly compelling because they are indeed great). So many of our parents have acquiesced to this frantic pace of life, and allowed their students to over-commit because the “things” they are committing to are such great “things.” There is a sentiment that the resulting busyness is unfortunate, but an inescapable by-product of necessary goods. College applications, making the varsity team, the sense of meaning and significance offered through success – all work together to fuel this trap. Our students actually like each of those great “things” in their lives, but at camp they realize they don’t like the cumulative effect of all of them. Camp reminds our students how much they love and prefer the space.

My guess is that we adults are no different. Our schedules demonstrate a similar frantic pace and a plethora of virtuous activities crowd our calendars like a packed elevator. We too need to create space in our lives where we can experience Sabbath rest. The nation of Israel had regular rest written into their social code and laws.  Jesus proclaimed himself to be the Lord of the Sabbath and promises true rest through an acceptance of the Gospel. And we too need to orient our lives in such a way that reflects this; and if necessary, we need to create space.

Filling every sliver of an opening in our planner, trying to squeeze one more 15-minute task or job into our overly crowded day, running non-stop from event to event does not actually give us the meaning, significance, or sense of self-worth that we may be tempted to think it does. Only the gospel of Jesus – and allowing ourselves to have time to meditate on it – can. We need space, we need margin, we need Sabbath rest.

And so Church, I want to encourage us to do the hard work of creating space. Not idleness, as Kreider would suggest, but space for rest, space for Sabbath, space for the Lord of the Sabbath, to remind us of all that we have in the gospel. This may mean saying, “No,” to the next great thing that comes around; this may mean retiring from certain activities that keep us busy; this may mean allowing quiet moments to be left with our own thoughts. And hopefully, like the Psalmist, we will hear God in this space gently say to us, Be still, and know that I am God.