There is a trend in our thinking that can lead us to believe that we must be busy all of the time. This busyness can easily mask our own self-importance, fear of silence, over-extension, or be a sign of our own spiritual restlessness. American culture, and increasingly many other cultures, has a default setting of busy. From children to adolescents to adults, there is a drive in our culture to maintain a fully booked, or double-booked, schedule. There are sports, clubs, ministries, volunteer work, parties, and other commitments that fill the pages of our calendars. The problem is that in all of this busyness our priorities, both in the spiritual life and in our vocations, can become disordered. We can forget what is truly important and place emphasis on the wrong activities at the expense of those that are more important.
The items on our daily agenda that are the most important for a Catholic may not necessarily be what is most important in our culture. It is easy to fall prey to this mentality since it is all around us. Contrary to popular opinion, sports, clubs, extracurricular, and even ministries can become disordered if they are not properly ordered to God and our vocation of holiness. Here are some things to keep in mind when planning your days, weeks, and months throughout the year.
Prayer is first.
I know this can be tough to remember. I still struggle to begin my day in prayer and to pray throughout the day. There are days when I am going through the motions of bedtime prayers with my 4-year-old and my mind is elsewhere. If we do not focus on prayer from the very beginning of our day, we are likely to fall off track. The less we pray, the more we are in danger of sin and disordered inclinations. Prayer is the number one thing in our daily lives that deepens our relationship with God. If we can attend daily Mass, then our day will be fully united to Christ in the Holy Eucharist, which gives us an extra edge in the battles that will come our way. This is not possible for a lot of people, so that is why prayer is crucial. There are many ways to pray. We can spend 15 minutes in Scripture in the morning, pray Lauds from the Divine Office, do a Morning Offering, a Rosary, or any other approved form of prayer from the Catholic tradition. The type of prayer doesn’t matter nearly as much as the habit of prayer. Our days need to be prayerful, so that we can make decisions that guide our families and ourselves on the path of holiness. There is nothing more important whether it be a soccer game, homework, or Facebook. Prayer is the most important part of our day.
You are not the only person capable of a certain task or ministry.
I have often thought in the past that I was the only one willing, or capable, of a certain task. This included ministries in my parish that were not particularly popular for reasons I cannot fathom, such as the Sanctity of Life Committee. Many of my friends in ministry or religious education who are taxed schedule wise, complain to me that nobody else will do it. This is false. In fact, this is pride. We are not the only people capable of a task and if nobody else steps in, we are still allowed to step down. If our spiritual lives and our families are suffering because of our stress level, then it’s time to take a break. Stepping down from a ministry is not the end of the world. It also does not mean that we will never volunteer again. Ministries are secondary to our primary vocations.
The vast majority of the laity is called to family life. This means our spouses and children are primary over any other activity in which we are engaged, except prayer. God comes first, then our families. If our family is suffering because of our volunteering, even ministry, then we need to take a step back. If our prayer and spiritual journey is being impeded by stress from ministry or other activities, then it is time to examine our motives and whether or not it is truly where God is calling us at this point in time. Somebody else can do it just as well, or perhaps even better than you or I can. It is perfectly acceptable to take a break.
Extracurricular activities never supersede Mass or spiritual obligations.
We have an obligation to the keep the Sabbath holy, that means attendance at Mass on Sundays is a mandatory aspect of the Christian life unless you are sick or have other serious reasons for missing. When I moved to the South I discovered that sports competitions are played on Sundays here. That is something completely foreign to me as it never occurred in my native state of Montana. This creates a competition between Mass and sports. Mass must win every time. Our spiritual life is more important than any sport or activity. It doesn’t matter if it means the difference between Harvard and a non-Ivy League school for a child. It doesn’t matter if it is the State Championship. Our spiritual obligations always come first. If we are putting secular, worldly pursuits above Mass or our duties as Catholics, then we have become disordered in our priorities. Sports and other activities are goods that should be enjoyed, but only in their proper ordering to God.
This also includes our vocation of leading our families in holiness. If our busy schedules mean that there is no family time or prayer time as a family then something has to give, and that something is an activity or two. We need quality time as families in order to maintain a healthy and stable environment that fosters holiness. This means putting the phones, iPads, laptops, TV, and other distractions away in order to catch up and pray together on a regular basis. Our spiritual life has eternal implications, while our secular pursuits only last a season here and there.
Busy is not necessarily holy.
Being busy, even if it means taking on multiple ministries and activities at the parish level or beyond, does not necessarily equate to holiness. Often we can find ourselves so busy that we forget to deepen our own spiritual life. We begin going through the motions while the distance between God and ourselves grows. The saints were grounded in prayer and the Sacraments first-and-foremost before they went out into the world to serve. If we are a member of the laity, we must be developing spiritually, as well as fulfilling our obligation of leading our families to Heaven first before we go out to serve others. If any of these areas are suffering, then it is time for an examination of conscience. If our motives for serving stem from pride or unhealthy guilt, then it is probably time to prune certain areas, even if it is a ministry. If you are struggling in this area, then take it up with your Confessor. Your parish priest will be able to help you understand a properly ordered life.
There is a meme floating around social media that states: “Stop the glorification of busy.” It is absolutely true. If our lives are too busy then we often fall into a stagnant state spiritually and we are more likely to fall into sin. Being busy does not equate to holiness, in fact, it can be an impediment on our journey to holiness. Many of the saints, as busy as they were fulfilling God’s appointed mission for each one of them, were entirely focused, centered, and in communion with the Most Holy Trinity at all times. If we have taken God out of His rightful place as first in our lives, then we are putting our spiritual development in grave danger. If we are too busy, even if it is serving our church, it can mean that we are not prioritizing our primary vocation. It can mean that we are too busy trying to lead people to Heaven who God has not put as primary in our lives. Our children and spouses come first. There is nothing wrong with focusing on family life as we go through various stages in our lives. God will give us our mission based on where we are in our vocation.
If we are stressed out, frustrated, angry, overwhelmed, or all of the above then it is time to reexamine our priorities. It is time to re-focus on prayer and the Sacraments, so that we can grow in holiness. There are times we must say “no”, so that we can continue to say “yes” to God. I am also on this journey learning how to focus on God and my family and being less busy. I just dropped my graduate school schedule to part-time because I couldn’t focus on my family and situations that need my full attention right now. I encourage you to join me in examining your family’s life to see where you need to prune back, so that you can grow in holiness. Let’s stop the glorification of busy.