“Life is chaotic. But we can choose to live it differently.” Tsh Oxenrider
I am linking up over at The Art of Simple today where a bunch of bloggers are joining Tsh Oxenrider to write about living simpler, slowly, and with more intention. Tsh is the editor-in-chief at the wildly popular and practical site formerly known as “Simple Mom”. She lives in Bend, Oregon with her husband and 3 kids, and is the author of several books. Her latest book, Notes from a Blue Bike is now available at booksellers pretty much everywhere. I highly recommend it.
Happy to toss in my two cents here on The Blue Bike Blog Tour, KjL
Married and Alone
Busy used to be my drug of choice. My addiction got so bad that my husband could rightly wear a name tag that said: “Hi, my name is Steve. I am married and alone.”
Before I explain the grisly details, a little disclaimer: We are meant to work hard at what we do. I affirm this statement of Divine instruction, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart.”* I believe we are built to work with our whole hearts for God’s purposes. But there is a difference between being ‘busy’ and working hard.
The busy I am about to describe is not about a diligent work ethic. I am talking about “Busy” as a way of intimacy avoidance. Sometimes the difference is between hard work and addiction is not easy to distinguish.
End of the Line
An addiction to Busy is a veiled and insidious little strategy that looks good on the outside. I spent a lot of my life doing a whole lot of ‘good’ things. I ran hard for other people, and for ‘worthwhile’ reasons like work at church, or helping with other people’s problems. But there was a cost. Those things started to line up and take place ahead of my marriage. I’m not talking about a short express lane line. I am talking about the kind of line that goes out the door and around the block. I was running hard, fast, and away. It all came to a head a couple years ago during a heated discussion in the grocery store parking lot.
Long story short, as we sat in the front seat with ice cream thawing in the back, my husband said what needed to be said. He said what should have been said years earlier. We couldn’t keep following the destructive path we were on. We were shut down at a crossroads with hard choices to make. And, one part of the issue was his place at the bottom of my life list. The tearful conversation felt like an emotional gut punch. But it was also a much needed turning point for us.
In that season, Steve and I experienced more pain and disagreement and truth-telling than we have had in our entire marriage. And in the process, I learned that I was running from my own demons. I was using busy behaviors as self-protective barriers from my fear of true intimacy.
A Busy Addict often spends a lot of time on things that are noble, helpful, or productive. I used to quote the verse from the Bible about running the race. At face value, it sounded noble:
“Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” ~ Paul, The Bible
I knew how to run in order to get the “prize.” But truthfully, if I was running for any prize, I was running to gain other people’s approval, to get other people’s permission, to do things that would prove my worth. Those things were my prize, not God. Even though my words would say my prize was God, all the actions of my Busy addiction pointed to the contrary.
For me, the drug named Busy was all about avoidance, creating distance from God and my husband by running fast and intense. Practically, speaking, my busy behaviors probably made me look like an awesome human being to everybody on the outside. Few would guess there was a problem.
Busy Addicts run to outwardly ‘good’ things like:
- ‘Helping’ People
- Cleaning the house
- Focusing on the kids activities
- Extreme ‘self-care’ — isolating behaviors like exercise, naps, reading, even spiritual’quiet times’
I found this helpful description by author and counselor, Douglas Weiss, Ph.D. He contends that busy avoidant strategies can end up as factors which actively withhold and impede intimacy from spouses.
“These activities can also be very positive and easily justified … The person who volunteers to avoid intimacy has a cause they are helping and can justify their absences. The religious person is saving the world but intentionally withholding from their spouse. The over worker avoids intimacy while justifying their behavior through work to create more money. There there is the golfer, sports participant or sports fan who is loyal to themselves and a team but isn’t intimate with their spouse.” ~ D. Weiss
Other intimacy zappers he lists are friendships, movies, social media, computer/video games, and hobbies. Again, in and of themselves, none of these behaviors are necessarily bad. Most are considered good or healthy, right? The concern comes when these good activities start to become tools of sabotage for our primary relationships.
What matters is at the heart of the busy-ness. I used to rationalize a lot of activities and events as worthwhile reasons for me to spend time away from my husband (even sometimes ‘away’ while in the same house). But at the core, the things of Busy were only corrosive ways for me to run from some deeply hidden pain and truth about myself.
It’s impossible to find out why we are running, until we stop. For me, the stop was the bottomed-out crash in our marriage. While we were at the bottom, I had to drop all extra activity for a while. In that place of pause, I learned that a slow life can leave us open to fearsome realities. God meets us in our neediness, if we let him. True God-breathed healing and restoration can only happen in a soul that has stopped running.
I am in the process of daily choosing to slow down and build my life around my most intimate relationships … to step into the truth and growth that can only come from God or my husband, or my kids. This has meant some intentional choices and crappy conversations. That said, four things have also helped me step away from Busy in order to learn to live slow.
Four Ways to Beat Busy
I know. Probably sounds trite. But it’s true. For me, the first and foremost step in recovery was a forthright admission that I am powerless and Jesus is my only hope for redemption and transformation. In response, every morning and night I have carved out time to pray accordingly, because I am in recovery and dependent. Prayer is also a healing part of the disruptive process as I attempt to move into a healthier way of being (explained in the next point).
Prayer matters. Because God’s Spirit needs to be in charge, not me.
2. Move Toward
If I begin to move away from my husband with my pattern of Busy activity, I am doing the loose equivalent of an alcoholic taking a shot of vodka. Once I start choosing Busy I step on an icy slope of default behaviors. Unless these actions are directed TOWARD and incorporated INTO intimate relationship, they are only drinks lined up on a bar, ways to self-medicate and avoid.
This million-dollar every day question helps me determine the set of my heart. Since the same activity can either be beneficial or detrimental, I have one clarifying question.
“Am I moving toward or away?”
I have to make choices according to what builds connection not separation. So every day, as my one small step, at the heart I must ask, “Am I moving toward or away?”
If I am starting to move away with my behaviors, it is crucial to stop and pray. (This may take two or three attempts and a bit of wrestling. I am not super great at running to God right off the bat). Listening prayer creates space to ask the Spirit to help me understand what is happening, why I want to run. Again, if we run fast and busy, we completely subvert any hope for gaining insight and healing from God.
3. Choose Priority and Focus
There is only so much time in a day. If you are addicted to Busy, you have heard your spouse say some version of this to you on more than one occasion, “I feel like I am at the bottom of your list. Everything else matters more to you that I do.” If you make excuses when you hear that statement, chances are, a whole lot of other things probably are in line before your spouse. Chances are, you are running.
In order to stop running after distractions, I only have a small handful of top life priorities that get my daily attention. Those things go into my calendar of time like dollars go into a budget. My current life priorities are shared in some way with my husband and accountable friends. God has permission to drive that list and interrupt me at any point.
If I am operating out of an intentional set of priorities it is easier to determine if I am veering toward unnecessary Busy.
What are your top three or four priorities in life? Name the priorities. Then name everything else that’s noise. Unless you determine what really matters most, the world and everybody around you will clamor for your attention. And if you are a Busy Addict it will feel good to be wanted by everybody else. Why? Because everybody else can’t access your intimate heart and help heal your deepest shame and hurt. It’s easier to get strokes from a hundred people that don’t really know you than it is to hear hard truth from a spouse who does.
Without your determination and focus, your spouse and family will fall to the bottom of your priority list by default. Without your investment of time, touch, and attention, your intimate relationships will wither and die. This is how spouses become roommates. I am not judging. I am speaking from experience.
The process of choosing intimacy — and rejecting the distance that comes with Busy — requires intentional priorities and a daily plan.
4. Say Yes.
Usually the NO word comes up as a solution to Busy. Sure, it’s important to say ‘no’ to a lot of good things in order to nurture the best things. But this time, let’s flip the equation. If you are going to enter a process of leaving behind Busy in order to restore intimacy, think about what you are saying YES to. Create a list. What would you be saying yes to, if you decided to pursue a slow life of relationship instead of a fast life of Busy-ness? Really. Try it. Say yes. Examples:
- I am saying yes to freedom from the prison I have chosen for so many years
- I am saying yes to vulnerability and connection
- I am saying yes to slow down and live as the gifted and unique person I am created to be
- I am saying yes to all the abundance and joy and peace God has for me
- I am saying yes to richer relationships and deeper love
- What else? Add your own.
Ultimately, it’s a choice. Which will it be? If I choose to keep running, I am deciding to say no with my life to the people who are closest to me I say:
“All these other things that I am doing are more important than you.
All the things I am running from are more important than you.
I refuse to look at what is happening in my heart.
I will not invite God to bring me freedom and healing.
I choose avoidance instead of intimacy.
I choose my prison.
I choose Busy.”
As someone in recovery, I am learning to say yes to my husband and the people I love. To them, I say:
“I choose the risk of intimacy.
I choose to intentionally reject the frantic pace and constant crisis of Busy.
I choose to live slow and allow space for God’s Spirit to disrupt me for my good.
I choose to feel, I choose to be open to hard truth and healing.
I choose love instead of fear.
I choose freedom.
I choose you.”
Are you a Busy Addict?
Do you live with one?
What resonated with you?
More Information: Intimacy Anorexia: Healing the Hidden Addiction in Your Marriage, Douglas Weiss, Ph. D. Available on Amazon.
*Work quote from the Bible, Colossians 3:23
*Paul quote from the Bible, , 1 Corinthians 9:25-27
Image from Flickr — Creative Commons, John Harvey