Tackling the chaos: wisdom for work and rest from Kevin DeYoung’s “Crazy Busy”

For some months now, several of our teammates have been talking up the book Crazy Busy: A (mercifully) short book about a (big) problem, by Kevin DeYoung. Now that I have finally gotten around to reading it, I know why. With endearing humility and a healthy dose of wit, DeYoung gives insight after insight into what causes the chaos in our lives and how we Christians should respond to it.

My wife and I have discussed the recurring problems of exhaustion and joylessness since coming to the field nearly three years ago. It seems that missionaries are not immune to the struggle to manage the busyness in our lives, busyness that can rob us of our joy in Christ. If anything, (if I can speak in generalities) we missionaries tend to lean more in the direction of barely controlled chaos than in the other direction. Like DeYoung says of himself in his book, Cassie and I are surviving, but we struggle enough to know we need help. (Come to think of it, at least two recent posts on this blog had to deal in some way with busyness. Must be on my mind.) This book has given us the help (and hope) we have been looking for.

Reading DeYoung, I am convicted of several things I need to change in my life, and although it’s nearly May, I am setting down a few “resolutions”, based on wisdom gleaned from DeYoung’s book, with the hope of finding greater balance between God-glorifying rest and work in my life. Here they are (all quotes from DeYoung):

1. I will (re)commit to making time with my Savior my number-one daily priority. I don’t want to spoil any surprises, but DeYoung emphasizes this point in his book: we can get nowhere with the chaos in our lives if we don’t prioritize our relationship with Christ above all else. We do this best in our coming before Him daily in prayer and the study of scripture.

“If you are tired of feeling so dreadfully busy and are looking for a one-point plan to help restore order to your life, this is the best advice I know: devote yourself to the Word of God and prayer. ( . . . ) I can tell you that no single practice brings more peace and discipline to life than sitting at the feet of Jesus.”

2. I will not make excuses for pursuing things that distract me from my main calling, as far as I can discern that calling. Except maybe writing this blog post. Oops. Seriously, though, I need to more clearly define my priorities, and learn how kindly but firmly to say no to those things that distract me from those priorities.

“Jesus understood His mission. He was not driven by the needs of others, though he often stopped to help hurting people. He was not driven by the approval of others, though he cared deeply for the lost and broken. Ultimately, Jesus was driven by the Spirit. He was driven by his God-given mission. He knew his priorities and did not let the temptations of a busy life deter him from his task.”

3. I will not attempt to set others’ priorities for them. Likewise, I will not pressure others to over-commit themselves. I am too often guilty of impatiently waiting for responses to emails or phone calls, expecting others to follow my timelines. I do not respect others’ needs for rest and I expect others to align themselves to my priorities. This is a selfish and prideful tendency that I need to seek God’s help to change.

4. I will decrease my use of social media (i.e., Facebook) so that it does not distract me from my priorities. SometimesI read articles, blog posts, and just scroll Facebook as a mindless activity, in a sort of limbo between work and rest. Not too long ago I got frustrated with my three-year-old daughter for interrupting my mindless scrolling. Ouch. I know that much of my busyness comes from pursuing pointless activity, and not from legitimate activity aligned with my priorities.

5. I will obey God by seeking to rest in ways that glorify Him. Rest for me nearly always carries with it guilt. I recognize my need to thank God for the seasons of rest He gives and to rejoice in them as opportunities to hand over to God my efforts and entrust them to His stewardship.

“We tend to assume it’s always godlier to forego sleep for more important activity, but God made us physical beings. We can’t go without sleep for very long without doing our bodies and souls great damage. That’s the way God made us–finite and fragile. He made us to spend almost a third of our lives not doing anything except depending on Him. Going to sleep is our way of saying, ‘I trust you, God. You’ll be okay without me.’”

6. In times of unavoidable busyness, I will depend on Christ for strength. One thing I appreciated about DeYoung’s take on busyness is that he concedes that there are seasons in life that are (and should be) very busy. The problem is when the busyness overtakes our lives. This reminds me of a metaphor a missionary friend once used to describe life here in Peru. He told me to ride the waves: when the culture slows down, it’s time for the missionary to slow down, too. I want to learn to ride the waves while trusting in Christ for strength to get through the busy times. Also, I am learning the importance of making time to speak with people for lengthy periods, something our host culture values highly. My tendency has been to want to pencil people in, and when my scheduled time with them is up, move them along. But people are not projects and I must stop treating them like projects.

“But I know from personal experience that some forms of busyness are from the Lord and bring Him glory. Effective love is rarely efficient. People take time. Relationships are messy. If we love others, how can we not be busy and burdened at least some of the time?”

7. I will confront, confess, and repent regularly of the pride in my heart that leads me to over-commit and over-extend myself. I so often say yes to others because I want them to be impressed by my willingness to serve and my go-get-’em spirit. I do not say yes because I want to serve, but because I want to be seen serving.

8. I will understand that I cannot be involved with every cause that I care about, and gladly give those causes over to Christ in prayer. Sometimes I am overwhelmed by the sheer volume of requests for help we receive as missionaries. And even when no one is directly requesting our help, we are made aware of great needs through many channels. Sometimes (praise God!) we have the resources necessary to help meet these needs (funds, wisdom, time). Other times I simply have no where to turn but to the Lord. It is a comfort to know He is at work, always, bringing about His great purposes, whether or not I am involved.

I would appreciate your prayers on our behalf as my wife and I seek to make God-glorifying changes to our lives. We know it’s a process. Praise God that He is patient with us!

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Five Rules for Missionaries Using Social Media

For the last two-and-a-half years I have managed our mission’s social media accounts. When I took on the task, I had no idea how complicated a thing social media can be. Social media platforms are undeniably useful tools for spreading (the) good news, but they are oh so easy to misuse, causing a surprising amount of conflict and giving occasion to many kinds of sin.

Here are a few of the things I have learned about using social media as a missionary. I continue to learn new lessons all the time (normally by putting my virtual foot in my virtual mouth once again), so I am preaching to myself as I write this. It would be interesting to distribute score cards to my friends, family, and supporters in the U.S., as well as my Peruvian friends, to see how well I hold up to my own standards. Any volunteers?

1. Be inclusive. Peruvians love social media. More specifically, Peruvians love Facebook. Not all of them, of course, but this is generally true of our host culture. The point here is that more people than you expect are noticing what you’re posting on social media, and depending on where you are serving, you may end up with as many contacts from your host culture as your home culture (or perhaps even more). This is why I have had to learn to be careful to post in both my native language and my adopted language. Every once in a while I will choose between them, particularly when something is obviously specific to one of the two communities (like plans for an upcoming special service at our church in Peru), but most of the time I try to post in both. I learned the hard way that it is all too easy to exclude others via social media. As missionaries, we are called to live incarnationally within the cultural/linguistic context where God has placed us. This applies to social media as well as to other areas of our lives. An additional takeaway here: Never assume that when you post in English only people from your English-speaking home culture will understand what you have posted.

2. Be considerate of your host culture. Adjusting to life in a new culture is an experience wrought with emotions, not all of them positive. Remember that most of the things you find discomforting, surprising, or downright annoying are well-accepted facets of daily life for members of your host community. Some of these things may indeed be sinful, but complaining about them in social media is not the best way to help your host culture change in ways that glorify God. Often, however, we complain about things that are not in themselves sinful, but are probably healthy means that God is using to teach us a myriad of necessary lessons for holiness (among them patience and contentment). In this light, we should probably be praising God for them instead of griping about them (not, I know, an easy thing to do). Also, remember that members of your host community may feel insecure about their culture compared with your home culture. Even expressing surprise at a cultural difference could be interpreted as censure. On the positive flip side, praising your new host culture in honest ways is a wonderful way to bless members of your host culture.

3. Don’t ignore the complexities of your calling. Because you are a missionary, your social media accounts have automatically become a means of communicating your ministry to your support base, whether or not you have chosen this to be so. It is true that your supporters know (or should know) that you are a human being and need some God-commanded moments of rest and time with your family. It is okay to communicate that you are doing these things via social media. In fact, I believe it is a ministry to exhausted missionaries everywhere to see that these are healthy behaviors, no matter where in the world you are or what in the world you are doing. Remember, however, that your support base is also eager to know what you are doing in ministry, in what ways God is at work, how they can pray for your ministry, and (not to put too fine a point on it) that their financial support is being well invested. To summarize, seek balance in what you post, perhaps tipping that balance toward “ministry-related” updates.

4. Be considerate of your team. Mission teams are as diverse as the Bride of Christ herself. We come from different backgrounds and have differing opinions concerning the way we interpret in our lives God’s commands in scripture. I’m talking about some of the minutiae here (some real-life examples include the celebration of certain holidays and choices in clothes). Remember that what you post online, even in your personal spaces, reflects on your mission team, whether or not that is what you intend, and will send a message to their support bases about their team. Ask yourself whether what you are posting would bring honor to the community you represent. Of course, if the issues are doctrinal divisions that are affecting your ability to minister as a team, that should require honest conversations among your team and with your team’s leadership, certainly not public posts on social media.

5. Be willing not to be a part of every discussion. Being on the mission field has taught me that I am part of a very diverse community: the body of Christ. This means that not engaging in some online discussions (theological or political) is sometimes necessary for maintaining relationships with fellow believers, particularly in our host country. I realize that others may disagree with me on this, but I have decided it is often better to take more controversial conversations to a more private setting.

One last comment is to let the Word of God be the ultimate authority on what you post: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8). Replace the word “think” with “post”, and apply this to your current mission context. I believe that even the messy world of social media can be governed by God’s Word, and that with His grace, we can make great use of these tools for His kingdom.

If you are a missionary, what are some of the things you have learned about using social media? How is social media used in your host culture? If you are not a missionary, how could you apply some of these lessons to your own church community and ministry context?