Crazy Busy

Crazy Busy
Kevin DeYoung
(Crossway, 2013)

Are you crazy busy? Kevin DeYoung certainly thinks so, and he shares your pain. He wrote the book, he says, because he needed to face up to his own crazy busy life and the choices he made (and continues to make) that led him there. I can relate; I’m sure you can, too. We all take a perverse pride in being crazy busy.

Two friends of mine came to mind over and over as I read this book. They have both come face to face with their own crazy busy lives. One left the southern California lifestyle behind and moved to a rural part of the country where he could live with his family without succumbing to the crazy busy culture. The other is still right in the middle of it, recently lamenting to me that his son is desperate for his attention. I tried to put myself in their shoes as I read Crazy Busy. How would they benefit from it?

DeYoung begins by summarizing a number of helpful books and studies to give us a “state of the union” address (i.e., we’re all crazy busy!). Then, he turns to a series of diagnostic statements to prove that we are too busy. These chapters, which make up the bulk of the book, are uneven. Some of them contain real gems of insight, especially #4 (“Stop Freaking Out About Your Kids”) and #5 (“You are Letting the Screen Strangle Your Soul”), but as a whole I think these chapters miss the real problem that a book like Crazy Busy should address.

No one I know is blind to our busyness. We don’t need to be convinced that we are too busy. We know that our choices are robbing us of our health and spiritual vitality. For most of us, our problem is that we can’t see the way forward to a better future. Again, I go back to my two friends: both of them have seen the light. For the first friend, the light was the dawn of a new day and a new way to live, a series of choices (radical though they seemed at the time to his short-sighted friends) that he and his wife made to live less busy lives. For the other friend, the light is an oncoming train. He knows he is in a world of hurt, but can’t seem to make the changes necessary to save his own health and to live in a way that is a true benefit to his family.

DeYoung recognizes that a book, even as small as this one, can quickly become overwhelming to people who are already busy: one more book to read, one more task to mark off, one more thing to do. He concludes his book by identifying the one thing we must do. DeYoung admits that it won’t necessarily solve the problem of busyness, but he promises that the one thing we must do will bring us closer to Jesus. I want to believe him because I agree with DeYoung that the real problem with busyness is our tendency to hide from Jesus in our busyness or substitute our busyness for Jesus. So, what’s the one thing we must do? Personal daily devotions.

DeYoung anticipates a negative reaction to his advice. He admits that it is “a dangerous and potentially debilitating move” to suggest a quiet time as the one thing that we must do to fight against crazy busy lives. My concern, however, isn’t the legalism that DeYoung fears. It is instead, the easy retreat to individualism, which is at the heart of our crazy busy problem and also shows up in a surprising way in Crazy Busy. For instance, in chapter 8, DeYoung explains the benefit of a Sabbath rest without once talking about the means of grace. His primary emphasis is personal relaxation, sleep, and a day off from the grind. But that individualistic viewpoint actually serves to fuel our hyper-active lives, when the Sabbath was meant to remind us that we don’t exist for ourselves, at all!

As wonderful and important as daily reading and prayer are, the author’s advice sounds dangerously close to the stereotypical “take two verses and call me in the morning” pietism that, in our circles, is a carrier of the kind of hyper-individualism that leads to the very real problems that Crazy Busy identifies.

Our church culture’s emphasis on the personal over the corporate is a reflection of the broader cultural sickness that has made us all crazy busy. We have forgotten that the biblical priorities are communal, not personal. When we cease to think in communal terms, we become trapped by personal ambition and guilt.

DeYoung’s book is helpful in many ways, but his proscription falls short. He returns to old tropes that I fear are part and parcel of the mess we’re in. Watching my own life get crazier and busier and watching the lives of family, friends, and congregants follow the same trajectory, I am afraid that what is needed is a much crazier book than DeYoung has given us—a book that calls on God’s people to make counter-cultural decisions to live their lives in ways that are distinctively different than their neighbors. If our children see us bow in personal prayer each morning but otherwise ascribe to the world’s standards of what life should look like, we will never stop being crazy busy. We will only sanctify it in our children’s eyes and they will follow our steps into their own crazy busy future.

—Eric Landry is the pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church