For the last few weeks I have been posting devotional material from my out-of-print book (2006), “When God Gives a Time Out.” Today’s post contains chapter 5, but you can read chapter 1 here: “An Introduction to Time Outs” and then catch up on the other chapters. Today’s chapter focuses on the pull towards constantly doing things, even when it hurts others.
Do the Do
Keeping busy is so entrenched in our culture that everyone is affected to some degree. We all tend to be more focused on tasks than relationships. Performing a task is a concrete goal that is measurable. Usually, we know when the task is complete, when we have met our goal, and when we can move on. Relationships are more process oriented and they really don’t end. Because they don’t really end, relationships seem less pressing, or urgent, than tasks. Because the task has a deadline, we do the task and put the relationship on hold. Another reason we gravitate towards tasks is that relationships involve at least two parties and all the variables that go along with each one. So what is nice and tidy and wrapped with a little bow today, may be an all out fistfight tomorrow. It is much less messy to concentrate on tasks, so that is how most of us operate. Yes, some of us are more task-oriented than others, but I think most people have had a time in their life (or their whole life) when they felt the need to “do the do.” During these times God may intervene and give us a “time out.”
There are two kinds of “doers”: the “achiever” and the “busybody.” The busybody is always busy doing home projects, visiting people, hobbies, exercising, work, and the list goes on and on. The point, however, is simple. The busybody must always keep busy to feel alive. The goal of the doing isn’t as important as the doing itself. As long as there is something to do, the busybody can be quite relaxed and content. In fact, when busybodies actually get a handle on life and they aren’t busy, they go seeking trouble. I think of one of my busybody friends who bought an old Jeep. If you need a constant source of tasks, buy an old Jeep. The last owner probably beat the heck out of that poor vehicle. As expected the Jeep provided hours of hands on entertainment on blocks in the driveway. When my friend finally got rid of the Jeep, his life started to coast along rather nicely. I guess that was the problem. Shortly after selling his Jeep he moved into a fixer upper house (The only thing that needs more work than a fixer upper Jeep is a fixer upper house). Busybodies need to be busy with a constant string of tasks to feel alive. Achievers see all this activity without a defined goal as pointless. Achievers can actually appear to be lazy to some busybodies. Achievers have a specific goal in mind, and they are so focused on achieving it, that they may do little else. Achievers need to be striving towards a big goal or task to feel alive.
You have probably seen the difference between a busybody and an achiever mentality at the beach. There are two kids building separate sand castles. One, the busybody, is using a small shell to dig up sand. Then he uses his hand. Rather quickly, he starts collecting little rocks and shells to fortify the wall. Basically whatever is close the child uses and the child goes from building a tower, to building a moat, to just digging a big hole, to making a large sea wall. Building a sand “castle” for this child is really a vague term that means manipulating sand in some way.
The other child, an achiever, starts by using his hand but quickly stops. He sees that this method is inadequate. His small hand cannot move enough earth. The child quietly sits for a few minutes surveying his plot of land. He is planning. He doesn’t even start building his castle for some time. In fact, the busybody child has almost moved onto something else by the time this achiever child even starts. But when he starts, oh boy does he start. He has secured a real shovel, from the private house across the fence. He has enlisted his father and older sister to help dig a mammoth moat. He has borrowed pre-fab plastic pails already in the shape of ramparts. Other enlisted helpers bring in buckets of shells and long strings of kelp to fortify the walls. As the crew puts the materials in place, the child directs. When things aren’t “castle” enough for him, or at least the image he has in his head, he changes them.
Which child are you most like? Do you like to tie up a lot of different little tasks – the busybody? Or do you like to do something big, one large task, that takes a lot of planning – the achiever? While our culture may esteem the achiever type more, both kinds of doers can be equally compulsive, equally distracted from hearing God’s voice. Of course, when I speak of types of doers in these derogatory terms I have the sinful state in mind. When activity is an outflow of our close relationship with God, then God can use both the achiever and busybody types for the glory of His kingdom. Those with the achiever mentality can have that quality redeemed and they can use their mindset to develop plans to meet a large kingdom sized task. The busybody can be redeemed so that the many small parts of God’s plan (that together make up a grand undertaking) aren’t overlooked. They specialize in making sure the trees aren’t lost in the forest. God has designed us differently so that the redeemed planners (formerly known as achievers) need the redeemed detailers (formerly known as busybodies) and vice versa.
The interdependence of the achiever and busybody is well documented in the dog eat dog corporate business world of compulsive doing. This interdependence is competitive and people use one another to achieve goals. In the business world the achiever and busybody can reluctantly agree to use one another but this cooperation usually exists in the context of competition with other companies.
In business, achievers tend to use people to see their plans fulfilled more than busybodies, but busybodies do it too. In both cases, relationships with our fellow humans take a backseat to getting things done. Unfortunately, this mindset exists in the church. Starting with a “purpose driven” mindset, a well-meaning pastor runs his church ragged trying to achieve church growth. Because the people don’t fit what tasks need to be done, they are forced into ministries that don’t match their make up. Accountability becomes “what have you done for me and the church growth plan lately” instead of “how have you been cultivating your connection with God and people?” In other cases, a church may seem healthy but that appearance is due to the achievers and the busybodies realizing that they can get more done by cooperating. People may think such a church is more spiritual when in fact the church is simply savvier in organizational efficiency. The focus is still on doing more and getting bigger. This same cooperation is achieved in the business world apart from the Spirit. The result is a church that gets a lot done – a big, impressive sand castle. But eventually the tide comes in and washes away the big sand castles as well as the little ones. When the tide comes, what remains are the relationships we made while building the castle. Of course, if relationships took a back seat to performing tasks then we are bankrupt indeed. But if the making sprung from a love of the Father and love of people then we still have just as much sand, but now we have relationship. God knows what is permanent and God has a vision for His church. When the church needs a time out, God can give one. If your church has plateaued or seems stuck, perhaps God is giving the church a time out to listen to HIS vision for the church. His vision is for people to be in a love relationship with Jesus and have loving relationships with others.
Simple organizational efficiency can be achieved through a harnessing of the compulsion to get things done. The problem is efficiency is about all you get. A godly organizational efficiency can be achieved with a focus on God and the ensuing outflow of connection with our neighbor. In a godly efficiency, tasks are completed AND relationships are strengthened. With the inevitable high tide coming, I would like relationship with a nice sand castle on the side instead of sitting alone watching the waves lap the walls of my mammoth sand castle.
Many of us Christians assume that our church and our minds are immune to the achiever or busybody mentality. We have been born again and our churches are Bible believing. We talk about having a personal relationship with Jesus. We may even be trying to match our lives to the teaching of scripture. All these things do not mean, however, that we have kicked the habit to do.
I call it a habit because what happens on the inside is more than a simple cognition. When doers do they are getting their fix. There is a certain rush to having a goal, a climax in mind, and working towards that end. There is a rush when one nears goal completion, the culmination of effort, and then is able to rest in the satisfaction of achievement. Achievers go for the big high or the ultimate rush. They will put off little fixes to achieve their grand plan that will bring the ultimate high. Busybodies are more about the daily fix, a constant string of little highs. The high is partially from chemicals in the brain that produce the rush. In part, doers are addicted to the adrenaline. We will discuss the chemical rush from performing tasks in the next post. Doers also get a rush from the esteem that task completion brings. Whenever a person completes a task he/she is now competent in that area – in his/her own eyes and in the eyes of his/her peers. People love to be esteemed and being esteemed brings another kind of high. That the high is a social high more than a chemical high, but it is as addictive as any drug. We will address that topic later.
When I gave my life to Christ I still needed my fix but instead of performing secular tasks to achieve my rush I would do the work of the ministry. I really didn’t think about why I was always busy with a ministry task or why I felt uneasy when I wasn’t busy. I just assumed that because I was doing “God’s work” that I was where I needed to be. When ministry becomes compulsive, it can be just as distracting to hearing God’s voice as a secular endeavor. I was so busy preaching the word, reaching the lost, and planning programs that I couldn’t hear God’s voice. Can you guess what God did in His grace and love towards me? That’s correct, He gave me another time out. In this time out God let me see myself a little more clearly than before. What I saw was someone who needed the rush of performing tasks.
Questions to Ponder
What actions in your life show that you prefer tasks over you relationship with: God? Your spouse? Your children? Your friends, neighbors, or fellow church members?
Are you a “busybody” or an “achiever”? Would your spouse or close friend agree with this assessment?
How could you use your busy body or achiever mentality in positive, relationship- enhancing ways?
Have you ever been in an organization where people use one another to achieve goals? How did that affect you and the organization?
 Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church (Grand Rapids, MI.: Zondervan, 1995) *I am not criticizing Rick Warren. I think that the purpose driven model, like anything, can be used in a compulsive doing way or a redeemed relationship way. In his books, Warren tries to steer his readers into following the model in the right way.