I must confess I was a little up front with a friend of mine the other week. You might even say confrontational. Aggressive? Perhaps not quite. But his innocently framed question, a staple for anyone in London embarking on a bit of light conversation, triggered in me a flurry of agitated activity that needed release and articulation.
What are you up to next week James…busy?
I’ve been asked it a thousand times, even by the same aforementioned friend. And a thousand times I’ve given the same, expected, reply: ‘yes, looks like a busy one.’
But this time I couldn’t let it go. For one I happen to be in a job at the moment that is anything but busy. I’m not ‘rushed off my feet.’ I can eat lunch at a leisurely pace. Mid-morning coffee is a must. I’m up to date on my emails (all five of them). So how do I describe my week? What is the opposite of busy? Chilled? It doesn’t make me feel chilled. Slow? I still work quickly, there’s just not enough of it. Empty? Ooh, that’s suddenly a bit existential. It was only meant to be a quick conversation.
The reality is that my current job has been enormously good for me. My usual mindset is one centred on activity – a good day has achieved much, a bad day has achieved little. Fundamentally this is a spiritual issue, in that I often want to justify myself (’10 lonely seconds to justify my whole existence’ in the words of Harold Abrahams in Chariots of Fire). Yet the question from my friend reveals that this is endemic in our culture.
Why is busyness the major criteria by which our life is judged? It is so subtle, but the question leaves absolutely no direction to travel. Activity has muscled out all other alternatives. It’s a bit like asking about someone’s holiday by solely focusing on the weather patterns through the week. If someone asks if it was sunny or not, it then requires a degree of conversational agility on behalf of the ‘questionee’ to comment on their real delight of the trip (getting lost in the bowels of an ancient town only to be refreshed by the most perfect Sangria ever made) without it coming out like a random shot out of the blue.
I am beginning to digress onto the art of good conversation. This was unintended, and I claim absolutely no authority on the subject (my wife will gladly ratify that with examples of my poor listening skills). All I will say is that in my view a good conversation hinges on a well- crafted question.
But back to point. My recent monologue to my poor unsuspecting friend brought to focus a big lesson God has been teaching me as of late. The great in His Kingdom are not the achievers, the successful, the socially active, those with the fullest life. They are those who are humbly, dependently, repentantly, relationally holding on to their Father in heaven who has done it all for them.
Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.