If Your Life Has Purpose, You Are Busy

If Your Life Has Purpose, You Are Busy October 17, 2014

The other day, one of my professors greeted us all in his charming German accent and asked “How are you?” I replied, “Busy. Very busy.” He said, “Good, good. Then it means your life has purpose. If you have a purpose, you are busy.”
This semester has really been snowing me under with the combination of graduate-level courses and my new assistantship duties. My days are long and densely packed. Even when I’m not in class, I constantly have my head in the books, because with classes this hard you can’t afford not to. But my schedule means I don’t have the little luxuries I’ve enjoyed in other semesters. I have to turn in graded work without having an extra day to be extra sure I’m doing it right. I’m not able to memorize everything I’d like to memorize. I don’t have time to write rambling notes to myself unpacking every concept thoroughly. I sometimes have to let one course lag while I focus on a particular assignment in another, then resign myself to the fact that there’s probably something I’ll forget to review before the first course’s midterm. (Either that, or turn in an incomplete assignment and let the professor who gives too much homework accept the fact that I have other classes to attend to!)

But even while all this is mentally and physically taxing, there’s a certain sense in which I’m proud of it. Every time I say “Well, I gotta go do x now, see you in study group tomorrow,” or “Oh wait, I have a meeting at that time, can we re-schedule?” or “Not now, maybe in a week and a half after I’m done with all my midterms,” it feels exhausting and good at the same time. Because I really am that busy, I’m also getting a lot done. I’m fulfilling my commitments as a teacher and working closely with my peers. I’m networking with my professors. And I’m learning really important stuff.
I think what my professor meant is that at some point in all our lives, making that transition into adulthood means that if we have any kind of plan for ourselves, we will become busy doing something. If I, as an able-bodied adult, am not busying myself with anything, then I’m not actively working to carve out my niche in society. I’m not contributing anything of value. And I’m not interacting with real life and real people.
Being busy is not always fun, and it can be downright maddening when balls get dropped or people are unreasonable (both of which are inevitable). But it is purposeful. The fact that you are busy means you have something to offer to the world.
That’s all I have for today, but hopefully it will give some other busy folks out there an encouraging perspective on our busy-ness. And rest assured that I still have a LOT to write about here, from music reviews to film criticism to observations on faith and culture. I’ve got also a couple concert reports to put together if I can just find a bit of spare time, including my last time ever seeing Jim Brady with the Booth Brothers. So please do stay tuned. 🙂 Meanwhile, here are two things that have been making me happy lately: Cathedrals harmony and High Kings harmony:


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  • WIBBFan

    I had a hard time picking out Scott’s voice in this Cathedrals’ video. I have no musical training but I am assuming part of that song is what is called counterpoint? I love songs that do that – not heard very often in SGM it seems to me. I googled counterpoint, most of it was a bit above my head but thought this was interesting and you (YGG) might enjoy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=95gLT7NzHAM

  • JSR

    But, just because one is busy doesn’t mean they’re living with purpose…

  • Ah, true. My post title is true, but the converse not necessarily. However, I am making the hopeful assumption that the sort of people who enjoy reading my blog ARE living with purpose in their busy-ness!

  • I loved that video, thank you for sharing it. Yes, each member of the group is doing their own thing. I think Scott is singing “For heaven’s king, we will gladly sing the story wonderful story, ’tis old yet ’tis ever new. In glory land up yonder, with that glad and happy band, we all then will promenade in heaven in that grand parade.” This is typically the baritone’s part.

  • Lydia

    This post raises the interesting question of how to refer to a person who is well occupied doing worthwhile things but has significant control over his own schedule. Much of the time I am in that happy position, being a homemaker whose children are older. (So I don’t have demanding infants or toddlers.) I _usually_ don’t have a lot of external deadlines to meet, especially since I live in a state whose home schooling laws don’t require a lot of paperwork and external reporting. So I have a lot of control over how to use my time and what projects to take up and/or prioritize. My life certainly has purpose–many purposes, in fact–but I usually reserve the term “busy,” when applying it to myself, for those unusual situations where the world presses in with demands or deadlines that come from outside myself. Tax time, for example! :Boo! -(
    So I think of busyness as stressful and of my usual rather idyllic existence as fairly non-stressful.
    Of course, people who are taking classes or who have an employer other than themselves (or who, being self-employed, are responsible to outside entities) are always busy in the sense in which I’m using the term here.
    But it does seem that there is a category of people who have purposeful and full lives but are not busy in that sense.
    Now, a person who is, let’s call it, well occupied like that does have a special temptation to sloth. The person with outside demands is, if dutiful, less tempted to sloth because he has other people demanding that he pay attention and work. The person who largely controls his own work may choose to be lazy with, seemingly, few consequences.

  • You make a good point. Then of course, there are retired folks who get the golden handshake but may be living quite contentedly and purposefully in a Florida resort somewhere. I think I was defining “busy” as roughly equivalent to what you might call “profitably occupied.” However, you’re right that I primarily had in mind people who are occupied with a vocation—be it student, laborer, or younger mother/father. But it’s healthy to look for profitable things to continue doing even for those not fulfilling a vocation, especially people who want to continue doing the Lord’s work. For some people, this takes the form of things like adopting younger children or becoming missionaries. For us who are less bold, it may just be investing in younger Christians.

  • Lydia

    Or if one’s vocation does not involve outside deadlines. For example, if one were lucky enough to have a vocation to be a novelist, one might have a lot of control over one’s time. Some home schooling mothers are busier than others, but all are fulfilling a vocation. So vocation can sometimes, for a happy minority of people, be compatible with flexibility and having to drive oneself rather than being driven “from without,” at least where “vocation” does not equal “paid job with employer.”