“I AM VERY BUSY.” These are the four little unholy words which fill nearly the entire cover of the planner I use to map out every day, every minute, and every hour of my life. My planner is full and worn. I treat it much like a toothbrush, making use of it routinely.
The crazy thing is, I have never been one to use a planner. In elementary grades, I remember the school providing planners for every student to write their homework in. It was a good idea really: students were unknowingly being conditioned to manage their time and act responsibly in their everyday lives. Still, there were some lazy and… radical students who chose not to participate—myself included. In my third-grade mind though, it did not make sense to take the extra step; I could simply bring my work home and complete it, or I could write it down, bring it home, and complete it. In my eyes, it seemed a nonessential waste of precious time—time which could better be spent playing in the dirt and collecting butterflies, as third grade me loved to do.
In middle school and high school, I bought planners at the start of every year and would pump myself up to use them. Generally I planned for the first few weeks, but by mid-September the book was only taking up space in my locker. I would watch my friends write in their planners, thinking they had it all together, and occasionally I was a bit envious, but most of the time I was relieved. Throughout my Jr. High and High School careers, the planner thing never stuck with me; I simply wasn’t a planner person.
College came and I did not even attempt planning. Only, I forgot some things. Likewise, I had an ever changing work schedule atop the school responsibilities and ended up a bit overwhelmed at everything I had to keep track of. I told myself that if I bought the perfect planner and invested money into one I loved, I would have to use it.
So I did just that. Now I am the proud owner of an oversized eighteen-month planner I use regularly with the four words mortared on the front: “I AM VERY BUSY.” How fantastically annoying they are to me: so bloated and bold, as if standing on my shoulder and shouting into my ear their accusations, defining me so thoroughly.
Of course, I am the one who chose this planner for myself. I invited these words into my life not carelessly, but carefully—which is honestly much worse. I did not just grab the first planner off the shelf either. I researched for weeks and weighed the options of beauty, charisma, and functionality in each of the candidates. I had convinced myself the only way I would truly use it was if it were perfect.
To be fair, this planner I chose is very practical and functional; it has stickers and folders and note sheets and so much room for planning. Undeniably, the insides are wonderful, but the cover is exhausting. I think I selected it because I thought it was funny; and I think I thought it was funny because it was true.
Also, I believe I was tricked by the remainder of the cover. It is all plain, yet cascaded with the most calming and dainty shade of light pink. It is my thought that I was distracted from the bold words by this very color. So now I am left with a giant planner I adore so much, but drives me completely mad every time I go to open it.
I did not always feel this way though. When my planner first arrived, I was taken; the first few months were planned in perfect detail with colored gel ink pens and stickers and washi tape and even a few doodles. Those four words on the cover were like sweet honey to my human soul. I would read them fondly to myself every time I opened it to write down another assignment, meeting, coffee date, etc.
I was very busy. To me, this meant: “I have friends” and “I have the approval of others”, and “I actually have a life”, and “I am (dare I say it)… popular.” The little girl inside of my head was so completely overjoyed at this self-appointed status.
My fondness of this person and this planner did not begin to diminish until another four word phrase began popping up all over the pages of my life, smearing itself thinly enough to cover everything, but maintaining its structure amply enough to ensure I would get the message. Those four little words were “Be still and know.”
Now, I would love to say I understood the message right away, but that would be a complete lie. At first, I said to myself, “Well this is odd. This phrase keeps popping up—it seems like I’m seeing it everywhere lately.” It did not occur to me the reason it seemed as if I had seen it everywhere lately, was because I had.
I went on with my life: planning and doing and rushing around gushing at the fact I had so much to do and so little time to do it. I was dead beat and loving it. The words continued appearing, of course, and I continued pushing them away blissfully.
Then, they began persisting more forcefully. Their appearances were not mere chance encounters, but heavy words selected just for me to have forever. But how was I so sure of this?
In late December, my brain had finally begun to catch up with all the facades. I sat at my family Christmas thinking, “Maybe there is a connection between all of this, or a message I am supposed to take away.” Just as my mind finally started stirring with the idea, I pushed it out again. “This is family Christmas,” I argued with myself. “You can contemplate life’s signals on your own time.” Then my grandma handed me a present. I opened it gracefully.
With care, I pulled out the item inside. It was a canvas of a picture I had taken while traveling, and printed at the top, right in the center, were the delicate words: Be still and know.
As I write this, I cannot help but feel a tad silly. My grandmother could have chosen any four words in the entire history of the world to print on this canvas. There were literally endless amounts of possibilities, but these were the four she chose.
Hebrews 4:12 reads, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
Let my negligence be an example of how completely powerful and consuming the tidings of God can be. If He has a message for us, we will receive it no matter how many times he has to say it, spell it out, or even shout it at us, desperately trying to get our attention. His words are more powerful than anything we can entertain our mind with here on earth; they rest on our hearts gently, and make their bubbly presence known even in our bones.
“Okay, God,” I thought, gazing at the canvas in my lap, “I get it. I will listen to you now.”
Only my promise was flawed, because listening to God isn’t the same as obeying God.
As the weeks went on, I understood that I was supposed to “Be still and know”… but I did very little to actually be still, or know.
“Be still?” I thought anxiously. “My mom is not going to like that.”
I would talk with God as if we were the only two sitting in a city coffeehouse on a rainy day.
“Alright God, help me to know, help me to know, help me to know… know what? What is it? What am I supposed to know?” I questioned. I leaned over my latte a bit, awaiting his response. At first, he did not say anything, so I asked again. And again. I droned my questions on and on, over and over, paying no attention to what was going on around me. Finally, his lips moved, but only barely. Was he talking? I couldn’t tell. I leaned further and further and further across the table and—
Well, here’s the thing about a whisper: You gotta get close to hear it.
“…And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind, an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire, the sound of a low whisper.” 1 Kings 19:11-12
Sometimes we have to wait for the wind to die down, the quake to pass, and the fire to be put out before we can hear the voice of God. I myself am guilty of forgetting this. I think he will part the heavens and quiet the earth whenever he has something to say, just so I can hear. The reality of God is that his voice is gentle and guiding, and at times barely audible. In fact, his voice may not be a voice at all. Part of me wondered how I was supposed to hear a voice that wasn’t a voice, but the Lord answered again and said, “Be still and know.”
I thought, “Okay, God, but what if the wind doesn’t die down, and the earth quakes forever, and the fire blazes a path between us for all eternity? How am I supposed to hear your voice then?”
Then in the silence, I recognized that which I already knew: more often than not, the wind will not die down, and the earth will quake forever, and the fire of the world will try to separate us.
It is our job to quiet the wind, to still the earth below our feet, and to put out the wild flame of chaos.
The plans I make, the commitments I craft, and the time I spend scheduling my life out in this huge pink planner are constantly taking up room in my heart and mind. My busyness is the wind, the quake, and the fire, and until I dispel those things, I will not be able to hear the still small voice of God.
His whispers are tenderly subtle and require full attention and nearness. Simply, to be near one point, we must move further from all the others. Every one of the worldly affairs we partake in is a point which marks us farther from God, farther from his will, his voice, his love, and his presence.
The more I went to open my planner, to map out my entire life in short sections, and to write my will for every day, placing it on a pedestal of honor, the more it became exhausting, proving strenuously grueling. I was pouring gasoline on the fire, trying desperately to keep it ablaze, but my arms were growing tired and my legs weak. Then God told me to rest, to be still.
Psalm 37:4 tells us, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” I always thought it meant God was going to give me the things I wanted. The Bible is full of examples and stories which serve as metaphors, but I believe this is one truth we are to take as literal. Whenever we find our joy, our gladness, our enchantment in him, he will literally bestow upon us new wants; he will delicately place longings and cravings in our hearts.
As I moved closer to him in an attempt to hear his whispers for once, he created the yearning in my heart to rest, to stop, and to sit in his quiet calmness.
The world will tell us it is irresponsible, irrational, even wrong to quit—you must always finish the things you start. In truth, I do not think I have finished half of the things I started in my life. I quit after the third day of sixth grade track season, I quit an elite college program for high school seniors (which I spent the entire summer preparing for) within the first week, I have quit multiple jobs, I have quit friendships and relationships, and guess what? I am completely fine. In fact, I am at peace. Removing all of the clutter weighing heavy on my chest allowed me to breathe again—it allowed me to lean into God and just… be with him.
There is a lovely Italian phrase I find myself doting upon quite often. It is “il bel far niente”, which means: the beauty of doing nothing. And my, is it beautiful. To do absolutely nothing, to quiet the mind and push aside the fears and demands of life and just sit in the stillness, inviting Him to join you—it is magnificent. You may believe you are not allowed to slow down, take a break, or clear the schedule of your life, but I am giving you permission right now. Quit something. Abandon your post if it keeps you up day and night, robbing you of any rest. Vacate the pages of the plan you have carefully calculated for yourself. Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans –Proverbs 16:3.
Eugene Peterson once wrote, “Busyness is an illness of the spirit.” A weak spirit is incapable of serving God, communicating with him, and carrying out his will. In order to be near to God and truly live a life for him, we have to quiet our hearts and our minds, and that begins with quieting our lives.
Say no to another commitment. Look at your calendar with an open heart, asking God to reveal to you the things which need adjusted. Become empty so that you may be filled with the Lord’s presence.
We need to stop overcommitting ourselves to the world and offering whatever is left to God. Society may see we are no longer ensnared in its trap, and it will make an effort to win us back. One of the things I have noticed personally since condensing my commitments, is a handful of people think I am lazy because I say no to commitments and spend so much time sitting, reading, studying, and being present with Jesus. Clearing some time in your schedule will allow a void, but how you choose to fill the void is completely up to you. Time spent with the creator of the universe is not wasted, or shiftless, or meaningless, and you should not feel guilty about it. Prioritize your time just as you do everything else in life.
The only way we will ever hear God’s voice is if we clear the calendar and make time to meet with him. So I invite you to be still awhile in his presence and know, as you rest in peaceful assurance, that he is a wonderful, joyous, exalted, humble, and merciful God.