Continuing in my multi-part series on the subject of Myths Christians Believe, here’s the latest installment.
Myth 5: Busyness is next to godliness.
Most parents I know fill their kids’ lives with activity. Sports or dance or music lessons or intellectual pursuits seem to fill up kids’ schedules these days. And why are we even talking about grade school kids having a schedule? Maybe because parents want to nurture the next Tiger Woods, child prodigies who will excel beyond their peers and become famous. Many teens I know follow the same pattern, trying desperately to build a resumé fit for the Ivy League. Most college students I work with fill their lives from dawn to dusk, often with really good things like Bible studies, intramural sports, church and/or campus ministry activities, leadership in a student organization, Greek activities, athletic team practices, and even some studying on occasion. Maybe the semi-idle wandering of many 20-somethings is related to basic burnout. They’ve been going non-stop without a thought for two decades and they want off the roller coaster for a while. And do I even need to continue the conversation by pointing out the exhausting schedules that we parents and working professionals tend to keep?
“Beware of the barrenness of a busy life,” warned Socrates. It is possible to fill your life with so many good things that your life is no longer good. James Bryan Smith, professor of Theology at Friends University, lectured at Samford University a few years back and quoted Dallas Willard as saying, “If you want to get serious about spiritual growth, you must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” Years later I remember this single quote. Citing the example of Jesus, Smith pointed out that the New Testament Gospels tell us dozens of times that Jesus withdrew to a quiet or solitary place for rest, prayer, and solitude. And for Christians fond of using the Old Testament law to make their arguments for tithing or standards of sexual behavior, what about Sabbath observance? As I recall, that commandment doesn’t derive from an obscure purity code in Leviticus, it’s one of the Big 10. And maybe of all of the Ten Commandments, Sabbath is the one observance that Christians and their leaders ignore most.
Myth 6: If things look great externally, they must be great internally.
The socially acceptable answer to the question, “How are you doing?” is almost always “Fine.” We keep up appearances. We dress well, put on a smile and an air of confidence, and go about our business as if we are fine, hoping to fake it till we make it. Secretly, we’re all hurting, struggling, and suffering to one degree or another. To whom can we admit it? Who wants to know? Who really cares?
For the past several years, my office has conducted a Spiritual Life Inventory for students on our campus. We ask questions about spiritual practices, attitudes, beliefs, values, and issues of personal concern. What the data shows, in a nutshell, is that students on our campus are more spiritually involved (in many respects far more than national averages) yet just as deeply distressed as students everywhere. Issues of anxiety and depression, sexual behavior, alcohol and drug abuse, eating disorders, body image distortions, addictions, dysfunctional family relationships, financial stress, academic struggle, etc. plague Christian students just like others. And yet, if you took a campus tour, walked across the beautifully manicured lawn, enjoyed the immaculately kept landscape, attended a campus event, or looked out at the students enjoying lunch in the caf or food court, you might never know. You’d never know the hurt students bury inside and carry around in disguise.
Jesus once called a group of religious leaders “whitewashed tombs,” beautiful on the outside but full of death on the inside (Matthew 23:27). Religious people can be some of the most difficult people around whom to be vulnerable. Surely this is backwards. Religious belief and practice, especially that centered on Jesus, should bring us to the reality of our own brokenness so that we display a humility that makes us more approachable, not less. More forgiving and less condemning. More accepting and less judgmental. More transparent and less superficial. More honest and congruent, so that what’s on the inside matches what’s on the outside, and vice-versa.