Blogger’s Note: This post first appeared as part of the Wednesday Witness blog series on the St. Michael Catholic Church website.
“Idle hands are the devil’s playground”—so goes the old saying, and I can verify its truth. So many of the sinful traps I fell into as a young man were concealed in downtime and baited with curiosity and pleasure.
It’s good for young men to keep busy, but I am no longer young. These days I struggle with having too much to do rather than too little, and that, too, can be a sin trap. A mentor of mine even has an acronym for BUSY:
Burdened Under Satan’s Yoke
Even if you work for the Church, as I am blessed to do, the acronym may still apply. Perhaps the best Christmas gift I got this year was the Monk Manual, a special sort of planner based on the prayerful patterns of work and reflection in monastic life. This beautiful leather-bound book serves not only to organize and schedule your work days, weeks and months, but leads you to examine what you achieved versus what is really important to you, at which points in the day you were at your best and worst, the state of your relationships and habits, and what God may be trying to teach you.
I began using the Monk Manual as I began my new role as parish communications manager and quickly found it to be helpful in organizing my work, prioritizing my day and helping me to be productive. After a week, however, I noticed that while I was doing lots of good work, I was so focused on “the plan” that I wasn’t spending much time with the family and hadn’t spoken to Jodi, eye-to-eye and heart-to-heart, in several days. Any combination of a calendar and to-do list might have helped me to focus in on work. But the Monk Manual helped me to notice that in my quest for productivity I was already beginning to neglect my vocation as a husband and father.
In his spiritual classic The Soul of the Apostolate, Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard writes:
But as for Satan, he, on the contrary, does not hesitate to encourage a purely superficial success, if he can by this success prevent the apostle from making progress in the interior life…To get rid of a diamond, he is quite willing to allow us a few sapphires.
In other words, Satan doesn’t mind if I stay busy with all sorts of apparently good works, as long as I commit myself to them to the neglect of my own soul and God’s will in my life, in this moment. Jesus desires us to have life in abundance—so why am I, and so many other disciples, running on fumes? Because our own desire to serve has been corrupted. The devil is adept at riding us in whatever direction we want to go. When we allow ourselves to become so busy that we are slaves to the “tyranny of the urgent,” reacting to the next thing and the next and the next, we are no longer free to choose the good. And if we cannot choose the good, we cannot love.
While our God is certainly productive, He is neither practical nor efficient. He is a God of abundance, giving of Himself extravagantly—entirely—to each and every person. And so should we, who are made in His image, regardless of our to-do list today.