Here’s something we could each do well to learn from the life of bees: To be most productive, you don't have to be a slave to busy. It’s this ironic and helpful paradox that's missing from our lives. Isn’t it peculiar? Because for most of my life, I’ve trained my mind to see the opposite. I stand impressed by people who juggle numerous responsibilities. I admire the ones that seem to accomplish the amazing balancing act of eating healthy, working out, tending to their family, growing in their faith, devoting themselves to a hobby, and spending 40 hours a week at a job. Why does it feel so unattainable for me then? The more I set out to do, the less healthy and productive I feel. I’ve had a longstanding habit of being interested in a bunch of things at once. In college, I had a hard time saying no to any new opportunity so I ended up tiredly doing everything I possibly could. I picked on my roommate when she shut her lights out at 10 p.m., urgently convincing her that (hello?!) she was missing out on life! We were only 20 – who needed sleep? And as a spry 20 year old, I actually could operate off of very few hours of rest a night. It wasn’t an efficient operating model, albeit, but I could do it. Now just a few years later, I haven’t even hit a quarter of a century in age yet, and God has already chosen to teach me a thing or two about how incapable I am of living wide open and without rest. We’ve heard the term ‘busy bee’ – we bestow this name upon the one who does plenty of activities and always has something to keep them occupied and on the go. Nowadays, it seems like everyone could be defined as a busy bee. There are so many things within our fingertips begging for our time, and we think always, Well, it’s just one more thing… What I’m learning, and I hope you will too, is that less is more. For years, I have lived under the pretense that busyness equals efficiency which equals worth. Essentially, the more busy and productive you were, the more valuable and awesome you were. I hated not having something to keep me busy. I would feel lazy and wasteful and useless. Especially as this relates to our careers, we believe that staying busy and overworked must lead to some place of superiority in the workplace. We aim to show up first and leave last because that correlates precisely with how excellent and committed we are, right? I know this feeling. I am familiar with the inferiority that surfaces inside of me when I observe my colleagues working longer than I do.
I'll admit - embarrassingly - that I tried to play the part of the ultra busy professional when I lived in DC. On my morning and evening commute on the metro, I wore a furrowed brow and pursed lips on my face to give the impression that I was impatient. I assumed others would think I was important if I looked so serious and rushed. I acted like I was in a super big hurry and clearly not lost. (Because I never, ever, ever got lost.) I am now trying to rewire what I attribute value to in life. A life unhurried isn't anything to be embarrassed about. Contrarily, a habitually rushed life isn't anything to place on a pedestal. John Ortberg writes an entire chapter on The Unhurried Life in his book The Life You've Always Wanted and notes, "Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day...For many of us the great danger is not that we will renounce our faith. It is that we will become so distracted and rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version of it. We will just skim our lives instead of actually living them."
Even more artistically, Lysa TerKeurst painted a beautiful illustration for me of what it looks like for us to slow down and savor this one life a little bit better. In the context of our relationship with Jesus,
"Imagine a little girl running with a cup in her hand sloshing out all it contains. She thinks what will refill her is just ahead. Just a little farther. She presses on what sheer determination and clenched teeth and an empty cup clutched tight.
She keeps running toward an agenda He never set and one that will never satisfy. She sees Him and holds out her cup. But she catches only a few drops as she runs by Him, because she didn't stop long enough to be filled up. Empty can't be tempered with mere drops." So I strut around the nation's capital trying to prove that my quick steps and serious expression were evidence that I was on my way to take care of important matters. Never mind that I was quite frankly sleep walking a majority of the time. I had exhausted myself so greatly that my main priority centered on where I could find the nearest source of caffeine.
Being insanely busy is not glamorous. Take it from the bees who, if we’ve created the phrase ‘busy bee’ to model their productive way of life, must know a thing or two about efficiency. BBC reported on a study that claims - wondrously - bees cannot operate well unless they get 5-8 hours of sleep a day. Whether you know much about these insects or not (I highly recommend The Bee Movie for a fun learning experience), you probably understand that they are the reason we have the beauty of flowers and the sweetness of honey. To make these natural wonders happen, much like a human society, bees have different “careers” in the hive – custodians, nurses, and “bee pilots” who fly out into the gardens and pollinate flowers. Productivity is their native language. They're nothing short of incredible, and they know how to get it done. But researchers found that bees who lacked rest at night were less able to communicate to their fellow bees, forage skillfully, and navigate their flights back to the hive as acutely. They actually became more forgetful when their little bods were weak with fatigue. Don’t you feel it too? One week during my DC escapades, I was on a phone call with a dear lady who often checks in on me to see how I’m doing. On that Tuesday, she wanted to know how things were going. “I am just so tired,” I had to report. “And my relationship with God honestly feels lackluster and dull.” In the middle of our conversation, she stopped me and said, “Rachel, I think you need to rest.” She spelled it out simply: Your relationship with God likely feels lackluster because you lack rest. This conversation was another indication convincing me that a healthy lifestyle is God-honoring. And it makes sense. When I get little sleep at night, I am less mentally acute at work, less likely to eat healthy and drink enough water, less interested in generating good conversations with people, more likely to waste time on my phone, and way more likely to skip out on prayer and time in God’s Word. Soon enough, I've coasted through a few months of my life in a state of sleep deprivation that disabled me from being the professional and friend and family member I want to be. How is that glorifying to God? Taking care of ourselves honors God. Again from John Ortberg, “One thing I discovered when I spent a day trying to live in a loving fashion is that love requires an enormous amount of energy. And I was just too tired to give it. So I realized that – as unspiritual as it sounds – if I was going to be serious about becoming a more loving person, I was going to have to get more sleep.”
Take it from someone who actually dislikes naps, bedtime, all that. Rest is not my favorite pastime. It just does not come naturally for me to press pause on life long enough to sleep for a while. So I'll likely be the one who often needs a reminder that I need to chill and go to bed. It's worth mentioning that this isn't boot camp. I'm still for sure going to have fun and stay up too late from time to time. Life calls for celebrations and for hard effort - both of which require loss of sleep at times. Life has also been known to stretch us and give us responsibilities that threaten to snag away any ounce of personal time we could have dreamed of. So don't feel guilty if that's where you are right now. I've heard a "balanced" life is unrealistic, and we have seasons that just don't allow for as many healthy patterns as we'd prefer. But for me, I know that a healthy Rachel is a more loving, more hard working, and more creative Rachel. And that's the one I want making the tiny, intentional decisions all day long that end up bringing color to the life I actually want to live. Where are you currently? Might we take one or two hints from the busy bees themselves and acknowledge that rest is a good thing?
If rest is not a hoax and as science says, it's an essential ingredient to a productive life, then I don't want to take my chances and sleepily coast through a cluttered and busy life.
I'm typically opposed to cliches, but - I want to stop and take time to smell the roses. And remember that it was some well-rested bee that this helped this rose have life and enough beauty to fill my world.