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  • Mike and Helen

Are you busy?

Updated: Nov 24, 2023

Mike had his hair cut last week and the hairdresser, he said, seemed quite shocked that he didn’t know ‘what he was doing for Christmas’. Thirty-seven days and counting, the food is in the shops, the trees are up for sale, the lights are on in town and people are talking about how many presents they have already bought. ‘They’re all bought, wrapped and in the loft,’ said one woman who was in our house this week! Everyone seems so busy.

Another friend, a GP with a husband and two teenage children and an ageing mother said to us this week, ‘I try never to say I’m busy. I can’t bear people who say they’re busy or they’ve been busy. It’s just a way of saying, “I’m important. Even saying, “ I’m more important than you because I’m busier.”’

Hmm, we thought, ‘not busy’? In a life like yours? What does that mean? And what does it mean now in the leadup to Christmas - weeks that for some people are the busiest craziest weeks of the year. Basic responsibilities at home and work plus presents to buy, so many people’s needs and wishes to think of, relatives and friends get-togethers to plan, maybe special church activities to organise.

Our culture has encouraged us to believe that unless our lives are full to overflowing with activity, there is something wrong with us. And while we were raising families and holding down responsible jobs, not being ‘on the go’ all the time could, at the very least, seemed like a dereliction of duty. Living life to the full and ‘fulfilling your potential’ as we have always been taught, are important values.

These days, we notice that younger people find it difficult to imagine how life ‘works’ for us (the word itself is significant!) now that we are, in these mysterious years called ‘retirement’. What do we do with ourselves all day? They are, it seems especially curious about what Mike does with all those hours that he used to fill with work. They readily imagine, it seems, that for Helen, cooking, housework and keeping the family going adequately fill the space which used to be her professional life!

If you get any bunch of retired people talking there are various familiar refrains about how they ‘fill’ time, some of them designed to make it clear that while they are no longer working, their lives are not empty, they are still ‘players’. Another friend, when asked some years ago, what he planned to do in retirement, said:’ As little as possible’!

In contrast, you hear the voices of those in the throes of bereavement. The days, previously structured around a shared life can seem very long. ‘Oh! I try to keep busy’, they say. And we all know that those words carry a weight of difficulty for a widowed spouse in the throes of building a life suddenly unrecognisable in the shadow of loss.

For us, language about ‘busyness’ is always revealing! Do we have a touch of FOMO – fear of missing out? All these are possible! Do we want to impress others? Do we seek to convince ourselves?

Maybe this ‘busy’ season offers us all two challenges. The first will be to strike a healthy and quite delicate balance between not becoming so busy that we become agitated, or not being so under-occupied that we become troubled in a different sort of way.

The second challenge will be to watch our language knowing that describing out own level of ‘busyness’ can be a highly sensitive matter!

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Nov 22, 2023

Well, as usual lots of good sense plus a few questions. Thank you.

When I retired they were always saying "you won't know how ever you found the time to go to work".

How right 'they' were. For a variety of reasons.

But probably the biggest reason is that I've been raised in a 'duty'-bound culture. So I find I choose to do what I 'ought' to do. Rather than what I 'want' to do. Duty always takes precedence over personal satisfaction.

Sad but true.

I do try hard to ignore that call of conscience but it doesn't often work. !!

Mike and Helen
Nov 22, 2023
Replying to

Love this Colin...what I want to do vs what I ought to do.... One problem is that when you were working you had less freedom to exercise the 'want/ought' choice muscle...and certainly less opportunity. And church doesn't help much...when did you last hear anyone talk about 'vocation for retired people'...?!!


Nov 20, 2023

As usual you folks offer a much-needed common sense angle to the holidays. Thank you!

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