In response to yesterday’s post, a blog reader asked why regularly telling people that you are busy and/or tired is a gentle selfishness. Here are several reasons why it is very often an expression of lack of thought for others.
It implies that the person asking you is neither. When someone says, “Hey, how are you?” and your normal response is, “Busy” or “Tired” it implies that they aren’t, and that you are either unusually fruitful, in demand, and hardworking, or have a physical issue that makes you more frail and fatigued than the rest of us can be.
Pretty much everyone thinks they are busy or tired. The college student with a calendar full of coffee dates thinks she is busy. My three-year-old nephew thinks he’s too busy building forts to take a lunch break. The slothful person is convinced of their tiredness (Prov. 26:14). The man who works 40 hours feels busy until he meets the one working 80. Busyness and tiredness are both relative, and neither are novel to the human experience.
There’s not much someone else can do about it, but by telling them, you put a social burden on them to at least offer sympathy. I know a young mum with four kids under four, a two-bedroom apartment, and a husband who works long hours. A couple years ago, she decided never to say, “Tired” or “Busy” when asked how she was: “Anyone with half a brain realizes I’m tired and busy,” she says, “But nobody can really fix it. It will be like this for years. So what’s the point in telling people every Sunday?” Unless you are going to ask for prayer, counsel, or some sort of other help, it’s usually just complaining. It’s certainly not giving thanks in everything (1 Thess. 5:18).
“But that’s pride!” some people say. “It’s just pride and maybe dishonesty to not tell someone that you are busy and tired when they ask how you are.” It is if a) the person asking really wants to know the gory details of how you are and b) you have no other aspects to your personhood than a full schedule and sleep debt. But since you have a brain and a soul as well as a body, maybe you could respond with, “Well, I met a really interesting person yesterday,” or, “The kids have been helpful,” or even, “God has been kind to me this week.” That certainly takes the spotlight off of us, doesn’t it? Honesty and humility don’t demand that we trumpet our weariness or pressing timetable.
There are certain circumstances where it is not selfish to tell someone that you are tired or busy. If your husband comes home and asks what your day was like, it is appropriate to say “Busy,” if it was unusually so. Maybe a pastor says, “How are you really doing?” when you are going through something and he needs to know that you are not as involved at church because of busyness on the home front, or physical fatigue. There are times when it is appropriate. But most of the time, when we tell people we are tired and busy, it is merely a standard response that comes from constantly thinking about ourselves.
I am blessed to know some truly busy, tired people. Some of these folks (mostly men, but a couple women) put in 90 + hours of work per week, interact with thousands of people each year, cross time zones, fight insomnia and the chronic headaches and nausea that can come with that, and are super productive. Others have disabled children or elderly parents who require care 24/7. Some are pouring themselves out on the mission field. The irony is, the busiest, most fatigued people I know never say, “Tired” or “Busy” when asked how they’re doing, because they are also godly. They have put self to death to such an extent that when you ask them how they are doing, they almost inevitably say, “I am well. And how are you?”