Crazy Busy (Book Review)

Busyness is a funny thing. We have a love/hate relationship with it, so that when we are not boasting in it we are apologizing for it, and when we are not overwhelmed by it we are wanting more of it. We hate what busyness does to us, how it keeps us from friends and families and how it skews our priorities. On the other hand, we love that it validates us, as if the fact that we are busy someone proves our significance.

Kevin DeYoung’s Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book About A (Really) Big Problem attempts to diagnose our busyness and to help us find a better, more satisfying, and more sustainable way to get through life. He begins by warning of three serious dangers that busyness can cause: Busyness can ruin our joy, it can rob our hearts, and it can cover up the rot in our souls.

The heart of the book is seven short chapters which offer seven diagnoses for our busyness. He shows how pride can make and keep us busy, and how pride can manifest itself in people-pleasing and in an inordinate desire for possessions. He suggests that many people do not properly order their priorities and, therefore, spend their lives busily doing things they should not be doing at all. He shows that many parents franticly run their children from one activity to the next, believing that unless they satisfy their children’s every demand, they will lose them. He goes to Scripture to show the importance of both rest and rhythm, pointing out that we were created weak, we are meant to accept our weakness and, having done that, we are to make a priority of building times of rest into our lives.

I especially appreciated the second-to-last chapter where DeYoung points out that life is not meant to be easy. We have many things to do and a limited amount of time to do it in. We are hampered by sin and the effects of sin on every side which means that for much of life, and perhaps even for most of life, we will be busier than we would like to be. It is one more reason to look forward to heaven. The more we expect or demand a life of ease here and now, the more difficult our busyness will become. Put simply, “The reason we are busy is because we are supposed to be busy.”

When the diagnosis is complete, just one chapter remains, and this is exactly where many readers will, I suspect, find themselves disappointed. When I speak to an author about a new book, I often like to ask him, “Is this a book you’ve lived?” In this case DeYoung gives his answer in the opening pages where he admits that he may be the best person to write the book, or the worst. “Some books are written because the author knows something people need to know. Others because the other has seen something people should see. I’m writing this book to figure out things I don’t know and to work on change I have not yet seen.”

That theme of “join me in the journey” prevails and it ends up being both a strength and a weakness. As DeYoung looks at his own life, he does a good and helpful job of diagnosing the heart of busyness since he is living in the midst of it, just like you and me. He gives a clear call to see busyness as a choice, or an accumulation of choices, and to see it as a choice full of spiritual significance. In the final chapter he calls for Christians to maintain their relationship with Christ—to sit at Jesus’ feet—primarily through times of personal devotion. He regards this as the one absolutely critical discipline in the midst of a busy life.

And then the book ends. While Crazy Busy is very useful in diagnostics, it is very light in practical application, presumably because he himself has not yet lived out such applications enough to speak with authority. Now, I think there are times when it is good to allow the reader to make his own application; after all, many readers, myself among them, are prone to be lazy and want to skip all the heart work and get straight to the part that makes their lives easier. My fear here, though, is that it is usually the author (of all people!) who can say with authority, “This theory leads to meaningful changes because I have seen this in my life and home.” In this case, DeYoung does not and cannot do that. We receive no assurance that all his research and writing has changed his own life. And if it hasn’t helped the author, how can it help us? At the end, it seems he is just as busy as when he began, and this is rather a disheartening conclusion.

Still, Crazy Busy is a good book for what it is. DeYoung is a talented writer and his books are always a joy to read. In this one he gives us words for what we already know—that we are busier than we ought to be and want to be. He gives us tools for diagnosing the specific heart issues that have led us here. And he gives us encouragement to begin to make the changes necessary to live a life focused on the highest and best priorities.

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