What to do when life is too busy to be holy?

Times Square in New York

If you are anything like me, then you try and do too much. It’s not that you want to be overworked and overstressed, but in good faith you just have a hard time saying ‘no’ and want to help as many people as you can. Or maybe you are a single parent or a child taking care of a parent or grandparent and you don’t have an option about your schedule. There are certain things that just have to get done whether you like it or not.

On top of all of your responsibilities, what can often make these experiences even more overwhelming is your sense of guilt that you don’t have enough time to pray, serve the poor and vulnerable, or make that bible study you’ve been wanting to attend for so long. Oftentimes we end up feeling like Martha of whom we heard about a few Sundays ago who tells Jesus, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” You would think that if God wanted us to be saints then we he would at least send us a little help.

It is often tempting to think that because we are so wrapped up with everyday responsibilities that God is, therefore, not present in our day or that our daily duties are of no concern to him. After all, there is nothing especially marvelous or holy about changing a diaper, finishing up work, or cleaning the dishes, right?

If you would have asked me this question two or three years ago, I would have answered affirmatively and would have been dead wrong. God and Christian holiness have everything to do with everyday life! Simply because of our baptism, which clothes us with Christ and remakes us into children of God through him, everything, absolutely everything, can be sanctified and redeemed (so long as it is not intrinsically evil, of course). The Second Vatican Council’s dogmatic constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, puts it like this

But the laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God. They live in the world, that is, in each and in all of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven… Therefore, since they are tightly bound up in all types of temporal affairs it is their special task to order and to throw light upon these affairs in such a way that they may come into being and then continually increase according to Christ to the praise of the Creator and the Redeemer (31).

What an incredibly liberating and refreshing understanding of what the Christian life is all about! This means that not only our everyday life can be redeemed but that it ought to be redeemed, and we are just the ones that God has chosen to do it. Every folded piece of clothing, every cut piece of grass, every successful family dinner is meant to become a prayer, a holy sacrifice offered to the Father in Jesus Christ through our cooperation with the Holy Spirit.

So, taking all of this into consideration, we can see that the question “What to do when life is too busy to be holy?” is a bit misleading. It is misleading because it is nonsensical… we can never be too busy to be holy because God wants to use our busyness as the very “stuff” of our sanctification — no matter how stinky, unpleasant, or unsuccessful it may be.

Now, as a short disclaimer, we ought to prudently craft our schedules insofar as it is in our control. If I don’t pray one night because I fall asleep from exhaustion after binge-watching The Office or Parks and Rec, then that one is on me… mea culpa. But there is a big difference between passing out and not praying after a long day of serving others and passing out and not praying after a long day of roaming the streets playing Pokémon Go. One is selfless and the other is selfish.

So, when life gets ‘“too busy”, we would all do well to remember and do two things. First, our busyness isn’t time spent apart from God but is time spent intimately with him living our personal vocation. Second, we should offer up a short prayer presenting our current undertaking to him as our spiritual sacrifice done in love for him and others.

Years ago I heard a wonderfully pithy phrase that was attributed to Bl. Mother Teresa that captures this idea well, “For no one does work become prayer unless one stops work often and prays.” This doesn’t need to be a lengthy, formal prayer but something as simple as

 “Lord, I offer to you all that I do. Please receive this little sacrifice done in love, and remember me when you come into your kingdom. Amen.”

Posted by JordanHaddad

Jordan Haddad earned his B.A. in Philosophy and B.S. in Psychology from Louisiana State University, his M.A. in Theological Studies from Notre Dame Seminary, and is currently enrolled as a doctoral student of Systematic Theology at The Catholic University of America. He is a Melkite Catholic from Houma, LA, and is most interested in Systematic Theology, the Second Vatican Council, Catholic Social Teaching, and the thought and writings of Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI. Jordan lives a joyful life with his wife and their daughter in the Washington, D.C., area.