Diagnosis: A Busy Heart

11 10 2012

I wrote this post for the Barnabas Center Blog Redemption’s Road.  The Barnabas Center is a nonprofit, nondenominational, Christ-centered counseling, training and teaching ministry dedicated to encouraging people by coming alongside them, entering into their daily struggles and walking with them toward freedom.

“The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down what seemed to be a very deep well.”

I fell down such a hole after the birth of my first son. Being over-committed with both work and relationships was routine for me, but the addition of a dependent little human being threw a wrench in the gears of the machine that was my life. Even though labor began almost ten days late, the timing with Bradley still felt inconvenient.  It began just days before a major work deadline. I had been putting off the project as I raced against the clock trying to tie all the other loose ends, knowing I needed Bradley to stay put for at least another two months in order to complete them all.  During my first week home from the hospital, I pulled three all-nighters, trying to continue life at a pace that was, quite frankly, insane. Pulling all-nighters to accomplish as much as seemed humanly possible suddenly became not humanly possible. I was scattered, confused and scared. Unable to function as efficiently as I used to, my productivity idol wasn’t serving me as well as it had in the past. I was falling fast.  I had turned from capable and confident to needy and insecure overnight.  It took me about 10 months to finally realize my situation was not improving and I wasn’t going to be able to climb out of this rabbit hole alone. Life felt unmanageable. Life was unmanageable.

Reluctantly I sought help at The Barnabas Center.  Many of my friends were already there. Now it was my turn. Filling out the New Client Packet felt like a joke.  I moved through the checklist of more than 70 issues enumerated under “Present Concerns” (40 of which I would check today) but none seemed to fit, so I crafted the most straightforward sentence I could in order to explain my issues: “I have a re-occurring sin-pattern of busyness and, in addition to that, having a baby has ruined the way my life used to work.”

I was hoping for a simple solution or at least a clear plan of action, but as you can imagine, there hasn’t been anything simple or clear about my journey. Fast forward through six years, the birth of two more children, countless cycles of trying to manage the busyness that continued to hijack my life and I found myself at square one again. How? I had learned to say no, I had practiced seasons of ‘task-abstinence’.  I had been seduced by the twin temptations of ‘balance and order’.  I trusted them to help me cope. They worked for a while, but eventually their true identities of ‘control and dependence on self’ were exposed.  The weight of my circumstances started to drown my soul.  I thought I believed the Gospel and that God was good, but I was confused and ready to admit that “the problem” was bigger, deeper, and more complicated than I had believed.

Now, with a different perspective about what I was facing, I began to seek God for a new way to treat this chronic condition. I knew that prayer was key, but even praying had become confusing. One morning after returning to finish a book I had started earlier that year, “A Praying Life” by Paul Miller, I sat in my living room, exhausted from a particularly busy week and pleading with God to help my children sleep past 6:15. As I read, my eyes fell on these words: “Learning to pray doesn’t offer us a less busy life; it offers us a less busy heart.” The words fell like lead on my soul. It was like accidentally stumbling across a diagnosis after having given up the search.  Oh the relief, but oh, the weight. Who wants to be diagnosed with a busy heart?


I had worked for so long trying to fix my busy life, when all along I had been treating the symptoms of a systemic disease of the heart. The heaviness of my reality quickly lifted when I realized I could be healed, but it wasn’t going to look at all like anything I had expected.  I was weary from years of self-absorbed introspection and so tired of thinking about myself. It felt counter-intuitive to the Gospel that gave me life.  How could I be an involved mother of three, wife, friend and part of an active community without being busy? How could I love people the way Jesus called me to, without offering parts of myself? I couldn’t, but the question should have been, what is the source of what I’m offering? That was the problem. I had been working and giving out of dried up cisterns. As I moved toward surrender and allowed God to work in me, He began to fill those dry cisterns and turn my focus from surviving to living. He was also growing within me a life-giving inner stillness that would increase my capacity to love, to give and to be present with Him and those around me in the midst of the busy.

To be honest, I’ve l not learned to apply this same Gospel to every part of my life, but I’m content to be patient with myself. What I’m learning is that dealing with a busy heart is  much more complicated than just changing the pace. Interrupting the cycle of a busy heart requires a fiercely intentional act that is not willful but soulful.  Slowing down on the outside is more of a discipline –  but being still on the inside is a practice that offers rest to our souls in spite of outer pressures.  Knowing the finished work of Christ for me allows an inner calm – a resting heart.