The Idol of Busy-ness

I live in an affluent city on the West Coast.  We home school our children, which puts my wife (mostly) into contact with other families who have made a similar educational choice.  And the reality is that part of the ability to make such a choice depends on a certain level of financial freedom and certain types of financial choices.  Home schooling requires that one of the parents not work (or at least not work full-time), and the only way to do this is a never-ending series of financial choices about what is important.

We’ve met a variety of wonderful people and families in this home-schooling journey.  But the one refrain we’ve heard over and over again, the modern mantra, is the lament of busy-ness.  I’m so tired – we’ve just been running around all over the place!  Taking X to this class and Y to this camp and then music lessons and play dates and camping trips and movies and and and and and

The list never concludes.

A lot of people in this town have money.  Not everyone, but quite a few.  So conspicuous consumption is less about the material, tangible things – those are passé – and more about time.  The status symbol of the day has less to do with the car you drive or the house you live in because everything here is expensive.  So the packed schedule becomes what everyone talks about and strives for.  Multiple classes, camps, lessons, outings.  It’s the current understanding that this is the price we pay for our children’s success.  If we want them to get into Harvard (and everyone is getting into an Ivy League school, right?) then we have to start filling out their future application now, at a younger and younger age.

Everyone is exhausted, so it’s funny that we’re repeatedly asked what camps and outings we’re enrolling our children in this summer.  The pressure is that everyone should be this busy.  Don’t you want to be this busy?  Don’t you want to have to keep your smartphone or Day Planner with you at all times to make sure you’re on top of things?  Don’t you want to join the club and lament about how busy you are, and the financial success that apparently makes such a schedule possible?

Actually, no.

Partly because we can’t afford it.  We live on one income, and while generous, it isn’t enough to fund all the myriad activities that are offered for the comfortable or well-heeled in the area.  We aren’t willing to put ourselves in debt in order to fill our children’s schedule with things to do.  But even if we could afford it, we believe that children shouldn’t have that kind of schedule to begin with.  Not during summer break.  Not during the school year.  They have their activities that we’ve committed ourselves to but those are very limited by both necessity and choice.  We’d rather spend our time making dinner together and playing games together than coming up with another activity to pack the kids off to for an hour a day four times a week.

Our culture is rife with status symbols – fame, fortune, health, eating lifestyles.  Plenty of opportunities to judge and be judged, to conform or to be ruled irrelevant or uneducated or uncultured.  I suspect this is the same for every culture at every time.  There has never been a shortage of edicts or peer pressure trying to get people to bow to the preferred idol of the day.  Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (Daniel 3) faced coercion to literally bow down.  But earlier in Daniel 1, Daniel and his companions felt compelled to resist a more subtle form of persuasion and coercion, one that promised great rewards for compliance.  What was offered was the best of the best – food and drink from the king’s own table!  But Daniel and his companions realized that in partaking in this food, they would be trading part of who they were – as Hebrews, as children of God even – and decided that the trade wasn’t worth it.  Their steadfastness was rewarded, but oftentimes the rewards of steadfastness aren’t immediately discernible.

We worry like any parent does about the decisions we make for our children.  Are we preparing them well enough for the world they will need to participate in as well as resist?  Are we doing enough to help mold them spiritually and intellectually as well as making sure their bodies are strong and healthy?  The worry is always there – maybe we should be doing more, or doing different.  Everyone else is – how is it that we trust our own judgment over the majority?  Isn’t that foolhardy?  Reckless?

Perhaps.

We don’t think it’s reckless, though.  And we think that what we are doing in and for our and with our children’s lives is already bearing fruit in who they are as people, how they relate to one another and to us and to everyone they come into contact with.  If we refuse to bow to the idol of the overburdened schedule, or the idol of Ivy League education, we substitute it with an emphasis on time together as a family and knowing who we are together and individually in Christ.   It may not get our kids into Harvard, but we pray it will help ground them for the increasingly fragmented and fractured culture and society they’re entering into very soon.

 

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