As I research friendship, I have discovered there are five words that are killing friendships every day. Chances are, you and I will have said them at least a half a dozen times before this day is over. What are these five words? I am so glad you asked...
"I have been so busy."
Imagine these 3 scenarios with me:
- Your friend texts you when you are on your way to work and you suddenly remember that you hadn't responded back to her last text. You quickly respond with: "I'm sorry I didn't get back to you earlier. I have been so busy."
- You run into a friend at your child's soccer game. You talk about how you have been meaning to get together but, "I have been so busy running my kids to their extracurricular activities. It's been impossible to find a spare moment to have coffee with anyone. "
- You have been meaning to send your best friend, who lives in another state, a birthday card. Days and weeks go by after her birthday. You finally get a spare moment to call her and wish her a belated happy birthday and you qualify the tardiness of your greeting with: "I wanted to send you a card weeks ago but I have been so busy."
We have all have found ourselves in some variation of the scenarios above. Why? Because truly, we all are (so) busy.
Our "busyness" is not a lie or a made up excuse. Sadly, it is the reality that many of us find ourselves trapped in. Barbara Ehrenreich, an author, coined the phrase that captures a place of where many of us find ourselves living in: "The Cult of Busyness".
The Cult of Busyness is where busyness is elevated as a virtue above the rest: "I am busy, therefore I am important. I am needed. My existence is validated by how much of my time is occupied by doing." We try to maintain full schedules in order to avoid empty lives: (ahem) loneliness. The irony is that the busier our schedules become, the less opportunity there is for true social connection.
Psychiatrists, Jaqueline Olds and Richard Schwartz, wrote about this problem in their book, The Lonely American: "It's (a) vicious cycle of staying busy to avoid seeming lonely and feeling lonely because there seems to be no time to cultivate relationships."
When the words "I have been so busy" are communicated to our friends, we are communicating that their friendship does not hold a high priority in our lives. Time with them is not as valuable as all the other stuff we are busy with. After awhile, our friends get the hint. They stop calling or texting as much. They don't bother us with dates for when we can together. They would never dare to stop by our home without ever scheduling it first. Why? Because we are so busy.
A young mother sat at my kitchen table in tears. She was very busy with two small children and a new business she just started from her home. While scanning her Facebook feed one night, she saw that a few of friends had gone out to dinner together without her. She was crushed. Why hadn't they called her to include her? She felt left out and cried as she told me, "I am so busy with so many things and yet, I feel so alone."
Many of our friends grow weary of waiting for their turn in our lives. They eventually move on. In a recent survey I did, I found that the majority of "friendship break ups" were not caused by conflict but rather, allowing too much time to pass before connecting with that friend again.
So, how do we keep the busyness of our lives from starving our friendships to death? Here are three practical keys that we start living out today.
Friendship is not only important to our health and sanity but it is invaluable towards achieving our goals and dreams. If we want to be successful in our personal mission, we need to spend time with our friends. The first place we begin in protecting our friendships is by making them a priority.
When we set up our weekly/monthly schedules we should intentionally mark out time to spend with friends. I know a woman who is writing a book, finishing her master's and preparing her child for college. She is very busy but she has marked out on her weekly schedule a day that she can grab lunch with friends. Every Friday, her schedule says that it is, "Friends on Friday". She communicated with her friends, that each week, her schedule is open on that day for them to grab lunch. By setting aside regular time with her friends, she is making her friendships a priority. These weekly lunches have become a source of encouragement for her as she finishes her master's, writes her book and sends her baby off to college. She also has the opportunity to be that same support to the friends in her life. When we make our friendships a priotity on our schedule, we will find greater strength and support to get all the other stuff done.
Let's be honest. Some of us are busy with things that we do not need to busy with! We need to purge our schedules a bit and take honest inventory on how we spend our time. Do we really need to volunteer at our child's school, in our church's women ministry, AND run our town's softball league? Are we doing things because we really want to or because we feel we have to?
If we cannot find time to spend two hours with a friend once a month, then there is something seriously wrong with how we are spending our time. We are created to be in and enjoy the company of each other. God does not call us to be so busy that we cannot regularly connect with our friends. It's time to purge and cut out some things of our schedule so we can make room for relationships to grow and deepen.
I recommend consulting with a life coach when you begin the "purging of your schedule" process. I have done this several times with my life coach, Elise Daly Parker. The value of having an objective and skilled person helping me to craft a healthy schedule has saved many of my relationships, especially, my friendships.
Give your close friends verbal permission to interrupt your busyness. This is counter-cultural. Sebastian Maniscalco, a comedian, talks about how 20 years ago when the doorbell rang in your home, it was a happy occasion. It meant you had unexpected company! Your mom pulled out a cake, made some coffee and no one was ever annoyed that friends had "dropped by". Nowadays, when your doorbell rings, you panic or even a little annoyed because your schedule has been interrupted.
We need to allow chosen friends to interrupt our schedules. We need to verbally tell them that they have permission to call us when they are having a bad day. If we can't talk, we will let them know and get back to them later on. They need to know that if they happen to be in our neighborhood, they should absolutely call us to see if we are home! Their spontaneous presence in our home is welcomed! They need to be told that when they feel like they haven't spent much time with us, they have permission to tell us so.
We need to permit our friends to have this special place in our lives so that when life does get busy, we have safeguarded our friendships.
If we prioritize friendships, purge our schedules from unnecessary activities, and permit friends to interrupt our busyness, we will find that there will be no need to say,
"I have been so busy."
The allusion that busyness tries to sell us is that busyness will produce success. This is simply not true. At the end of the famous movie, "It's a Wonderful Life", George finds a book that his guardian angel has left for him. Inside the cover of Tom Sawyer, his guardian angel inscribed these powerful words:
Remember, no man is a failure who has friends."
As we confront our busyness and try to redefine what success in life truly means, let us keeps these words close to our hearts. Our friendships are one of the things God has created in bringing meaning to our lives - without them, we are simply alone... running on our hamster wheel with no end in sight.