Book Review

"Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem" By Kevin DeYoung

Eric Landry
Kevin DeYoung
Thursday, October 31st 2013
Nov/Dec 2013

Like the author Kevin DeYoung, I find that I take a sort of perverse pride in being "crazy busy," so I suppose a book like this is especially appropriate for people like me who need to be shaken out of such an unhealthy way of thinking. As I read through the book, however, two friends were brought to my mind over and over. One is a friend who left the Southern California lifestyle behind and moved to a rural part of the country where he could live with his family without succumbing to the crazy busy culture DeYoung warns us of. The other is still right in the middle of it, recently lamenting to me that his son is desperate for his attention. I tried to put myself in their shoes as I read Crazy Busy. How would they benefit from it?

DeYoung begins by summarizing a number of helpful books and studies to give us a "state of the union" (we're all crazy busy!). The bulk of the book is structured around a series of diagnostic statements to help us see our busyness. I wonder, though, if our real problem is that too few of us realize that we're busy, that the choices we are making are robbing us of health and spiritual vitality, that there is a better way. Again, I go back to my two friends: both of them have seen the light. For the first friend, the light was the dawn of a new day and a new way to live, a series of choices (radical though they seemed at the time to his short-sighted friends) that he and his wife made to live less busy lives. For the other friend, the light is an oncoming train. He knows he is in a world of hurt, but can't seem to make the changes necessary to save his own health and to live in a way that is a true benefit to his family.

That's not to say that the diagnostic chapters aren't helpful. There are some real gems of insight in them, especially chapters 4 ("Stop Freaking Out about Your Kids") and 5 ("You Are Letting the Screen Strangle Your Soul"). These two chapters should be shared far and wide. Maybe just following DeYoung's helpful advice on those two points would reduce enough stress to get most of my congregants off their meds.

DeYoung recognizes that a book, even as small as this one, can quickly become overwhelming to people who are already busy: just one more book to read, one more task to mark off, one more thing to do. He concludes his book by identifying the one thing we must do. DeYoung admits that it won't necessarily solve the problem of busyness, but it will bring us closer to Jesus, he promises. (I agree with DeYoung that the real problem is our tendency to hide from Jesus in our busyness or substitute our busyness for Jesus.) So what's the one thing DeYoung says we must do? Personal daily devotions.

DeYoung anticipates a negative reaction to his advice. He admits that it is "a dangerous and potentially debilitating move" to suggest a quiet time as the one thing we must do to fight against crazy busy lives. The problem, however, isn't the legalism that DeYoung fears. It is instead the easy retreat to individualism, which is at the heart of our crazy busy problem and also shows up in a surprising way in Crazy Busy. For instance, in chapter 8, DeYoung explains the benefit of a Sabbath rest without once talking about the means of grace. His primary emphasis is personal relaxation, sleep, and a day off from the grind. So it isn't surprising that the same individualistic viewpoint shows up in the one thing we must do.

I don't think DeYoung is right. As wonderful and important as daily reading and prayer are, his advice sounds too close to a stereotypical "take two verses and call me in the morning" pietism. In the end, this pietistic method can produce the kind of hyper-individualism that leads to the very real problems with which Crazy Busy is concerned.

Our church culture's emphasis on the private over the corporate is a reflection of the broader cultural sickness that has made us all crazy busy. We have forgotten that the biblical priorities are communal, not individual; personal, not private. When we cease to think in communal terms, we become trapped by private ambition and guilt. Is it any wonder that the writers who have done the most to help celebrate a balanced life have also done the most to call to mind our responsibilities to broader community structures? I'm thinking here of writers like Wendell Berry and Eugene Peterson, who write often of our participation in both the land we live on as well as the communities that identify and guide us.

DeYoung's book is helpful in many ways, but his prescription falls short. He returns to old tropes that I fear are part and parcel of the mess we're in. Watching my own life get crazier and busier and watching the lives of family, friends, and congregants follow the same trajectory, I am afraid that what is needed is a much crazier book than DeYoung has given us’a book that calls on God's people to make countercultural decisions to live their lives in ways that are distinctively different from their neighbors. If our children see us bow in personal prayer each morning but otherwise ascribe to the world's standards of what life should look like, we will never stop being crazy busy. We will only sanctify it in our children's eyes, and they will follow our steps into their own crazy busy future.

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Eric Landry
Eric Landry is the chief content officer of Sola Media and former executive editor of Modern Reformation. He also serves as the senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Austin, Texas.
Thursday, October 31st 2013

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

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