I was listening to a podcast by a missionary, and he was describing life and culture in Kenya. What really stood out to me was how he described people in Kenya as “relationship-based.” In Kenya, a neighbor may return a book and stay to visit for three hours, maybe even stay for a meal. People actually spend time with each other—they value time with each other. He contrasted this with America, where we often race from one task to another, checking things off of a never-ending to-do list.

Almost a year later, this concept is constantly on my mind. While only half engaged in playing with my son, I find myself thinking about the five more things I need to get done today. While at work, I’m not thinking of spending time with my family when I get home, but of which projects I can do before going to bed. I often feel accomplished when I check off more tasks from my invisible list. I build my life around keeping busy. And that’s the big bad “b” word here. Busy.


Busyness Isn’t New

While the lifestyle of busyness certainly seems to coincide with technological advancements and fast-paced cultures, it existed during Bible times as well—and it got in the way of relationships there, too.

Luke 10:38-40 describes how Martha invited Jesus into her home. While Martha was distracted by all the preparations she was making for her house guest, her sister Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to him.

Martha came to Jesus and asked if he cared that Mary had left her to do all the hosting work by herself. Jesus showed concern for Martha’s frustrations, but also explained that Mary had chosen the better thing—to sit and listen to him (Luke 10:41-42). Martha had allowed her duties as hostess to become too burdensome. While she wanted to honor Jesus with an elaborate meal, a simpler meal would have been just fine so that she could have more time with Jesus—the very person she was working so hard to host.

Martha and Mary have a lot to teach modern-day Christians. How often do we invite friends or family over for dinner and spend so much time laboring over a complicated meal that we are too exhausted to enjoy sharing the meal with our guests? Or how often do we get frustrated seeing coworkers enjoying a conversation on break while we’re scurrying to meet a deadline?

Mary taught us that sometimes it’s okay to put our tasks on the back burner for the sake of spending time with others. While it does take some reprogramming of the brain to shift from being task-based to relationship-focused, I have found three ways to remind myself that people are more important than things on my to-do list.


1. Stashing my phone out of sight

This one is simple, but it’s hard to do. What if I want to take a picture? What if I have a few spare minutes to catch up on my social media feed?

When I look up from my phone sometimes and just watch my son while he’s playing, I notice so many things that I’ve been missing—facial expressions, how smart he is with building things out of random items, or quirky little things he does.

On days where I stash my phone away in a separate room, it enables me to be immersed in the present and in my surroundings. It also allows my attention to be more fully on those around me—whether it’s my son, a coworker, or a friend I’m catching up with over dinner.

I find that by regularly spending more time away from my phone, I begin to remove the habit of mindlessly staring at it even when I do have it on me. It helps me develop a better sense of what is happening around me.


2. Saying, “Yes” to Time with Others

Too often, I find myself saying “no” to invitations from a friend, coworker or relative because I feel too busy to fit them in.

If I stop to think about it, I can recognize that it’s okay if the house has some clutter and I get to picking up tomorrow in exchange for lunch with a friend today. Or if I have a simpler dinner one night in exchange for a friendly chat with a neighbor after work.

Before I turn down an opportunity to spend time with someone, I’ve started pausing to ask myself if, in this situation, my excuse is really something important, or if it’s the same daily mental task list that’s holding me back.

We never know if a short visit could be the first meaningful chat an elderly neighbor has in months. Our love and time are the most precious gifts we can give to those around us. Changing my perspective to think of my time as a gift helps me make wiser decisions about where to give it.


3. Minimizing Distractions

During time I dedicate to being present with the Lord, I often find myself not feeling like talking to God or reading the Bible. Instead, I scroll through social media. Other times, instead of engaging in a game with my family during downtime on weekends, I busy myself searching for dinner recipes online.

I know that talking to God brings me closer to him, and helps me better understand his plan for my life. Plus it’s what Jesus told Mary was the “one thing needed” (Luke 10:42). I know that planning dinner for my family is a good thing and perhaps a necessary task, but it doesn’t always have to compete with being present with my family during our quality time together. So when I do sit down to spend time with God, or to play with my family, I try to be present in that activity, for that time. It takes a little discipline, but when I catch my mind wandering from where I’m at, I say a quick prayer for help with my thoughts and to bring myself back to being present where I’m at.


I still suffer from task-based busyness. But I am more mindful of it now. When I catch my mind wondering about things to do today, I stop to ask myself if I’m just generating another unnecessary task. Some tasks are important to keep in mind—upcoming appointments, something needed from the grocery store—but I now can take a moment to try and differentiate between necessary and helpful tasks versus tasks that can wait or be eliminated completely. When there’s an invitation to spend time with someone, before immediately shutting it down with the response that “I’m too busy,” I stop to think if that’s really true.

In the end, the pile of tasks completed amounts to nothing if done simply for the sake of doing them; but the time, presence, and love we offer to others, and our time with Jesus is everything. So let’s break the cycle of being lost in the weeds of task-based living and prioritize the beautiful relationship-based lifestyle the missionary to Kenya talked about!