Several years ago, a big-city commuter train crashed, killing several and seriously injuring hundreds of people. The train was traveling too fast in a location that required it to go slow. When investigators looked into the accident, they identified three factors that contributed to the devastation:

  1. A comparable crash had already taken place in a similar location, and the lessons it offered were ignored.
  2. The warning lights that informed the conductor to slow down were working, but the driver didn’t give it proper attention.
  3. The conductor was apparently distracted by his phone.

It Could Have Been Prevented

Sadly, this crash could have been prevented. It’s really not all that different from what we experience when we see a marriage crash. Too often, couples

  • don’t take the time to learn from their past mistakes;
  • ignore the warning lights that tell them their marriages are in danger, and
  • find other priorities distracting them and preventing them from giving needed attention to their marriages.

We Need a Slower Pace

To experience a lifelong marriage filled with refreshing time margins and deep intimacy, you must understand the cause of your busyness as well as the consequences. It’s easy to simply cast blame on busyness without looking within your own heart to see why you might be so busy. To help me (Jim) escape busyness, I regularly ask myself three questions:

  1. Is the pace of my life really sustainable over a long period of time?
  2. Do I like the person I’m becoming as a result of the pace I keep?
  3. Am I giving Cathy and my family my best during this season?

When I’m busy, the answers to these questions are always no, no, and no! While I’m often tempted to move to a deserted island to escape everything, I’m fully aware that a quick fix isn’t a good solution. The long-term answer always tells me to notice the warning lights of busyness, learn from my past mistakes, and make choices that will result in a better, stronger, and healthier Jim.

When I reflect on some of my previous bouts with busyness, I can see that I wasn’t willing to make the difficult decisions to unclutter my life so that I could have more time for my primary relationships. The warning lights were working; I just didn’t give them the attention they deserved. The warning lights of busyness are fairly obvious. Here are the ones Doug and I have seen in our own lives as well as in the lives of couples we’ve counseled.

1. Constant clutter.

Rushed lives are often reflected in clutter. For me (Doug), when I’m too busy, it can be seen in my piles. Laundry piles. Paper piles on my desk. Piles in the backyard (thanks to my dog and my not taking the time to remove them). I can create a temporary fix and shove clutter into the closed spaces of my life: filing cabinets, closets, and drawers. But when I’m too busy, I don’t need a drawer organizer; I need a drawer exorcist. We’re not implying you need to become a neat freak, but we are suggesting that your gathered mess could be making a bigger statement about the pace of your life.

2. Addiction to speed.

This is when you want everything to go faster and faster in your life. You find yourself spending most of your waking moments fueling the adrenaline rush that comes from juggling your many “essential” priorities. You’re afraid that if you quit juggling, something is going to crash. Unfortunately, many of those addicted to the speed of life do indeed have something crashing—and it’s usually one of their primary relationships.

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3. Extreme multitasking.

Do you try to accomplish too many things at once? Can you drive your car on the freeway while shaving your legs or playing bingo on your mobile device? Are you the type who can pay the bills and talk on the phone and entertain a child and make dinner while exercising? If so, it’s important to understand that extreme multitasking can cause “inattentional blindness.” It won’t affect your actual vision, but it does influence your psychological perception of what is most important.

4. Superficial relationships.

Staying on the surface with your spouse and most of the people you know happens because busyness and a hurried life are the enemies of depth. Your life feels as though it’s a mile wide and an inch deep, and as a result, you become a shallow person—possibly so shallow that you don’t even understand how the pace you keep is affecting your marriage.

5. Relationship fatigue.

Many of these busyness indictors can blend together and sound familiar, but relationship fatigue is when you have very little or no time for the people closest to you. You may not be superficial, but you’re too tired, drained, and preoccupied to give time to the people who need and deserve it the most. Instead, they’re the ones who get cheated and receive your time scraps. Spiritual emptiness.

6. Spiritual emptiness

This can be seen when your desire for worship disappears, your compassion dries up, and you have little, if any, concern for spiritual intimacy with your spouse. The pace of life leaves your soul malnourished, and as a result, you suffer from soul erosion. There is just no time or emotional energy to draw near to God.

We realize it could be discouraging if you see yourself in these descriptions. But we’re only able to describe you because we’ve been there before you. We’ve both seen and experienced each of these warning lights. You’re not alone, but don’t allow our camaraderie to become an excuse for ignoring these signs. Busyness won’t simply resolve or disappear on its own. What will disappear is any hope for an abundant life and a joy-filled marriage. Knowing is the first step to making changes to your life and marriage.

Adapted from The First Few Years of Marriage ©2017 by Jim Burns and Doug Fields. Used by permission of David C Cook. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.

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