Crazy Busy: An (uncharacteristically) short book review about a (mercifully) short book

What’s next, and why now?

After recently finishing a book that took me 18+ months to read, I went to my bookshelf to see what was next on my list… hoping for something hyper-relevant and actionable and less theoretical and philosophical (2 kids forces you to limit things like this). Thankfully my eyes found Kevin DeYoung’s Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem.*

I was given this book per my request several years ago because I was busy then and thought “man this book sounds perfect.” Well several years, several kids, and several life changes later and I’m still busy and still thinking “man this book sounds perfect.” Not only do I find myself talking about busyness, but it seems everyone around me is as well. (“How’s the week?” “It’s been a busy one.”) So with an exhale I reached down and put this book in my backpack to begin on the bus the next day.

Because of the nature of this book, I’m going to keep this book review very simple:

  • I’ll provide an introduction to the book and a conclusion that describes how it has affected me.
  • In between I’ll list one main point & one key quote from each chapter (excluding the first 2 chapters, which set the stage for the next 8).

You’re welcome.

*Note: DeYoung is a Christian pastor. I encourage people of all religious conviction to read this book. Hear him out.

Introduction / Chapter 1: Hello, My Name is Busy

DeYoung wrote this book because people, including himself, are busy. You can hear him talking more about this in this video or this interview.

He wrote this book to help himself process his own busyness, his cluttered life, his poor prioritization, and his exhaustion. It is not a self-help book, but rather an honest man connecting his Christian theology to the state of busyness in himself and the world today. In it, he lists…

  • 3 dangers to avoid (chapter 2)
  • 7 diagnoses to consider (chapter 3–9)
  • 1 thing you must do (chapter 10)

Key Quote: “Most everyone I know feels frazzled and overwhelmed most of the time.” (16)

Chapter 2: Here, There and Gone: 3 Dangers to Avoid

DeYoung here lists and expounds on 3 dangers we must avoid:

  • 1: Busyness can ruin our joy

Key Quote: “Busyness is like sin: kill it, or it will be killing you.” (28)

  • 2: Busyness can rob our hearts

Key Quote: “The seed of God’s Word won’t grow to fruitfulness without pruning for rest, quiet, and calm.” (30)

  • 3: Busyness can cover up the rot in our souls

Key Quote: “The presence of extreme busyness in our lives may point to deeper problems–a pervasive people-pleasing, a restless ambition, a malaise of meaninglessness.” (31)

Key Quote from the chapter: “…because we can do so much, we do do so much.” (24)

Chapter 3: The Killer P’s

Diagnosis #1: You Are Beset With Many Manifestations of Pride

Main Point: Many times the reason we’re so busy is because we think that we’re more important or essential than we are.

Key Quote: “We assume, ‘If I don’t do this, no one will. Everything depends on me.’ But the truth is, you’re only indispensable until you say no. You are unique. Your gifts are important. People love you. But you’re not irreplaceable.” (36)

You are unique. Your gifts are important. People love you. But you’re not irreplaceable.

Chapter 4: The Terror of Total Obligation*

Diagnosis #2: You Are Trying to Do What God Does Not Expect You to Do

Main Point: When I assume that God wants me to fix everything, I’m trying to do more than God ever asked me to do. Even Jesus said “no” to good, important things in order to say “yes” to his unique calling. Don’t feel guilty (or make others feel guilty) for not supporting every ministry, not going on every mission trip, or not praying for everything all the time.

Key Quote: “Surely there are many Christians who are terribly busy because they sincerely want to be obedient to God.” (45)

*Note: above all chapters, I encourage all Christians to read this one.

Chapter 5: Mission Creep

Diagnosis # 3: You Can’t Serve Others without Setting Priorities

Main Point: Because we don’t establish priorities (things we should work to say “yes” to) and posteriorities (things we should work say “no” to), we have a hard time saying “yes” to everything and not saying “no” to anything.

Key Quote: “For many of us, our defacto mission is: 1. Take care of the house. 2. Meet the next deadline. 3. Keep the people in my life relatively happy… if Jesus had to be deliberate with his priorities, so will we…the person who never sets priorities is the person who does not believe in his own finitude.” (57)

Chapter 6: A Cruel Kindergarchy

Diagnosis #4: You Need to Stop Freaking Out about Your Kids

Main Point: Parents have an awesome responsibility, but we assume that we have the power in us to create the perfect kid. We should stop focusing on giving them a perfect future and instead focus on being a healthy, stress-free, present parent.

Key Quote: “Isn’t the most important thing not what we do but who we are as parents? … I want to grow as a parent–in patience and wisdom and consistency. But I also know that I can’t change my kids’ hearts. I can’t make their decisions for them. I am responsible for my heart and must be responsible to teach my children the way of the Lord. But there’s no surefire input–say, the right family mix of family devotions, Tolkein, and nutrition, that will infallibly produce the output we desire. I’m just trying to be faithful and to repent for all the times I’m not.” (73)

Chapter 7: Deep Calls to Deep

Diagnosis #5: You Are Letting the Screen Strangle Your Soul

Main Point: We position ourselves for failure when we let technology be the main provider of purpose, meaning, and value in our lives–and should actively work to put technology in its proper place.

Key Quote: “The biggest deception of our digital age may be the lie that says we can be omni-competent, omni-informed, and omni-present…We must choose our absence, our inability, and our ignorance …The sooner we embrace this finitude, the sooner we can be free.” (88)

Chapter 8: Rhythm and Blues

Diagnosis #6: You’d Best Rest Yourself before You Wreck Yourself

Main Point: If our goal in life is a lifetime of good, hard, quality work, we need to realize that sustainable, intentional rest is the only way it’s going to happen. If we ignore it, we will burn out.

Key Quote: “I’m not so important in God’s universe that I can’t afford to rest. But my God-given limitations are so real that I can’t afford not to.” (99)

I’m not so important in God’s universe that I can’t afford to rest.

Chapter 9: Embracing the Burdens of Busyness

Diagnosis # 7: You Suffer More because You Don’t Expect to Suffer at All

Main Point: Sometimes we are stressed simply because we have a flawed understanding of the inevitable cost of personal relationships.

Key Quote: “…I know from personal experience that some forms of busyness are from the Lord and bring him glory. Effective love is rarely efficient. People take time. Relationships are messy. If we love others, how can we not be busy and burdened at least some of the time?” (105)

Chapter 10: The One Thing You Must Do

Main Point: Above all other things, we must prioritize time with Jesus Christ and his Word.

Key Quote(s):

  • “If someone recorded your life for a week and then showed it to a group of strangers, what would they guess is the ‘good portion’ of your life?” (113)
  • It’s not wrong to be tired. It’s not wrong to feel overwhelmed. It’s not wrong to go through seasons of complete chaos. What is wrong–and heartbreakingly foolish and wonderfully avoidable–is to live a live with more craziness than we want because we have less Jesus than we need.” (118)

Conclusion

This book along with other books and speakers I’ve mentioned in previous book reviews (The Gutenberg Galaxy, The Tech-Wise Family, Make Time, Tristan Harris, etc.) have been shaping me to live a more human-centered life: focusing on better using my time, considering how humans, families, and communities thrive, and choosing the life I want to live (active and offensive) as opposed to letting life tell me how to live (passive and reactive). Ultimately, I’ve been on a personal journey of sorts to reset my defaults.

As such, Crazy Busy has both reinforced the ideas that have been swirling in my mind and soul and encouraged me to take personal action to push those ideas into actuality.

In the past month, I’ve tried several things that have notably affected my prioritization, my prayer life, my pace, my presence, and my soul. None of the below things are ends in-and-of themselves–they are means to the end of being more present, balanced, and intentional. That being said, they are powerful means.

  1. I don’t sleep with my phone in my room anymore. I charge it in the kitchen.
  2. I’ve been using Sacred Ordinary Days’ planner. It forces me to prioritize my days, and it soaks my day in Scripture and prayer.
  3. I turned off push notifications on email. I’ll check them when I get to the office.
  4. I work as hard as possible to keep my phone in our phone bin while I’m home. My daughters and my wife are my priorities, not whatever my phone tells me I should prioritize.
  5. I have tried to practice what my Uncle Mark calls CAMI: Cultivate an Appreciation for the Moment I’m In. It’s his way of making sure he’s present where he’s at, not distant and elsewhere, and that handy little acronym has kept me accountable
  6. I’ve set my digital watch to a 24 hour watch-face. It’s a bit inconvenient at time (“Hey Justin, what time is it?” “It’s somewhere between 3:15 and 3:30”), but it’s made me be concerned less about the minutes and more about the hours, and it’s slowed me down and made me be present (especially when playing with my daughters).

It’s worth noting that the above list does not mean that I have “arrived.” I’m trying new things, iterating regularly, and trying to tweak the defaults of my life in order to live the live I want to live better. Some days are better than others.

Ultimately, I am thankful for DeYoung’s candid, thoughtful, and practical book and I sincerely encourage each and every one of you to read this book. For your sake, and for the sake of others in your life.

I say this because I know I needed (and still need) it, and my family, friends, work, church, etc. are benefitting my having read it.

They’re getting a better me, and so am I.

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Justin Mertes

Justin Mertes

Coach & Design Sprint Facilitator at Crema