“Beware of the barrenness of a busy life.” This has been attributed to Dawson Trotman, founder of the Navigators, or Socrates, depending on what Google source you follow. It matters not who said it, for it describes many of our lives perfectly, doesn’t it? I know it speaks for mine pretty clearly. Busy? Sure we all know what that is. Barren? Why so? Isn’t a busy life a fulfilling one, not to mention fun? Don’t we stay busy because there are a lot of things we want to do? Where does the barrenness come in? I think it sneaks in, unannounced. It eats away at our most precious relationships, replacing intimacy and loving concern with lists of things to do and places to go.

Before we know it, we have holes in those relationships too large to repair with our meagre social skills, which have also fallen victim of that busyness that places value on ‘how much,’ instead of ‘how important.’ How large a problem is this? Have a look at the divorce rates in the West. In Canada it is 45%, the US 49%, England 53%. But that is nothing compared to Finland’s 56% or Sweden’s 64%. People aren’t talking to each other anymore, they are too busy with their lives, and many of those lives are ending up barren and disappointed. The West is becoming a wasteland of failed dreams and hopes, and that barrenness is shifting to the East to places like Malaysia and Singapore.

What is to be done? Much; most of it easily within our capacity to change. First turn off the telly and read a book, preferably with your significant other in the room. Television promotes passivity; books stimulate conversation. It doesn’t matter what you read. Reading is interactive; good things will come of almost any material. You don’t have to read the same book or even enjoy the same genre. If the book speaks to the human condition, you will find mutual ground of conversation. Don’t get so absorbed in your book that you omit to share, for the Lord intended that we share our journey with each other.

Write. Again it doesn’t matter what. Writing promotes reflection; reflection deepens relationships. I blog, you Facebook. Both are good; in fact any writing – journals, poetry, articles – is good. It keeps us connected to others. I can’t tell you how many times some complete stranger has commented on a blog I have written, expressing how helpful I have been to some particular issue. Praise the Lord, brother. We are here to help each other down this bumpy road. I am encouraged in my relationships by your comment. This is how the Lord ministers His grace: through one another.

Listen. Even to the raucous and nasty. They to have something to teach us even if it is only “there but for the grace of God go I.” But don’t listen to such voices overmuch. Learn what you can, and move on. The world is full of voices: listen to those who journey is much like yours, for there you will find wisdom to help you on your way. Listen especially to the youth. Listen to their dreams, their desire to do good with their lives, to bring honour to their families and make their way in the world. I am so fortunate to have a job where I am surrounded by such voices. They are a blessing and a constant encouragement. If you are young, listen to your elders. Their experience is irreplaceable and eminently practical.

Let yourself be quiet. If you are a spiritual person (all of us are spiritual people; some of us are just aware that this is true) listen to the still small voice of the Lord speaking truth into your spirit. You cannot listen to this voice if you are “too busy.” You must withdraw from that busy-ness. I find the early morning is the best time for this, before the world gets up and going. But after a long spell of being busy all day my spirit yearns to have some extended period of solitude to repair the wear and tear that living in such a distracted world brings. I used to love the summer holidays when I taught in Canada for just this reason. I would seek to find some ‘enthusiasm’ such as gardening or astronomy or renovating to confuse curious onlookers, but essentially these things were just cover for some time alone with God, which to Western minds at least seems a little simple-minded for serious pursuit. You may go ‘canoeing’ for a week, or ‘roller-blading’ in the park. It doesn’t matter what you call it, we all need it. It is that refreshing that allows us to recommit our energies and our care to those we interact with.

Finally, let your spirit bend in the direction of the other. Christians call this prayer, but you needn’t let that put you off. Naming something doesn’t mean that you know what it is. A spirit that is bent toward another will seek to do that other good. A spirit bent toward another will undertake to carry that other’s grief, loneliness, heartache and pain. A spirit that is bent toward another will seek to bring a word of encouragement, direction, or perhaps even rebuke (be extremely careful with that one and make sure that it comes from a heart of love). A spirit that is bent toward another will ask that the God of all mercy will extend goodness to the other beyond your own limited capacity to help.

These are some ways to strengthen the bonds between us. It is a hurting world out there folks. We all need to be developing those relationships that can help us along the road, and make the journey enjoyable for those whose lives we touch. It has been over a month since Pam left for Canada, and a very useful time it has been. For me solitude is a rare and precious gift from a loving God who has yet much to teach me about my relationships with others. I am grateful to God that He has given me some time to reflect on these things and draw closer to the truths He has stored up for me in His word, and in His people.