Q. My cousin—we are like brothers—lives about a four-hour drive from where I live. We are both very busy with family and work. It would be fantastic if we could make the time to speak by phone more often, but when we do we mostly talk about how busy we are. I wish our conversations were more relaxed and enjoyable. What can I do to change the pattern of our interactions to improve the quality of our time together?
A. What you have just described seems to be taking place with greater frequency among relatives and friends, robbing them of the joy and mental health boost they should be getting from these types of conversations.
Emphasizing how busy one is has become a way of life almost everywhere in the world, especially in highly developed societies. In fact, one of the most frequent responses to the salutation “How are you doing?” usually is: “I’m so busy these days.” The truth is, most of us are probably guilty of responding this way. It isn’t that such a response is not accurate. However, choosing a different answer would serve the relationship better.
Apparently, many persons feel more responsible and more accomplished when they are able to confirm to relatives, friends, and others that they are very busy. To be sure, that response may actually be true. However, rather than allowing themselves to enjoy the fellowship of the relative or friend making the time to reach out to them, they concentrate on the reality that life is stressful and leaves them very little time for fellowship and relaxation. This response also suggests that if they are not staying very busy, they may not have much value in their organization or social group.
Although most people tend to emphasize how busy they are in daily conversation with relatives, friends, or co-workers, that is not the totality of their lives. In fact, there are many other interesting qualities and aspects about their lives besides being busy they can share during their social interactions with others.
Anyone can change the habit of referencing their busyness in conversation by recognizing the habit exists, and by being intentional about choosing a different response. You will be surprised at how much more pleasant and relaxing your conversations will become with your cousin. Try this new approach for a week. Despite not being less busy, you will begin to feel less busy. This will also give your cousin permission to speak about things other than being busy. Choosing to deemphasize your busyness will help you feel less stress and make your conversations more nourishing and relaxing.
The Bible says in 3 John 2: “Dear friend, I hope all is well with you and that you are as healthy in body as you are strong in spirit.”
We pray you and your cousin will be able to experience a new level of emotional and spiritual strength in your relationship with each other.
*Bible references are from the New Living Translation.
Willie Oliver, PhD, CFLE, an ordained minister, pastoral counselor, family sociologist and certified family life educator, is director for the Department of Family Ministries at the world headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Elaine Oliver, PhDc, LCPC, CFLE, a licensed clinical professional counselor, educational psychologist, and certified family life educator, is associate director for the Department of Family Ministries.
You may communicate with them at Family.Adventist.org or at HopeTV.org/RealFamilyTalk.
The original version of this story was published on Adventist World in July 2023.