"Busy" is the best example of that. When you tell someone you're busy, what you mean is that your schedule is full. But you're not telling them that your schedule is full, you're telling them that your schedule is too full - and that there's no empty space in it for them. Busyness and loneliness... they are related, you know.
Our schedule gets filled a lot. This past summer John and I raised a baby & a toddler, shot 28 weddings between the two of us, we went to Newfoundland, we had a house fire, we went to Disney World, John picked up a few commercial gigs and I had a few paid writing projects, and we planned a trip to Nicaragua. In there, we also squeezed in a lot of face time with loved ones and corporate worship and going to the park. You know, the normal stuff. And although at times things were hectic (I remember the day our clothes all got returned from our insurance company and there were dozens and dozens of boxes of Tide-detergent-scented clothing filling our little bachelor apartment to the brim) and we used the word "crazy" a lot (as in, "this season is crazy"), we really tried to shy away from "busy". That was the one thing we could not commit to.
Because we weren't busy: sometimes we were overwhelmed with choices we made and things that happened to us that we did not choose, but we certainly weren't busy. We had a plan and it included working and playing and community and if there wasn't room for something new this week, there might be room for it the next.
And here is why: busyness has hurt me. Actually, it's hurt me, and it's hurt John, and it's hurt our relationships with others. We've seen friendships and family relationships take real dives in our lives because of busyness, and it's produced a culture of loneliness in ourselves and in those around us. Community disintegrates very very quickly when it takes a back burner to "commitments", and honestly, to a sloppy schedule. In University I put off drinks with friends because I had midterms the next-next week. I didn't visit my mom's house a few times because I had worked the day prior and was tired. I've had other projects take priority in my life over actual real relationships. Now, those projects no longer exist but the relationships do... as well as the scars that come with telling someone that they aren't as valuable as the project you're committed to.
I'm not undervaluing commitments here. Commitments are great. But so are calendars. So is flexibility. So are people. Think about the context in which the word "busy" is most often used in your own life. For me, it was when I was telling someone about something I was working on - as a justifiable reason for why they couldn't be a part of it. Busy was an excuse, intended or not, for putting community on the back burner. Instead of inviting others alongside us in our schedule, or finding creative ways to include them in it, we ask them to step out of the way until "things settle down". And I fight hard against it now because of the toll that cycle took.
Right now we're a little bit isolated from the normal hustle/bustle that takes place around Christmastime and while there are many things I miss, being brushed off (or brushing others off) with busy is definitely not one of them. During a season when the focus is supposed to be on spending time with loved ones, loved ones take second place to two or three social functions and gatherings and the defences that we put up to protect ourselves from getting burnt out of people. As a natural introvert (I know, it seems ridiculous based on how much/fast/loud I talk, but it's true), I actually get it: I exert myself when spending time with family and friends and I need three times longer to recoup.
But when I think back to Christmas seasons past, I definitely could have squeezed in a lot more community than I did, without burning out: myself, or others, could have been facilitators of community building by finding creative ways to expand the schedule instead of limit it. Instead of turning down hangouts because of commitments to baking or shopping or crafting or whatever, I should have just invited friends to do it with me. Instead of protecting family movie nights with an iron fist, we should have asked other families to watch with us, too.
When we tell people we're too busy to make time for them, we are essentially telling them that they're not worth our time. And if they're not worth your time, then whose time are they worth?
We've found that the first step in banishing "busy" is simply just finding a more appropriate set of words in our vocabulary. Come on now, we speak English, we can do it. What do we really mean? Chances are, we don't actually think that our friends and family come second to our commitments - maybe we feel pressured to perform, or responsible to complete our tasks, or maybe just lonely ourselves and not sure how to break out of it. Let's be honest about it. What's the deal for real? And could you use someone's help in getting the thing done? Do they have to come over to a clean house, or can they (God forbid) clean it with us?
The next step would be to have a solid look at our schedules. We don't have to make a detailed rundown of our whole day to know if we have a morning or evening open - or when our next morning or evening will be open. In our schedule, we pencil in alone time or family time and count it as booked. That's fine. But we pencil it - nothing permanent. If someone asks us if they'll share that time with us, and no other time blocks are free, we seriously consider being generous with it. Especially during the holiday season, we've learned that we can make a massive difference in what someone believes about themselves - and what God believes about them - by letting them know that they are worth that time. [Plug: John has read a lot about that recently in this book, which he really liked. Maybe you'd like it too?]
And third - listen for people inviting you to do life together. Be attentive to what people are asking you: if they're saying words like, "so what are you up to this week?", or "is there a time we could chat?", or "what's going on in this month?", they might be asking you if there is any room for them in your life. By starting off your sentence with the word "busy", you're shutting the door on opportunity for them to find out how they fit in there. Is that what you really mean to do, or are you just used to the culture of "busy"?
Finally, a word on burning out: you know your limits, and you know your kid's limits, too. If you're not the type of person that is suited for having other people in your life and in your home twenty four hours a day, well that makes you a human. So you're on the right track. Knowing where you stand and what God is calling you to is good - ask yourself where you're putting up healthy boundaries and where you're setting out gates and motes and crocodiles.