Are you among the 90% of people who think their relationships could be improved? Here’s how to make time for the people you love

Do you ever feel there isn’t enough time in the day? Do your family and close friends complain that they don’t get enough time with you? Or are you so busy that you don’t have room for close relationships or even for a quiet time with God? If you answered ‘yes’ to any of those questions, you’re not alone as you can see from the statistics.

I interviewed more than 1000 people and discovered that:

• 75% agree that there is never enough time to get through the things they need to do each day

• 64% don’t feel that they give their close relationships enough time

• 44% see their best friends only once a month or less

• 63% feel regularly stressed or tired

• 28% spend more than 45 hours at work each week

• 14% don’t take at least one day off from work

• 97.5% admit their relationships could be improved

Living life in the fast lane

I knew I had a problem with busyness when every time someone prayed for me they would mention the verse ‘Be still, and know that I am God’ (Psalm 46:10). The problem was that I was a speedaholic, a spinning top and a ‘human doing’, rather than a human being. I was too busy for God, too busy to build strong and close relationships, and my health was suffering.

I’ve seen some of my Christian friends experience similar issues with busyness, especially those in leadership. Their desire to serve and not to let people down, and their ability to take on too much, can often mean that before they know it, their quiet time is squeezed out, their close relationships suffer and they themselves feel exhausted. We can’t have great relationships with God or people in our lives if we are too stressed, tired or busy. We can fool ourselves that children only need quality time, that a slower day is coming, that busyness (especially if it involves church work) is an ok excuse for not seeing our friends, that our spouse (if we have one) will understand if we are too tired (again) to have sex or that we’ll feel better once we’ve had a holiday. But the truth is, life isn’t going to change unless we make the choice to do things differently.

If we want to invest in our relationships we need to make sure that the time we give the people closest to us isn’t the dregs…the little bit left over once everyone and everything else has had a piece of us.

Engines, anchors and sailing boats

My husband David and I don’t disagree much but during our first couple of years of marriage any arguments we did have were about how to spend our time. In short, he wanted us to do less and I wanted us to do more! Both of us thought the other’s way of approaching time was a bit unhealthy but we only really understood what was going on when we went on a leadership course together. At one stage we were sent off to find an object that represented our internal world. In the bathroom I found a plastic sailing boat. ‘Ah,’ I thought, ‘that is just like me, moving with the wind… sometimes fast and sometimes slow.’ (Yeah, right! Who was I kidding?)

When I picked up the boat I saw a little rocket-propelled engine fixed to its underneath – now that was more like it! When I showed David we saw that I was like the engine that never switched off (except when it ran out of power and then came crashing to a halt). And he was like the anchor. The more the engine went – the more he wanted to hold the boat back, dig theanchor in and stop it.

Are you more like the engine or the anchor? Or are you a graceful sailing boat able to be led by the wind? Read the following descriptions to find out.


Engines are always busy and seem to be helping out or running everything at church. Their mantras are ‘There’s so much to do’ ‘I’m so tired’ or ‘Not now – I’m busy’. They are always on the go and hardly ever relax. Think of Martha in the story of Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-41). Engines feel driven to keep going and believe that if they don’t do whatever needs doing it won’t get done. They believe time is wasted if they are not achieving something. If they don’t feel stressed themselves, those close to them often do! Some engines find stillness uncomfortable and want to avoid it. Others may be trying to seek approval from God or other people through their actions. Engines often need help to delegate, have fun, relax and to learn how to prioritise their time.


Anchors prefer to take life easy. Perhaps rather too easy! They tend to be much more passive or laid back than your average person. They enjoy relaxing, having fun and try to get away with the minimum of work or chores. Their mantras are ‘I’ll do it later’ ‘That’s not my responsibility’ and ‘Can’t you just chill?’ Some anchors feel entitled to an easy life and don’t see why they should exert themselves. Others don’t want to push themselves forward because they are worried about failure and believe not trying is better than having a go and getting it wrong. But the truth is that the wider church, their friends and family are missing out from not having their input. Anchors often need encouragement to take the initiative or lend a hand.

Sailing boats

Sailing boats have a better balance. Jesus is the ultimate example. He did only what the Father told him to do. Sometimes he was very active but at other times he would retreat on his own or spend time hanging out with his family, friends and disciples. Like Jesus, sailing boats are led by the Holy Spirit knowing when and where to say ‘yes’ and when to say ‘no’.

How to switch off, up anchor and navigate a new course

The wonderful thing about a sailing boat is it can go fast when the wind is up, slower when the wind is gentle and stays put when everything is still. But how is it possible to live like that? I can’t pretend I’ve totally discovered the answer but there are a few helpful questions I have learned to ask myself.

Where is my destination?

It can be helpful to step back and look at the bigger picture. Where am I heading? Who are the people and what are the things that God wants me to focus on? Am I giving my best time, my effort and my resources to these things or am I spreading myself too thin? What needs to change? Taking time out or going on a retreat can be a great opportunity to press the pause button, make time to listen to God and to re-evaluate your priorities.

Ben started going on retreats three years ago. ‘There’s something about just stopping and listening to God – that helps put you back on the right track and in right relationship with him, your real self and with others.’

How am I planning to stay on course?

If we want to be deliberate about spending time with the most important people in our lives, we may need to plan it into our diaries. That may seem contrived but it will mean that the hours, days, weeks or months don’t slip by without us spending quality time with our favourite people. It could be having: • dinner together once a fortnight with flatmates • a date night once a week with your husband or wife • a family night once a week with your children • a regular slot with your parents or extended family where you have a meal together (or speak on the phone if you live far away) • a planned time to meet up with a great friend, a prayer partner, a mentor, or a Bible study group

While carving out quality time for our relationships is vital, I’ve learnt that it is NOT a substitute for ‘quantity time’. Somehow in our speed-obsessed, stressed, time-poor culture we have come to believe that if we spend quality time with our spouse, children or friends we can make up for the fact that we don’t see them the rest of the time.

If we believe that we are kidding ourselves aren’t we? It may suit us to believe it – it may even assuage our guilt – but is it true? Isn’t the truth that relationships need time as much as plants need water? They need feeding regularly, especially if the roots are going to grow deep and strong.

What is the wind doing now?

I’ve watched others with better balance in their lives than me and I have noticed that what they have is rhythm. Their lives aren’t filled with a constant stream of activities but rather they are punctuated by times of stillness. The people who do any or all of the following are the least stressed people I know:

• go for daily walks

• start their day in prayer, reading the Bible or in silent contemplation

• take their full lunch hour

• make sure one day a week is spent ‘not working’

• take all their holiday allowance

• say ‘no’ when they have to

They are also, interestingly enough, the people who seem to get the most done when they are active. No doubt their relationships are healthier too. It’s a lesson many of us could do with learning before we reap the results of our whirlwind lives.

How can I keep reviewing my situation?

Every January David and I batten down the hatches and refuse all invitations to go out (not that we seem to get many in January). We use the month to review our lives and pray. We ask ourselves whether we are still on course or do we need to do things differently?

Reviewing your situation may mean asking yourself whether there are different choices you could be making. Are there ways you could simplify your life? Are there certain things that you could give up or delegate?

Enjoy the journey

While it is good to look at the long term and to navigate our route, it is also vital we learn to enjoy the journey and not just fixate on the destination or everything on our ‘to-do’ list. So how can we find contentment today and not spend our time worrying about tomorrow?

People who have faced death or have been through a serious illness often find it easier to live in the present. Rita is in her late thirties and the mother of two young children. Six months ago she had a heart attack.

‘My long-term goals are to enjoy my grandchildren, to suffocate in a bear hug from my grown-up son, to watch my daughter walk down the aisle…but just in case none of those happen, I’m focusing on today,’ she says. ‘Every day I inhale the scent of my son’s downy fair hair, I marvel at the softness of his little hands and feet, I laugh with my daughter and squeeze her tight, I tell her that I love her, I love her, I love her and I always, always will. I have learned to be grateful for now, for this moment.’

And that is the challenge for all of us; to make sure that we aren’t too busy to love the people that God has put in our lives. Let’s take the opportunity today to show them that we care because that slower day we’re holding out for may never come.

Case Study: Richard's story

When Richard was single he worked as a curate in a large city church for several years. ‘My areas of responsibility grew over time and they began to feel like a fast-flowing current against which I had to paddle hard each day simply to avoid going backwards. I wanted to feel that my work was being done out of a sense of closeness to God with space for quality time with the people I was serving, but often that felt a naive ideal. As a single guy there wasn’t always somebody obvious with whom I could share the stresses and busyness and who could help me have a more healthy perspective.

In the end I burned out physically and emotionally. That was a very difficult period for me but I learned some important things through it. I learned to be more accepting of myself and less of a perfectionist. I learned it’s simply not possible or healthy to try to keep everyone happy all of the time. I’m also married now which has made a huge difference. There is more fun and variety in my life as a result – my work is still demanding and intense, but I have a better perspective now. I realise that everything is not resting on me as much as I used to think it was.’ 

Authentic – relationships from the inside out (Hodder Stoughton) by Sarah Abell is out now.