January 16, 2021

Another Look: The Art Of Doing Nothing

In light of what Chaplain Mike, et al, shared last week about slowing down, I thought we could take another look at this post from 2011. Or maybe it was just that this post talks of snow and it’s 105 here in Oklahoma right now. Or maybe the pictures from Calvin and Hobbes caught my eye. Whatever. Enjoy.

Ok, I suppose 25 inches of snow in a week’s time will get some to slow down. Here in Oklahoma, it will get us to burrow underground not to be awakened until springtime. (And spring in Oklahoma usually starts in about mid-February, so I suppose it will be a short nap.) I wish I could just take a snow day. But I have two big edit projects to be completed. And I am about a month behind in my emails. And the piles of papers and books I keep telling myself I will put away has grown to where the FAA wants me to light it for incoming flights.

Of course there is that little web site called InternetMonk. Not to say that this site takes much of my time, unless you count the fact that I am writing this at midnight after working on other stuff since early morning. Being busy just comes naturally to me, I guess.

And it’s that natural me that gets in the way of the me that God wants me to be. So what do I do? It goes against so much of how I have been raised—by my parents, by the church, by society—to do nothing. Or to even do very little. I have been brought up to believe I am to “do.” Do more, and do it more often.

And isn’t that how the Christian life is presented to us?

  • Get serious with the Lord.
  • Get out and win souls for the Lord.
  • Read your Bible and pray more than you already are, because it’s not enough.
  • Be at church whenever the doors are open.
  • Did I mention small groups?

And then there is Sunday, which we mistakenly call the Sabbath. Whatever it is, we make it the busiest day of the week.

Lazy? Who has time to be lazy? Of course, there are the verses that speak to laziness. By my count, there are fourteen such verses in Proverbs alone, starting with “Go to the ant, you sluggard!” So, can it actually be right to think that laziness is a way to the Lord?

In Nikos Kazantzakis’s great novel Saint Francis, Francis of Assisi is lying sick and is attended by a wild-haired young man whom Francis calls Leo. Francis asks Leo how he came to find God.

“My route, Sior Francis—and don’t be surprised when you hear it—my route when I set out to find God … was … laziness. Yes, laziness. If I wasn’t lazy, I would have gone the way of respectable, upstanding people. Like everyone else I would have studied a trade—cabinetmaker, weaver, mason—and opened a shop; I would have worked all day long, and where then would I have found time to search for God? I might as well have been looking for a needle in a haystack: that’s what I would have said to myself. All my mind and thoughts would have been occupied with how to earn my living, feed my children, how to keep the upper hand over my wife. With such worries, curse them, how could I have had the time, or the inclination, or the pure heart needed to think about the Almighty?

“But by the grace of God I was born lazy. To work, get married, have children, and make problems for myself were all too much trouble. I simply sat in the sun during winter and in the shade during summer, while at night, stretched out on my back on the roof of my house, I watched the moon and the stars. And when you watch the moon and the stars how can you expect your mind not to dwell on God? I couldn’t sleep anymore. Who made all that? I asked myself. And why? … Who made me, and why? Where can I find God so that I may ask him? … Piety requires laziness, you know. It requires leisure—and don’t listen to what others say. The laborer who lives from hand to mouth returns home each night exhausted and famished. He assaults his dinner, gobbles up his food lickety-split, then quarrels with his wife, beats his children without rhyme or reason simply because he’s tired and irritated, and afterward clenches his fist and sleeps. Waking up for a moment he finds his wife at his side, couples with her, clenches his fists once more, and plunges back into sleep … Where can he find time for God? But the man who is without work, children, and wife thinks about God, at first just out of curiosity, but later with anguish. Do not shake your head, Sior Francis. You asked and I answered. Forgive me.”

The route to God is laziness. That goes against everything I—and I daresay you—have ever learned. You can find all sorts of books and seminars on time management, but whoever heard of going to a conference to learn how to waste time? Where is the section on “learning to be a lie-about” at your local Borders and Noble? And since when did your pastor, or you if you are a pastor, preach about the virtues of laziness?

I would dismiss this whole idea and would have never brought it up except for a couple of things. First of all, look at the life of Jesus. By all appearances he was not a workaholic. The hardest work we see him doing, once his “ministry period” had begun, is walking. Yes, one of those occasions was walking on water, which is most likely harder than walking on dirt, but it is walking nonetheless. Jesus seemed to place a much higher priority on just hanging with his disciples. See the Mary v. Martha sibling show.

Second, what I have just said to you—that laziness is a route to knowing God—is so shocking to you that it actually has you thinking. If I had written about how we need to be about the business—or busyness—of the Kingdom because it’s the last days, you would have quit reading halfway through. But because this goes against everything you know, you are now thinking about it. It has your attention—and that is 90 percent of the battle. God so often does things upside-down by our accounts to get us to look his way.

Finally, I think for some of us, ok, maybe most of us, there is a bit of relief in the idea that it is ok to be lazy now and then. That perhaps taking a Sunday to stay at home and do the crossword puzzle, or to not do your Bible study one morning but instead grab a good book and head to your favorite coffee shop, or to walk in the shoes of St. Peter and just go fishing for the day is a good idea. Could you do it? If not, what keeps you back? Are you too busy to be lazy?

Comments

  1. Oooh you’re just being controversial! :p

    I agree we can be too busy.

    But that doesn’t mean that we should be the opposite. I guess we should be purposeful. Like Jesus. There’s times when he “worked” and there’s times when he prayed and rested. There’s a time and season for everything?

    • I think Alan has the right of it: “lazy” has some unfortunate connotations attached to it these days. We need to learn to slow down and simplify, but be purposeful about it. Perpetual idleness leads to trouble.

      That being said, if we never slow down, how will we ever hear the still, small voice of God? Fellowship with HIm requires that we stop, put all else aside for awhile, and just sit with HIm, as Mary did. Friendship requires that two people spend time just being together; the same is true for God. When church attendance, Bible study, and prayer are just more items on the “to-do” list, something is very, very wrong and we need to get off the hamster wheel for awhile and just Be.

  2. Here I sit unable to sleep because of all the THINGS I have to do and what do I come upon while checking my emails but InternetMonk telling me to be lazy !?! Should I say “Get thee behind me Satan” or go have a cup of coffee and finish reading that novel I have not completed due to lack of time ?

    I’m going to try the latter and report back later.

  3. There is no way you can get away with calling Calvin lazy.

    Hobbes maybe.

  4. Great post, Jeff.

    I have heard on several occasions that idleness often leads to temptation, a given example being that if King David had been at the front line with his army, instead of at home, he would never have been tempted to sin with Bathsheba. Conventional wisdom often seems to be that activity keeps temptation away, or that the expending energy through work means one is less likely to have the energy to sin.

    Is this true? How does it relate to the ideas expressed in the post?

    • Martin Luther preached it would be “a good thing if there were fewer saint’s days, since in our times the works done on them are for the greater part worse than those of the work days, what with loafing, gluttony, and drunkenness, gambling and other evil deeds. D.L. Moody saw that the character built through – as well as a body tired out from – strenuous physical activity, would make young men less likely to be lured away from the gospel by self-abuse, or some worse vice. We have inherited the Puritan work ethic, but socialist Europeans work less, have much more generous leave, and basically live happier lives.

  5. I guess the “Seven Deadly Sins” list is too Catholic…?

  6. There are those things that people tell you over the years that you never forget. One was a lady who was in full time Christian ministry. While only about 30 at the time, she was struck by a serious illness and was literally on her back, in bed, for about a year. The hardest thing for her, for many months, was feeling that God loved her. Not because of Him allowing her to get sick, but that she was doing nothing for Him. It was a powerful lesson for her about the gospel knowing that God’s love and acceptance was unchanging . . . slaving in the ministry . . . .or laying on her back it was exactly the same.

  7. Sorry …no time to respond. Maybe later ….

  8. Great post, Jeff!

    And I hope you will not mind if I use this space to say I clicked on the link you or Chaplain Mike provided in the Bulletin Board area here to go read Matthew Redmond’s follow-up post about “excitement” over church. I loved that he wrote, “So now I fight to not really care like I did.” It may seem odd, but I do think this is an important point. Wanting everything about “going to church” to be great will be disappointing, but finding just one tiny thing to help you along the life journey for the next week could be possible. I say this and yet I am someone who hardly ever attends Mass at all! Sigh…

    But, to get back to your topic, I am pretty good at doing nothing. I like doing nothing. Nothing and me are good friends. 🙂

  9. I’ve heard it said, “If you can’t rest, you’re probably running from something.”

  10. Don’t just do something, sit there!

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