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Productive Inactivity

I've never been accused of being a workaholic. Although I'm usually quite disciplined and focus intentionally on the tasks I have before me, I still know how--and why--to relax. But it's not something that comes easily to me; it must be learned. And I doubt if I'll ever fully learn the lesson. Maybe I'm a slow learner.

During some point of a period of intentional idleness, such as a vacation, I begin to sense that I should be busy with something. My inner voice prods me that I could be making better use of my time rather than sitting idly, "doing nothing." That voice seems to whisper, "Better to wear out than to rust out!"


Sometimes, however, the times of idleness are not by choice; they often are imposed by circumstances beyond my control. For example, when a loved one is sick and must be attended to, or unexpected visitors arrive, and I cannot work. Or when other responsibilities demand my time and attention. Or when a kidney stone begins to make its journey to the Great Basin, as happened to me recently.


Time, age, and experience have taught me, however, to acknowledge such "interruptions" of my work and then find ways to turn apparent unproductive, "wasted" time into productive inactivity.


Sometimes the hidden purpose of such times of forced idleness is to make us slow down so we can rest and refresh ourselves physically, mentally, and/or spiritually. How often I've failed to reap the full benefit of such times because I've spent them fretting and worrying about my "not getting anything done."


At other times, the purpose has seemed to be to give me time to think, to shut other things from my mind and focus, uninterrupted, on something. These have been times when I've been able to plan future tasks, rearrange priorities, and refocus on the truly important things.


I used to find such times regularly when, in the cool quietness of early morning, I sat on our front porch, read my Bible, and meditated.


I guess I must have learned this important duty and skill from my grandfathers.


I recall sitting beside Pappaw Peterson on his couch and watching him read his Bible early in the morning, his arthritis-distorted index finger marking his path down the columns of his Bible. (I now "see" his finger in my own arthritis-afflicted index finger as it marks my way through the text.) I also witnessed the skill practiced by Paw Summers as he rocked silently on his front porch or sat in quiet reflection under the shade of a tree in our yard.




But now, with all the development that has occurred around us and the traffic noise that it has created, my quiet, reflective times on the porch have been driven inside. Yet, they continue, as they must. But it's not quite the same. From my living room recliner, I hear, not birds chirping their morning greetings and the breeze in the branches of the Bradford pears, but the clatter of the refrigerator as it comes on or the hum of the air conditioning unit. When those appliances aren't running, the tick of the kitchen clock nags me that time is short and I should be busy with something rather than sitting idly, doing nothing. Or so it might seem.


Yes, time is short, and we should make the most of it. But sometimes the best use of time is not found in ceaseless activity but in purposeful, productive inactivity. When we don't provide such "down time" for ourselves, God must do it for us. After all, He is the One who commanded, "Be still--and know that I am God" (Psa. 46:10). And He wants us to get quiet, reflective, and productively idle for our own good.

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