Doing nothing as spiritual practice: three things to consider

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Can you do nothing?

That may seem like a crazy question to ask on September 3, when Labor Day was early. You may feel like you are running to catch up already, that the summer was (literally) too short this year and your fall planning is not done.

I believe it’s important to do nothing every day, every week and every year.

Why it’s important to do nothing every day. I don’t mean do nothing all day. I do mean to take at least a few minutes to take a deep breath and look around you. Stop on the walk to your car. When you are waiting, don’t pull out your phone immediately. A constant focus on productivity gets in the way of creativity. Don’t get me wrong: being productive and focusing on the right things is important (that’s another article). But those little pauses give room for new ideas to sneak in.

Why it’s important to do nothing every week. One word: Sabbath. I love the Creation story in Genesis which shows God (even God!) resting on the seventh day. Maybe you can’t carve out a whole day. People with young children can find it hard to find a whole hour a week for themselves. And the laundry has to get done sometime. But I recommend, at the beginning of the week, that you figure out the times when you are not working, and stick to it, barring emergency. I know, I know, that sermon has to get written. But over time, without sabbath, you and your work, including those sermons, will suffer.

Why it’s important to do nothing every year. It may seem like a long time until your next vacation. And you may be the type who likes a very active vacation. I recommend that you try at least a day or two of quiet. Or take a retreat at a monastery, where the schedule of prayers and meals may make it a bit easier. We have to slow down long enough for God to get our attention, longer than a few minutes or a few hours.

What helps you to make the space for “nothing” in your life and ministry?

Photo: Viktor Hanacek

5 Responses to Doing nothing as spiritual practice: three things to consider

  1. David says:

    Perfect!

    exactly what the holy spirit being saying to me, I love the stop before you dash to your car and call a sibling and ask what to do on a day off. Romans 14.6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord…

  2. Laurel says:

    Margaret,
    The title was very inviting! I remember my shock when a seminary professor urged us to “waste time on God.” Thanks for reminding us that Sabbath space and being is not just a weekly experience, but it is needed daily, and seasonally as well. One of my practices during the holiday season is this: Do nothing that I can do later in the new year. Blessings! Laurel

  3. Thanks, Rob! “Loafing” is a great word.

  4. In honor of your post….

    From “A song of Myself” by Walt Whitman

    I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
    And what I assume you shall assume,
    For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
    I loaf and invite my soul,
    I lean and loaf at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.

    “Even the least religious of men must have felt with Walt Whitman, when loafing on the grass on some transparent summer morning… the peace and knowledge that pass all the argument of the earth. ” William James

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