The Best You Can Do Might Be Nothing

was recently having coffee with a friend at the universal gathering space called Starbucks, and during our conversation they told about how busy their schedule is.

“When I am off work, there’s still work to be done. There’s never enough time in the day to get everything done.”

We compared calendars and joked about what we’d do if we didn’t have jobs. “We’d find another way to spend our time, I guess,” my friend said. “I mean, I wouldn’t even know how to do nothing with myself.”

I resonated with my friend’s remark. Indeed, it’s hard for me to imagine having nothing on my schedule. In fact, it seems then whenever I free up some time, I find another way to fill the slot. I don’t really know how to do nothing. And, to be honest, I’d probably feel ashamed of myself if I did nothing. I wonder if you can relate.

In his book Becoming Friends of Time, John Swinton talks about how we as a society have commodified time itself. We’ve turned time into a kind of currency we can spend or save or waste or invest. In fact, we use these economic terms to describe how we “use” our time… I mean, think for a second about the term, “our time”…. is it ours? Can we own it? We sure seem to live as if we should.

Swinton also talks about how we have come to see the use of time as a badge of honor. Busyness has become a virtue and to do “nothing” would be a “waste” of time. If my calendar isn’t full, I must not be using my time.

But when everything becomes “useful,” when our energy and our time is just an instrument, a utility, I think we can find ourselves feeling tired and “used.” We begin to see our own self worth in terms of expediency and usefulness, and so we spend our very selves.

What if the best thing you could actually do for the world is actually nothing at all?

In Genesis chapter 1, God created the world. This work of creation is poetically described as a seven day process, wherein each day God creates something from nothing (or at least from a kind of chaotic void, we can debate later). God creates light, and the sky, and plants, and animals…. and it’s not until the 6th day that God creates human beings. It seems that on the sixth day, God is finished. But it would be a mistake to think that this is the end of the story.

The true end (goal?) of creation is not the work of creation, but the rest that God takes in it. God actually stops and rests and delights in God’s creation.

“God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all the work of creating that God had done.” Genesis 2:3

When time is a commodity, work gets the last word. Every empty space is just a pause in the process that is otherwise all about getting stuff done and staying busy. We even start to think that the purpose of rest is to do more and better work. But Genesis teaches us that rest isn’t for work, work is for rest. The purpose of doing something is so that we can find peace in doing nothing. The best kind of time is useless time… time “wasted” with our friends and family… time “wasted” in prayer… time “wasted” by resting in God…. The best you can do might be nothing at all.

You are not a machine. Time is not money. “Work” does not have the last word. Consider wasting a little more of you time so that you can enjoy being human.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” -Jesus