Are We Wasting Time If We Don’t Stay Busy?

Illustration for The Banner by Laurie Sienkowski

I’ve always been one to keep busy. But being stuck at home these past months, I’ve found myself falling into a slower pace. Will I be wasting time, one of God’s gifts, if I don’t return to a busier schedule when normal life resumes?

Many of us were raised to think that keeping busy with work and other productive activities was a positive sign. “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop,” the old adage goes. Rudyard Kipling equated maturity with “fill(ing) the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds’ worth of distance run.”  And there is much to be said for hard work and industry. We should all learn to apply ourselves and to focus on necessary tasks at hands.

Like most good things, however, hard work and busyness can become a form of idolatry. They become the “why” rather than the “how.” I had a friend in college who suddenly began to study 50 hours a week and cut off all social life. When a group of us finally confronted him and asked him what was going on, he said, “I finally figured it all out.” He thought he’d found the answer to life, and the answer was incessant work.

It sounds as if these past months have given you an opportunity to reflect on why you work and why you liked to be busy. But we aren’t supposed to be busy just so we can say we’re busy. We work because there’s work to be done. When it’s done, it’s done. And then it’s time for something else. What else? Volunteering. Hobbies. Socializing. Leisure activities. Figure that out with the Spirit’s guidance. Ecclesiastes 3 says there is a time for everything under heaven, which means all things have their appropriate time, including, perhaps, finding the right blend of busyness and leisure—and for Christians, knowing that the best time of all is the timeless gift of Sabbath.

About the Author

Rolf Bouma is an ordained pastor in the Christian Reformed Church who teaches religion, ethics, and ecology in the Program in the Environment at the University of Michigan.