Doing Nothing

I’m reading though a book, taking notes and prepping for a possible creative-writing course for the next school year. My daughter, fixing and fiddling in the kitchen, asks her brother a question, “What’s Dad doing?”

“Oh, nothing,” is his response. He returns to his drawing.
“Nothing?” she asks.
“Well, he’s playing chess online,” he clarifies.

And somehow playing a game and having time alone becomes synonymous with “nothing” in the mind of my verbal and social nine-year-old. If his dad were playing chess with him the activity wouldn’t be nothing. But we all live with expectations, on ourselves and others (sometimes super-imposing our unrealistic mandates on others).

When marriage and motherhood where still green and unripe, I often made extensive lists–okay, I suppose I still do–expecting that I would complete everything on my list. My dad’s life leaned into to-do lists and mine does too. “How was your day, Dad?” “Good. I did x, y, and z.” A day well done is a list almost finished. But my perspective had to shift some. I couldn’t always finish all my ‘to-do’s’ and some days my highest task involved keeping my children out of the street, off of the furniture, out of the toilet water, and all the while keeping them fed and clean.

My children are older now, capable of feeding and cleaning themselves. They can brush their own teeth–albeit not to a professional level–and attend to their bedtime ritual. I don’t “do” as much for them as I used to. So much of my helping is of the counseling and coaching method now–with far fewer end results to reflect on.

Sometimes I have to just pull away and sit….pause and pray. And I still reflect, but it’s not over a checked-off list, it’s over the hearts and minds of my kids. It’s over the work the Holy Spirit still needs to do in them, in me…in all of this broken world. And I try to just be. I know that I can’t do it all; I need this quiet time, making myself be still (and “do nothing”) to remind myself that I’m not that important and very little is in my control anyway. Isn’t that the heart of the Sabbath? Or at least part of it?

“God presents the Sabbath rest as a shelter we can enter.” Charles Swindoll

“And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.” Mark 1:35

Jesus often escaped the crowds to be alone, inviting others to rest too (Mark 6:31). His invitation to His followers then holds true for his followers now. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28-30)

Rest–or “doing nothing” as the world judges–gives us permission to mute the static and say, “Enough.” Now, I listen. Now, I just be. And in this margin, this white space of our pages, we analyze the words written. Are they meaningful? Does our activity, our striving, glorify God or is it merely a “chasing after the wind.” Motive matters. The heart of the doer matters. And stillness signifies a trust that God is God, and I am not.

“Sabbath is that uncluttered time and space in which we can distance ourselves from our own activities enough to see what God is doing.”    – Eugene H. Peterson.

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