Using my time wisely

A wide variety of religious traditions label sloth as a sin. In Christianity, sloth is the avoidance of physical or spiritual work and it seen as one of the seven sins that are fatal to spiritual progress. The Buddha identified sloth as one of the five hindrances, a list of confusions and distractions that prevent people from experiencing the happiness that is available. Other world religions list some form of sloth of laziness as something to be avoided.

On the other hand, most religions recognize the need for rest. A day of rest is one of the ten commandments. Life in this world, with its rapid pace of change, can be bruising. Our minds get overwhelmed and tired. With long days of work and short breaks for sleep, we can easily become worn down. The constant 24/7 news cycle overwhelms us with worries and fears. Denying the body’s need for rest and calm cannot be denied in the long run.

I have discovered, however, than not all inactivity is restorative. Just doing nothing can occur without real recreation occurring. At the same time, many activities which are labeled “recreation” can add to the list of obligations and pressures of daily life. I recognize this with many youth sports programs. The youth enjoy participation in the activities, but the pace of the programs and the demands of competitive youth sports can be exhausting. Instead of recreation, sports become work, often justified by the promise of scholarships or other incentives that need to be “earned.”

It may be that we don’t know how to rest.

Yesterday we delivered firewood to one of our partners. It was only about 100 miles to our destination and so I was home and finished with that project in a little over 5 hours. It wasn’t anything like the long days I had earlier in the week. On Friday, I left home a little after 4 am and got back home a little before 6 pm. I had done office work, led a worship service in an assisted living home, counseled with a family in crisis, responded to an emergency at the hospital, made a visit at a local correctional facility, and spent a little time working on Sunday’s sermon. I was tired at the end of the day and went to bed early, but wok at the usual time ready to go. I’m not as young or energetic as once was the case, but I am still capable of working long days. But yesterday, I had an extended period of “free” time after I returned from the firewood delivery and I really didn’t accomplish anything significant between the time I got home and the time I went to bed. I did a few chores around the house, but what I really did was to waste time.

And, having grown up the way I have, and having lived the life I have, I am feeling a little self-critical this morning. I should have used my time better. Wasting time makes me feel guilty.

I don’t really think that I am in danger of falling into sloth, but the fact that I woke this morning feeling disappointed with myself is a sign that perhaps I need to make some changes. Ideally, I would be wise in the use of my time. I have many things that need to be done. There is no lack of chores at the office or at home. Undone work surrounds me all the time.

I’m aware that I can’t survive by working all the time. I am in need of rest and recreation just like anyone else. The commandment about honoring the Sabbath applies to me just like it does anyone else even though I work pretty hard on Sundays. Taking time to restore perspective is essential. Genuine recreation, however, is different than sitting in my recliner with the footrest up and just doing nothing.

In my work with others, I know how important it is to discern the difference between sloth and depression. Often inactivity can look like sloth from the outside, when what is going on with the individual is a genuine illness that requires prompt treatment. When a person is suffering the pain of depression, it is not a lack of will that is causing inactivity. Losing touch with the sources of restoration can be disorienting and dangerous.

I, however, am not depressed. I am in love with the work I do and the life that has been given to me. I am surrounded by family and friends who give me energy and enthusiasm for life.

When I waste time, I am capable of engaging in creative thinking, generating new ideas, formulating topics for this journal, crafting concepts for sermons, seeking solutions to problems. But some days, like yesterday, I just waste time. And with time being a limited and precious commodity, I feel guilty about wasting it.

The promise of our faith, however, is that we don’t have to remain stuck in our sinfulness. Forgiveness is a gift that is freely offered. We can find new ways to live our lives. Change is possible. Today is a new day with new possibilities and new challenges. It is unlikely that I will have time to be slothful with all of the opportunities that lie ahead for my day. It is a simple fact of life that some days are less productive than others. We are not judged by our output. The number of tasks accomplished isn’t a competition with winners and losers. Our tasks, however, are invitations and our response can give us energy. On productive days, I rest well, knowing that I have contributed. The fact that not every day is productive means that I am human.

Maybe yesterday gives me a bit of perspective to seek a better balance of activity and rest in my life. Maybe I can learn from the experience and be better prepared for the days that come. It is possible that I am slowly learning that in God’s world nothing is wasted. The time of our lives is precious regardless of how it passes. It was a good day. And today promises to be good, too.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!