the disappearing art of wasting time

With exams around the corner for many of our readers, I’m aware that this is potentially a dangerous topic to blog about. And if depending on your study habits, you may not need any help wasting time! But I’m convinced that it’s more dangerous not to reflect on why (and in what circumstances) it might be a good idea to incorporate some judicious time-wasting into your life.

So let me offer you five reasons why I think the art of wasting time is close to disappearing:

  1. Very few people seem to acknowledge the necessity of wasting time (e.g., because we’re finite creatures who — apart from the grace of God — lack the capacity to make our time count for anything). And so we fail to proactively plan it. One outcome of this is that when time-wasting does creep in, it infects the time we’d hoped not to waste but use productively. The effect? Guilt.
  2. Following on from this, we’re out of practice wasting time well. All too often the only things we find ‘to hand’ when we turn away from our work tasks either lead us directly into destructive idleness or pull us relentlessly back into the arena of work and productivity. (Ever muttered ‘I’ll just check my emails’ while on holiday?)
  3. Most of our standard options for time wasting tend to involve consuming rather than creating. It’s possible that this may be changing with the advent of more participatory forms of time wasting (Facebook, contributing to Wikis, etc). But even here I reckon our much vaunted participation all too easily gets reduced to a popularity contest — who’s status update attracts the most ‘Likes’?
  4. There is, on the flip side, a constant danger of instrumentalising our time-wasting. We can start to weighing up how much time off we can afford, for example. Or tell ourselves that ‘wasting’ a certain number of hours somehow balances out (and justifies) what we’re investing in the attempt to be productive. The biggest problem with this is that it tends to undermine the very thing judiciously wasting time is meant to remind us of — namely, that the world does not depend on our labour, and that God doesn’t wait on us to act but always takes the initiative himself (graciously inviting us to participate in response).
  5. Rounding all this out, and standing behind a lot of it, I suspect we’ve bought the lie that God is fundamentally a worker. But as Herbert McCabe puts it, ‘God is not first of all our creator or any kind of maker, he is love, and his life is not like the life of the worker or artist but of lovers wasting time with each other uselessly’ (h/t Mike W). More, any work God does engage in is a function of the love that Father, Son and Spirit share. It’s a free and uncoerced expression of time wasted well.
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3 comments

  1. Very interesting, Chris. I can relate to all 5 points.

    Some thoughts. From my (few) years of experience I have noticed that Christians and non-Christians who have trouble wasting time well seem to have a lot of trouble with the idea that the Lord has prepared good works for us–He doesn’t expect us to do what we can’t handle but by His grace we are enabled to do what is pleasing. I still wrestle with this problem. It’s not a matter of whether or not I’m ‘good’ enough–it’s whether or not I’m doing enough, whether or not I’ve done what He wants me to do. I suppose it’s also distrust in the Lord; I’m slowly realising that He does actually shepherd his sheep.

    Anyway. I’ve heard some opinions that this is partly because of the culture we live in and the emphasis on works. It’s a very fundamental flaw–perhaps the negative view on wasting time is a symptom of this. I’m not sure but I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

    I quite liked point 3. As an artist I’ve been able to create rather than consume at times, but the inspiration and energy for creativity is hard to come by. But, when I haven’t been creative, I haven’t had a chance to ‘recharge’, so to speak. I know some of my classmates feel the same. Thus, it becomes a never-ending spiral. But, I hadn’t thought of that until you brought it up now.

    Awesome commentary, Chris. Something else to chat about sometime!

  2. This is brilliant! You’ve given me many things to think about… especially regarding creativity.

    I’ve been trying to tackle the problem of guilt lately, over being unproductive. I think it has to do with what I think others expect from me, rather than what God actually thinks of me. The guilt actually fuels my procrastination. But getting God’s view on things flips things around, and recognising my human limits helps me plan my days better, to include both time for work, and short breaks, and time catching up with friends — and I end up being freed from the guilt and being more productive!

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