On Wasting Time

From my 2012 Journal. I think I have a skewed attitude toward time. My dad was extremely punctual—which was a little comical to watch in the context of a remote African village in the 50s where time was ordered around the seasons of harvest or full moons. Our lives growing up were regimented and predictable—breakfast and dinner at 6 o’clock sharp. Lunch at noon. Family devotions before breakfast and after dinner—without fail. Work hard in between. (I identified with the hymn, “Work for the Night Is Coming.”) And don’t get me started on the regimen of boarding school bells and sirens . . . !

But I loved it! I actually thrive on routine and schedules. There was a long season in my life when, no kidding, I planned and regimented every minute of my day. As a result, I was extremely efficient and productive. It did not leave room, however, for relationship-building. Marriage and children knocked me off that routine, and I slowly began to adapt to fluidity in my schedule. But I still don’t like wasting time.

We have a clock in every room of our house, and I even wear a timepiece on my wrist to make sure I keep to specified deadlines. I’m a task-oriented person. If I don’t have a running list of goals to accomplish, I feel at loose ends, unproductive, lazy . . . like I’m wasting time. Vacations for personal pleasure and decadence feel wasteful of . . . time.

How about the word “busy”? What does that mean? If someone calls me on the phone and asks, “Are you busy?” I never know how to answer that. I’m always doing something—even if it’s resting:  I’m busy resting or reading or cleaning my house or praying with someone. I’m not sitting on the couch staring off into space, catatonic. A better question might be, “May I interrupt what you’re doing?”

So what does wasting time mean, exactly? Is use the opposite of waste? If I waste food, it means I don’t use it up. But what if I have an excessive amount of it? Do I share it? Freeze it? Or throw it in the garbage? How do I waste water? I suppose that depends on my region. If I live in an arid climate, the definition might be quite different if I lived in a rain forest. How about wasted opportunities? That’s a harder concept. Sometimes we’re limited by our resources or our emotional state or our internal drives.

When does “relaxing” morph into “wasting”? And where in all this discussion does balance come in?

Okay, I’m done with the rambling in my head. Anyone want to weigh in?

3 thoughts on “On Wasting Time

  1. My aunt always said that “Idle hands are for the Devil’s use.” Such a lie, but … I learned to fill every moment. I too, have a hard time doing nothing. Even when I’m just sitting still, I have a book in my hands, or knitting, crocheting, a cookbook, whatever. I’m rarely just idle. However, I find I need stillness to let my brain rest. I also need it for plotting my next scene or the next book. As a person with ADHD and PTSD, I need stillness or non-activity, to calm my busy, stressed-out brain that seems to go a million miles an hour. I had the grand-girls here this weekend for making Christmas cookies. Fun times, lots of giggles and wiggles, dancing, and frosting. But when they left I realized i needed quiet and put myself on the couch for four or five hours with no plans to do anything constructive, but take care of my inner self.

    So, while i believe in making my days count, I also think having down time is good. We need to take care of ourselves, especially if we are in ministry or giving to others a lot. I think we each find that in our own ways. For me, it’s a book or music, playing a game on my phone, or just being quiet. What’s your favorite way of filling yourself back up?


    • Hiking is good in so many ways: to give exercise, calm the mind, help us unplug, put us in a different frame of thinking. In Oregon, we often hike 4-5 miles along the beach, or find one of the many hiking trails through the woods up a mountain or down to the beach. It feels like a sort of holiday even though we live there. In Michigan after a good snow, I go for a ramble down the street, enjoying the play of light through the trees as it bounces off the blanket of white (even if it’s just enough to cover the ground). The exercise frees my mind — I get out of my own head — and when I get home, I’m ready to get busy. I’ve been struggling with a migraine for three days, so the cool brisk air feels good as I walk.


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