FAITHFUL LIVING: Sacred idleness is heaven-sent

It is in his pleasure that a man really lives;

it is from his leisure that he constructs

the true fabric of self.

— Agnes Repplier, Essays in Idleness (1893)

I looked into the eyes of a friend this week, poised in the driver’s seat of her minivan, and thought about how often I occupy a similar place far more than I sometimes prefer. At first she did not see me, for she was talking with her son. But in a moment I caught her eye and we both happily ignored for a minute or two the yearly physicals our sons needed to attend Boy Scout summer camp. I could not resist leaning inside her open window to offer a greeting, for what I saw mirrored in her eyes in many respects reflects my own life. She served as just the kind of confirmation I needed.

I saw a busy mom, casually dressed, absent of the usual make-up. I also saw a ready smile to balance the small signs of weariness. And because our paths cross on occasion because our sons are friends, I also knew from past experience I could count on a refreshing conversation and a sense of renewal by simply having a conversation with her.

Goodness knows I needed one.

“How are you?” she asked.

“Good actually,” I replied. “But we’re all running in five different directions and it’s August! Aren’t we supposed to slow down like late-night radio host Delilah says we should?”

Just the night before she had challenged her listeners to gaze up at the stars. “Too bad I’m too tired to care by that time!” I laughed.

“Same here!” she responded, “and I’ve got house guests coming later this week. Sometime before school begins I think I’ll schedule a one-day vacation. I’ll turn off the phone, get the older kids to take the younger ones to the beach, and simply stay home — all by myself. I can’t believe how glorious that sounds!”

As I bid this lovely lady goodbye and hurried on my way, Christian writer George MacDonald came to mind. He often talks about inserting sacred elements into our thoughts and daily activities. But if you are anything like me, idleness rarely feels sacred. It feels lazy. It produces guilt. I find it hard to relax and place myself into “sacred mode” unless I am sitting in a worship service or listening to Christian music. It often becomes an emotional battleground, for if I am genuinely idle my mind begins to race. My internal throttle, like the one in the car, occasionally sticks in the open position.

For many of us this is the in-the-trenches time of our lives. We’re raising kids and placing them in the center of our activities. We’re hauling horses to competitions, driving hither and yon to soccer matches, renting musical instruments, scheduling orthodontic appointments, and scoping out e-Bay for those bargain dorm room organizers. We marvel at our children’s uniqueness and their interests, but exhaust ourselves if we do not build into our personal schedules some sacredly idle moments.

Ultimately, if we do not believe that these kids of ours are sacred and our duty as financiers and caretakers to be of sacred value, we begin to emotionally miss the mark. We run ourselves into the ground. The same is true for those with all encompassing careers. We begin to think kids and employees owe us — big time! We become joyless, crabby, seemingly possessed individuals who cannot be tolerated by anyone, not even ourselves.

It is a rare individual who can suddenly choose to be spontaneously idle, make it sacred, and put it to good use. But this is just the task for this week. Let’s do it!

I suggest we do a bit of planning. Let’s put that book we’ve been intending to read in the car so it can be opened while we wait. Let’s purchase simple, fresh ingredients and prepare a meal for our loved ones rather than attempting to connect in a fast-food line. Let’s ask the kids to vacuum so we can water our gardens, all by ourselves. Let’s send everyone outside so we can read a magazine article, refinish a table, sew a quilt square, can some blackberry jam, deadhead the rose bushes.

Most of all, let’s tune our eyes to the precious gift of idle moments and ask God for their restorative powers. Let’s sip tea, brush the horse, play the piano and watch what differences simple choices can make.

Next week I’ll tell you about the five baby zebra finches that were born this week and are oh — so worth watching!

The laundry will have to wait.

Freelance writer Joan Bay Klope’s e-mail address is

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