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Constructive idleness

A Christian Science perspective on daily life.

"Idleness takes hard work" headlined an article in this newspaper, which stated, "… creativity frequently comes from moments of idleness…. Sometimes it takes mental discipline to be idle." And it went on to explain, "If we value healthy living, creativity, and peace of mind, we should recognize the need to be idle" (Sept. 10).

While this seems to go against the usual teaching of the work-hard-and-accomplish-much ethic, it speaks directly to what many perceive as a crying need in the lives of many young people today, particularly in the United States. After-school hours are filled with extracurricular activities, and evenings are consumed by homework for the next day's classes. Not only schoolchildren are afflicted in this way, but adults, too. It's well known that workers in the US take much less vacation time than those in Europe, and they often find it a challenge to leave work behind.

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Advising people to allow for idle time in their schedule may seem to go against traditional biblical teaching, such as, "Slothfulness casteth into a deep sleep; and an idle soul shall suffer hunger" (Prov. 19:15). The idle time that allows for creativity, however, doesn't include a disinclination to work or laziness that slothfulness implies. Many have found that it's important to distinguish between the idleness of laziness and the mental freedom of some unscheduled time.

Years ago, a girl in her early teens faced a summer with few plans. She chose not to go to camp, and she did seem to be idle compared with the other teens in her neighborhood. Her mother kept offering ideas that she neither refused nor acted upon.

Then one day the "idle" girl said to her mother, "I'm going to have a school on the back porch for little kids, where their mothers can leave them for a few hours each afternoon." (This took place in an era before there were strict regulations in place about childcare providers.) She went on with many details that she'd worked out. There were often seven or more toddlers on their back porch that summer, and her daughter even hired a friend to help when she took the children to the park.

The entire plan for the summer's productive activity was evolved through what seemed to be some idle days. It certainly is a lesson that counteracts what the article quoted earlier states is a deep fear that "we'll be punished if we stop working."

Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this newspaper, published several magazines; organized the Church of Christ, Scientist; wrote a textbook and several other books and articles; planned a unique educational system for spiritual healers; and, through prayer to God, healed many of what were called incurable diseases.

In one of her articles titled "Improve your time," she noted, "Rushing around smartly is no proof of accomplishing much" ("Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896," p. 230). Mrs. Eddy loved the Bible, studied it intently, and followed its teachings, heeding this verse from the book of Psalms: "Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord" (Ps. 27:14).

While the word "wait" is often interpreted to mean "serve," it can also mean literally to wait until one finds direction for the next step.

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Keeping those moments free from worry, as well as from "rushing around smartly," leaves thought open to new ideas. So-called idle time may be difficult to come by in what seems to be a hurried world, but it's worth the hard work of making room for it.

Psalms 23:1-3