The worst part of growing up? You stop wasting time.
As a child, I spent hours coloring. I read nearly every “Goosebumps” book I could get my hands on. I played baseball with my friends till it got so dark we couldn’t see the ball anymore.
As a teenager, I’d lay on the floor of my bedroom for hours, surrounded by broken CD cases, examining album art and reading lyrics. I taught myself guitar. I wrote poetry. It was emo and awful. I blame Dashboard Confessional.
In college, I hit the gym every night. I went camping on the weekends. I sat in the lobby of our dorm and just talked to people—with literally no agenda. We had games of “Settlers of Catan” that lasted days. Days?!
Then I graduated. I got a real job as a high school biology teacher. I’d rise before the sun. I’d still be at the school when the sun set. I literally fell asleep with my hands on the home keys of my laptop more than once. I skipped showers so I could squeeze in 10 more minutes of sleep.
Then I got married. Then I became a youth pastor. Then I had twins. Then I had a singleton. Then I got a new job. Then I moved to another state. Then…then…then…
I came to my senses a few weeks ago. It was 3:30am. I was feeding a hungry baby with one hand and checking email with the other, all while creating a mental checklist for the house projects I needed to get done in the morning.
When the baby wouldn’t go back to sleep after taking his bottle, I got angry. Like, way more angry than you should get at an infant. He was threatening to throw everything out of whack. If he didn’t go back to sleep in a timely manner, then I wouldn’t be able to finish checking my email, which would keep me from getting back to bed, which would cause me to oversleep my 6:30am alarm, which would set me back from getting to Lowe’s before the twins woke up, which would mean I’d have to feed them breakfast before I got to the store, which would mean I’d be late starting the house projects, which would mean they might not be finished before our dinner guests arrived that night. Thanks a lot, baby.
That’s when it hit me: Squeezing the last drop out of every minute of every day—it’s a stupid way to live. So I quit.
The “squeezing life” hasn’t been working for me. My mind was never off. My creative juices were at an all-time low. I was impatient with my wife and moody with my kids. I mean, I copped an attitude with a baby.
So I’m doing my best to buck our 24/7/365, never-off, always-producing culture…by wasting time. On purpose. I know, such a rebel.
If you feel wiped out, short on creativity, empty of good ideas, exhausted, and stretched thin, I’d encourage you to do the same. If you believe there’s an opportunity for transcendence in this life, maybe even a chance to connect with God, silence is the runway. Because, as a general rule, God isn’t in the noise.
The Bible records an interesting story of a guy who heard the voice of God in an unlikely place. His name was Elijah and his job? He was a prophet… so basically God’s press secretary. And it was not an easy time to be in that role. An evil king and queen were steering God’s people away from him, and Elijah had the job of pointing the nation back to the God. To say he had some important tasks to accomplish would be putting it mildly.
Following one of Elijah’s most public displays of might (read about it here—it’s bonkers), he goes on the run from that evil king and queen. And he finds himself hiding out in a cave on a mountainside. It’s there that he has a weird interaction with God.
And God said to Elijah, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
Strong winds get things done. Earthquakes shake the foundations so that new ideas can come to life. Fire burns away what is unnecessary so the essential can thrive. But God wasn’t in the force; he wasn’t in the movement; he wasn’t in the heat. God revealed himself in a low whisper—or, as the original language (Hebrew) put it, a “thin silence.”
The best way to encounter God in a deeply relational way is to shut off the noise. But I get it. You can’t quit your job. You can’t skip the trip to the grocery store, paying bills, or working with your draining coworker. You can’t lock your kids in a closet for more than 15 minutes at a time. That’s generally frowned upon, right? I’m asking for a friend.
In the middle of the night, after losing it on a baby, my life started to come into disturbing focus. And the problem surprised me. The issue wasn’t that my life was void of stillness or silence. Those times were there, even on my busiest days. The problem was that I failed to capitalize on them. God was calling me out of the cave, into the thin silence, but I was more impressed with the wind, the earthquake, and the fire. Instead of accepting the gifts of stillness that God was handing me, my fear of wasting time, of falling behind, of not measuring up, had me instinctively filling them with “productivity.” It looked like me reaching for my phone without thinking, pulling out my laptop when I had 10 minutes before a meeting, and checking email at red lights—and while I rocked sleeping babies.
If you looked at my Google Calendar today, it wouldn’t look much different than before. I’m actually not changing much about my schedule. But I am trying to recognize and capitalize on the stillness that God is handing me. I don’t want to leave it on the table anymore. I want to stop wasting my wasted time.
Here are four principles I’m currently learning to help me waste my time better.
Look For It: Before you can waste time, you have to uncover the moments of stillness that are already a part of your day. Where are you filling time that could be wasted? For me, I found it when I rocked babies, when I did the dishes at night, on my 20-minute commute to and from work, and in the morning before the rest of the family was out of bed.
The genius in finding these times is that you don’t have to start anything new to experience stillness. You just have to make the conscious choice to put down the phone, to not start that podcast, to turn off the radio, to sit on the front porch, and just breathe.
Where are you filling time that should be left alone?
Use It: Once I identified times of silence in my life, the next temptation to overcome was the belief that I actually could—that I had the right—to engage it. It sounds silly, but there’s a voice inside my head that tries to tell me that the project won’t get done if I don’t send the email tonight. That I’ll be missing out if I don’t start that new Netflix show. That I should choose 15 more minutes in bed instead of finding silence early in the morning.
Tell that voice to shut the hell up. You’ve got stuff not to do.
Don’t Measure It: I found some silence in my life. I actually engaged it. And afterward, I was disappointed. Why? I didn’t have anything to measure. How do I know if this wasted time is worth it if I have nothing to show for it?
The effects of silence build slowly. Don’t expect to have more peace in your life after one morning of practice. It may take a week, a month, a year. Better yet, don’t measure it at all. Trust that God is in the silence. And if you’re showing up in that silence regularly, He’ll know just where to find you.
And If All Else Fails, Schedule It: If I have a bad night—get to bed late or the babies don’t sleep well—I have a plan B. It’s worked into my system. Every work day, at 1pm, my phone alarm goes off. It’s a reminder to stop whatever I’m doing and go spend time with God. Sometimes I read the Bible. Sometimes I take a walk. Sometimes I listen to music. Sometimes I sit in silence. The one thing I don’t do: work. At least till 1:30.
Silence and stillness are gifts from God—ones I’m trying not to squander anymore. I invite you to be a rebel with me. Come on, let’s waste some time.