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The Devil’s Workplace May Be Heavenly …

Posted in: Blog by admin on August 18, 2011

They say idle time is the devil’s workplace.  As adults, we have learned to understand the meaning behind this saying: When we have too much time on our hands, it can open the door to trouble and temptation.  This is what we have been taught.  This is how we’ve been trained to think.  But, have we taken this notion of keeping busy too far?  Have we now become too programmed in our daily, busy routines? And, have we forgotten the beauty that can be found in spontaneous moments?  We fill our days with work, cleaning, exercise and phone calls.  We fill our vacation time with appointments and trips.  We fill our days.  We fill our lives.  Maybe it is effective, beneficial and good.  Like they say, it keeps the devil at bay.

This concept of keeping busy and maximizing our time here has certainly been ingrained in many of us.  Our revered Thomas Jefferson said:

Determine never to be idle. No person will have occasion to complain of the want of time who never loses any.  It is wonderful how much may be done if we are always doing.

There has always been that belief that every moment must be filled.  Every day must consist of completed tasks.  Every breath must be accompanied by action.  It doesn’t leave much room for just being.  For breathing.  For day dreaming.  For imagining.  For playing.  Or maybe it does.  I suppose it depends on your definition of “idle time.”  It depends on your definition of “doing nothing.”  Maybe doing nothing includes acts such as meditating or staring at the ocean — two acts which are very filling in their quiet simplicity.

We may or may not have a good handle on what we personally value in terms of doing nothing.  We may understand why we want to fill our days and keep busy and do and do and do.  We may have a good grasp on our own individual concept of idle time. But, as parents, are we aware of the messages that we are telling our kids?  Are we teaching them to fill their days with constant activity?  Are we uncomfortable when one of their sports activities ends and they have nothing to do after school?

For the last two years, my son has played football.  This season, he is not going to be playing.  When we just made that decision, our conversation immediately went to other activities that he could pursue.  We talked of climbing, canoeing, chess club, video game production and karate.  We talked of challenging activities, physical activities and time-consuming activities.  We assured him (and ourselves) that he would get involved in SOMETHING.  Of course, there are many benefits to getting involved: friendships, camaraderie, physical benefits, etc.  We focus on all that can be gained.  We insist on finding something about which he is passionate.

But, I had to step away from my own words and figure out if this is the correct way to think.  Am I right to try to fill the days that would have entailed football practice with a new activity?  Why did I not even consider just letting him be?  He is going to be in seventh grade and is going to be busy socially and academically.  He has a creative mind.  He is an introspective being.  Maybe some “idle time” would be the very time in which he discovers something new about himself or the world.  Maybe within this quiet time, he could more easily evolve and grow and challenge himself with all of the space surrounding him.

As is often the case, I think it is about finding the balance.  I certainly don’t want him coming home every day and having no sense of responsibility or obligation.  I don’t want him to feel uninspired or void of challenge.  But, I do want to encourage him to listen to the sounds of nature.  I want to encourage him to be comfortable in that quiet space.  I want to encourage him to feel complete without a cell phone or iPad or television in the room.  I want him to see a ball in the garage and have the urge to take it to the park to simply kick it … without a coach telling him he has to do so.  I want to allow room for those natural reflexes, the spontaneous thoughts, the quiet dreams.  I don’t want to just sign him up for countless activities, just to keep him involved and busy.

I want to give him space.

And, I want to remember to give myself space.  It’s okay if I’m not running to the store or throwing in a load of laundry or assisting with the next science project.  It’s okay if I’m staring out the back window at the trees as their branches sway gently with the breeze.  Maybe as I’m sitting here idly, my boy will sit quietly beside me … our two idle minds relaxing and dreaming and being beside one another.  That’s more than okay.  And, had I not given myself some idle time in which I could reflect on my thoughts and actions, I would have just continued to react, quickly and swiftly.  I am grateful that I gave myself those moments.  And, in those moments, I reminded myself of one lesson I want to impart upon all of my children:  Sometimes, you need to just be.  Breathe.  And watch the trees dance in the breeze.

One is not idle because one is absorbed. There is both visible and invisible labor. To contemplate is to toil, to think is to do. The crossed arms work, the clasped hands act.  The eyes upturned to Heaven are an act of creation. –  Victor Hugo

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4 Responses to “The Devil’s Workplace May Be Heavenly …”

  1. Jenny says:

    Well said. We went to South Haven for the weekend and gave our kids the freedom to do nothing but “be” and it was heavenly for all of us. They were happy and “free” and quite creative with their time. We need to give our kids more credit for making good, fun, independent choices. It is our responsibility to introduce choices to them other than video, TV, computers and some of that comes with having NOTHING available to them for entertainment but themselves and their minds. Amazingly, they figure it out and discover things about themselves, as you so eloquently said. It also allows us as adults to just relax as well:)

  2. karyn bravo says:

    Well said Amy! Balance is key. Love the Hugo quote.

  3. Sue love says:

    Once again you are correct. I am glad that you ALL are ok with the decision to not play. Love you!!

  4. Rachel says:

    I had a few moments before I have to pick my kids up at camp. I could have folded laundry, could have done some more cleaning or work on the computer. But I chose to sit on the couch and read your latest post. It’s obviously not doing “nothing,” but it was a great way to take a break and refresh before getting the kids. Your post says it all….

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