Not-Doing as a Way to do What Matters Most

What do we do (or not do?) when we feel hollowed-out and ground-down by life’s pressures and demands?

Either George Patton or Vince Lombardi or Aphoristic Anonymous said that “fatigue makes cowards of us all.” Whether or not it always turns into cowards, it is inexorably corrosive. Fatigue can make us more suspicious and cynical; it can make us more susceptible to anger and depression. Fatigue narrows our worlds, because it’s nearly impossible to live expansively when we barely manage to lug around our tired selves and the ponderous weight of our responsibilities. 

Long years ago, I went to an inner-city retreat center in Richmond, VA. I was beyond tired. Weariness had warped my perspective. I had hard questions for which there weren’t any apparent answers. I was desperate for energy and clarity.

I arrived about noon. The woman who greeted me and gave me my room key also asked me to turn over my watch and my books. I panicked!  Who would I be and what would I do without them? I lived by the clock.  I was committed to the idea that ideas had the answers I needed. Reluctantly, I agreed.

As I turned to go to my room, she said, “Don’t be surprised if, when you get to your room, you find yourself very tired. Maybe the most spiritual thing you could do today would be to take a nap.” She was right. I slept deeply until someone knocked on my door to invite me to dinner and evening prayers.

As I sat in the chapel that night, I read this collect from the Book of Common Prayer:

O God of peace, who hast taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and in confidence shall be our strength: By the might of thy Spirit lift us, we pray thee to thy presence, where we may be still and know that thou art God; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

That prayer opened me to hear, again and for me, Jesus’ tender invitation: “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

Sometimes the healthiest, holiest, and most productive things we can do are to meander in the healing mercy of God’s creation, to rest in God’s luxuriant love, to laugh and play in God’s joy, and to sleep in the mother-like arms of God.

More and more, I know that there are some things I can’t do by doing.  Not-doing is a way to do, eventually, what matters most.