Doing by Not Doing

For most of my life, I’ve used time as if it would never run out and burned energy like it could always be renewed. My focus has been on productivity, efficiency, and effectiveness.  I’ve worked at everything, including not-working: playing was a project, resting was a goal, and “being” was on my to-do list.

David Allen’s Getting Things Done has been a nearly-sacred text. I have and actively use project lists and tickler files for every month of the year and every day of the month. I try to get clarity about next actions, to get to “in box zero” every day, and to practice a weekly review of the entire organizational system. I’ve wanted to squeeze as much work as possible into each day.

I’ve also taught—often!—about God’s creating and honoring Sabbath (we teach what we need, I think). I confess that I’ve taught about it far more than I’ve practiced it; but the essential truth of Sabbath remains, despite my failures to practice it. 

Genesis tells us: “And on the seventh day God rested from all the work God had done.” God stopped to savor the beauty of the newly-fashioned world.

Why did God take a day off? God wasn’t tired. God didn’t need sleep.

God honored Sabbath for our sakes and the sake of creation. God modeled the wisdom which is woven into the way things are: thriving and flourishing require regular rhythms of work and rest, of productivity and recovery, and of doing and being.

There’s another truth in God’s own honoring of Sabbath: there are some things not even God can do by doing.

Music depends on the silence between the notes.

Farmers leave seed undisturbed once they’ve sown it in the ground. If they “do” anything to it, they sabotage the hidden processes of germination and growth.

Writers’ best ideas or most interesting characters often appear unbidden when they aren’t writing at all.

There are some things we can’t do by doing.

I continue to deal with the effects of cancer and its treatment. I’ve never achieved a “full remission,” though, at one point, my cancer indicators lowered enough that my first oncologist used the term, with cautions and qualifications. I latched onto it and celebrated it. That term no longer applies.

The cancer indicators slowly inch-up. For now, I am doing well, and I am grateful. Fatigue and bone pain are increasing consequences, as they have been for the whole course of this disease.

Which is why I am writing about Sabbath. If a serious illness won’t teach me to match more wisely the energy I have and the commitments I make, what will?

Why is it so difficult to say “no” so that saying a deeper and truer “yes” is possible?

At this point in my journey, I may and must learn that, in familiar words, I am a “human being” and a “human becoming,” not a “human doing.”

Some things—the most important things—can only be done by not doing.