Do you make time to do nothing? In the midst of the eager rush of life, is there a little pocket of time for nothing to exist? As difficult, or even counter-intuitive as it may seem, I make it a priority to reserve a small space for the all-consuming act of doing nothing.
Winning the Nothing Olympics is not a prize that attracts high respect. In fact, it is more likely to attract scorn. But there is no need to take on a highly degenerating marathon of nothing, just a short warm up now and then suffices.
Truth be told, undertaking the race of nothing for any distance won’t earn a trophy. “Worth is determined by busyness,” culture tells us, and we believe it. Doing nothing is the bane of civilization, possibly the greatest crime an individual can commit entirely on his own—without involving anyone else in thought, word, or deed.
However, in reality, it is very hard—perhaps impossible—to really do nothing. Even in sleep, the subconscious mind is at work. The question is what do you call nothing? Actions that some cultures define as nothing, other cultures treat as inviolable institutions. In Mexico, for example, an afternoon nap is an assumed part of the workday. In some religious cultures, meditating in a completely immobile state is the highest attainable accomplishment.
So, things that seem like nothing in one cultural mindset may be seen as valuable in another. For those who belong to a culture within a culture, such as Christians in America, there might be great value accorded to activities that the larger culture would call doing nothing. Isolating time for prayer, especially in the midst of a crisis, is one such instance. Serving people who are unaware, unresponsive, or not present—such as the elderly, the disabled, or the unborn—is another example of where Christian values might be seen as nonsense that accomplishes nothing in another type of culture.
Naomi Zacharias, in her book The Scent of Water, describes one such scene where she visited an orphanage for disabled children in another country. In a far corner at the back of the room, she sees a small boy who is bound, flat on his back, to a board. She is told he was dropped on his head as an infant and is paralyzed from the neck down, totally unresponsive. She describes her helplessness as she sees him just staring at the ceiling, unable to do anything else. She walks up to him, kneels, and begins to slowly stroke his cheek. As she goes on to describe, he still does not blink away from his fixed stare at the ceiling, does not look at her, but slowly tears began to creep out of his eyes and slide down his cheeks. For her, she was doing what she called nothing. For him, it was everything.
The Bible leaves no question about it; what is of value to God is often entirely different than what is valued by man. Wealth, success, accomplishment, and power don’t even show up on His records. Of course, there are those verses admiring the industry of the ant and praising the servant who multiplied his coins. God doesn’t encourage people to be careless, idle, or thoughtless. What is important is not whether you accomplish a great deal of something or a small bit of nothing. It is how you do it.
What God asks for is not your resume; it’s your worship. That applies equally whether you’re building an empire, or sitting by the side of a small boy who may not even know you’re there. Much of the time, the greatest wealth of worship is in doing the most insignificant scraps of nothing. Take out a Bible and do a study on what it means to “rest in the Lord” and consider the countless references. Don’t just read, but take time to stop and do nothing while you ponder and pray and be still before God. How does your version of nothing translate into worship of God?