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Amazing Possibilities!

  • Writer's pictureMatthew Kelly

Learn to Do Nothing

This is a tough one for me. Learn to do nothing. I have spent my whole life trying to squeeze the most out of each day, each hour, each moment. But this obsession with efficiency often lures me away from what matters most.

Welcome back to Best Christmas Ever! where we are exploring 28 ways to make this your best Christmas ever!

#9 is… Learn to do nothing.

In the Fall of 1996, I read a book that continues to influence me to this day. It is one of those books I have spoken about before that I revisit every year. The book: Leisure: The Basis of Culture, by Josef Pieper with an introduction by T. S. Eliot.

It is a philosophical text and not easy to get through at times, but it holds profound insights of particular relevance to our modern lives.

What is leisure? Pieper provides the answer. Leisure is an attitude of mind and a condition of the soul that fosters a capacity to receive the reality of the world.

“Capacity to receive the reality of the world.” Wow. How often do we turn away from the reality of a situation because it is too much? How often do we meet people in complete denial of reality in some aspect of their life?

The enemies of leisure are what Pieper calls “total work” (what we would call working all the time) and lives of distraction. Total work and constant distractions both prevent the deep reflection that leisure seeks to lead us into.

Leisure allows us to receive the gifts of wisdom, and see that there is no amount of human effort that can attain this wisdom by itself. Leisure is therefore indispensable in our quest to thrive as human beings in this life and the next.

Why does leisure matter?

Piper points out that religion can only be authentically born in a person and society through leisure. It cannot be rushed. Leisure is indispensable for the contemplation of God. He also makes clear that leisure is the foundation of culture.

“Total work” makes wisdom, culture, religion, and contemplating God impossible. This is why “total work” was so central to Communism of the 20th century. Communism seeks to murder religion through “total work.”

In our own place and time, it seems we are imposing the condition of “total work” upon ourselves. We may not work in our jobs and careers all the time, though there are many that do, but when we are not doing paid work we busy ourselves with all-manner of unpaid work (which includes shopping) that keeps us from leisure. It is this leisure that is essential to our human flourishing.

Psalm 48:10 counsels us, “Be still and know that I am God.” Pieper translates it as, “Have leisure and know that I am God.”

Have leisure and know God. Have leisure and grow in wisdom. Have leisure and grow to love more deeply. Have leisure and see the reality of the world as it really is.

Josef Pieper was a great philosopher. He was also a prophet. His work on leisure was written in 1948. With it he issued this stark warning, “Total labor vanquishes leisure. Unless we regain the art of silence and insight, the ability for nonactivity, unless we substitute true leisure for our hectic amusements, we will destroy our culture–and ourselves.”

Paid and unpaid work of every type has only gobbled up more and more of our time since Pieper penned these words and the result has been exactly as he foresaw.

We have banished silence from our lives. We have replaced wisdom and insight with mere knowledge and information. Our amusements have only become more hectic. We have been seduced by endless distractions. We have destroyed culture and these things are destroying our very selves.

The hardest thing in the world to do is nothing. Leisure. Reflection. Basking in God’s presence. This Christmas, learn to relax. Learn to do nothing. Establish leisure as part of your daily routine. And of course, what we discover when we start doing nothing is that leisure, true leisure, is anything but nothing. It’s time to refuse the madness of rushing around.

Matthew Kelly

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