13 March 2012


You no longer need a good book, which he really likes, to keep him from his prayers or his work or his sleep; a column of advertisements in yesterday's paper will do. You can make him waste his time not only in conversation he enjoys with people whom he likes, but in conversations with those he cares nothing about on subjects that bore him. You can make him do nothing at all for long periods. You can keep him up late at night, not roistering, but staring at a dead fire in a cold room. . . so that at least he may say, as one of my own patients said on his arrival down here, 'I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.'

C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

My first year of teaching I tried out for a play. I was expecting ensemble. I got lead. It was a dream part so I couldn't turn it down, but I wasn't entirely sure how I was going to survive the month and a half left of school and stay on top of rehearsals. It seemed like way too much. All year I'd been tired and worn out and never quite finished with grading. I wasn't sure how it was going to work out.

It was the most productive quarter I've ever had as a teacher.

Assignments were graded and entered on time. Lessons were planned and finished by no later than 4:00. I was able to go to rehearsal every night and give myself over as fully as I could to the show, and enjoy doing so without guilt.

I've thought a lot about that quarter recently. Thought about how often we get distracted from the long term goal by the immediate semi-gratification. I remember one student, for example, who was particularly talented in dance, but, due to a supreme amount of laziness and bad grades, was not allowed to share these talents in the after school dance team. The student let the immediate pleasures of sleeping in class or socializing in the halls interfere with the real love and joy associated with dance.

And then there's the documentary I saw recently about the people who spend hours upon hours on Facebook with their hundreds of "friends".

I think about all the time I spend in "nothing". The time I spend not doing anything bad, or anything good - just drifting through articles in the paper I'm not hugely interested in or watching reruns of television shows or looking through my email for messages to delete. How much of my time is that actually taking? I think some "nothing" time is good for you, but when does it cease to help and start to harm? Do I need a busy schedule to keep me on task or am I good enough to fill my time with good things when left to my own devices?

I'll be honest: that last sentence from Screwtape scares me. What a horrible thing to discover about yourself. To learn that your life has been filled with nothing that gave you real joy. Horrible.

1 comment:

Daniel and Belinda said...

I love this post. It always amazes me how much 'nothing' people do. But I agree that a little 'nothing' is good.