“What are you doing to fill your time?”
We’ve all been hearing that question these days. Maybe we’re even the ones asking it.
From funny memes to blog posts full of quarantine ideas, chances are we’re either the ones offering these time-filling ideas, or we’re the ones desperately seeking boredom-busting suggestions.
But what if we’re asking the wrong question? What if we don’t need anything to fill our time? Maybe we just need a shift in perspective.
Long before the worldwide pandemic, I found myself overly committed, overly busy, and overly stressed out with all I had to do or wanted to do. The words of Jesus in Matthew 11:28–30 seemed like a breath of fresh air in the midst of my exhaustion. As I read the paraphrase of this passage in The Message, I was drawn in by the stark contrast of how I had been living my life:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Rest, recover, walk, rhythms, and light all sounded like words of a dream compared to the stress, chaos, hurry, and burdens that characterized my life. I knew something had to change as I was becoming increasingly aware of the fast pace our world seemed to set for us. Over the last few months, I explored what Jesus wanted for my life, what it would mean to slow down and find time for the things that mattered the most.
Enter a global crisis.
We were caught off guard when normal life as we knew it came to a jarring halt. You might think that a stay-at-home order for many and limited access to “normal” parts of life would be the perfect time to slow down.
Instead, many of us turned to what we know—busyness. Others of us sought out distractions in a desperate attempt to avoid feelings, search for answers, or gain a sense of normalcy. Maybe we just don’t know how to be bored. So, we search for ways to “fill our time.”
What if the goal right now isn’t to fill our time? What if the goal is simply to be present?
Before we dive into this way of thinking, we need to clarify two things:
- The activities people are suggesting are actually great ideas. Going on walks, holding creative social distance gatherings, watching movies, having video calls, playing games, etc., can be life-giving. Many people are providing helpful resources to bring hope and joy, and these can be part of what it means to be present. A busy life and a full life are different.
- Slowing down does not mean being irresponsible or lazy. Living a slower life is an art, crafted with intentionality, and it often requires a higher level of responsibility.
Why Presence Matters
When I am constantly busy, I miss out on what God has for me.
I find myself rushing as I pray and not taking time to listen to His voice. My selfish agenda of what will serve me best rules my day. I overlook the needs of my neighbors and miss opportunities with friends. I wonder if you’ve experienced this, too?
This isn’t the way of Jesus. As we look at His life in the gospels, we see He took time to know people. He healed, loved, rebuked, taught, and spent time alone with the Father and time with others. He was purposeful and intentional, and we are to imitate Christ and walk in love (Eph. 5:1–2).
Jesus came for us to “have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). I can’t help but think that we’re missing the abundance of life when we’re simply rushing through it.
The world is constantly competing for our attention, but we get to choose where we place our focus. At times it may feel like swimming upstream or running up a downward escalator. Slowing down to be present goes against the grain of our culture, but it will get easier as we break our addictions to distraction and busyness.
Fight to be still.
When we stop the noise and quiet ourselves before God, we gain a clearer picture of who He is. We worship Him from a place of full awareness when we are slow and stopped. Psalm 46:10 says,
“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”
Fight the temptation of distraction.
In times of unsettlement, sometimes the easiest thing to do is “check out” mentally and emotionally. Mindless scrolling can feel like a numbing cure, especially when we’re trying to skip the painful parts of life. I love what Jennie Allen said in her book Nothing to Prove: “But what if, in trying to miss the worst parts of life, we are also missing the best?” God is working, even now. Let’s be present for it. “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15–16).
Fight to see the needs.
It’s hard to see the needs of other people and be patient with them if we’re always rushing from one thing to the next. As we slow down to be present in the moment God has called us to be, we can be more sensitive to the ways the Holy Spirit wants us to reach out to others. “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Col. 3:12).
God is here, and He has something for us here today in the seemingly insignificant chunks of time, in the pain, confusion, happiness, and in whatever you’re feeling or facing.
This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Ps. 118:24)
Pandemic or not, Jesus is inviting us to slow down and be present right now. What can you do to stop filling your time and start living in it?