The Discipline of Doing Nothing

It’s day four of self isolation. I was down south, and the GN (government of Nunavut) has asked that anyone who is returning home to Nunavut, after traveling outside the territory, self isolate for 14 days. In our little house, there’s no way for me to isolate from my family effectively, so we’re all cut off. I know lots of families are in the same boat; the number was up to 80 million Americans this morning, and Ontario is on lockdown. We’ll see how many other provinces and territories follow suit.

Being stuck at home during a time of crisis, I’m seeing a lot of folks on social media share my urge to DO SOMETHING. Folks are organizing their house, painting walls, homeschooling, live-streaming, and more. It’s a strange feeling – not so long ago I felt like social media was making me feel cut off from my real world. Now it’s a lifeline to the rest of the world.

I almost wonder if the whole world is now feeling what we stay-at-home-moms always feel. We have a lot of time at home, with unstructured time and a sense of strong but vague obligation. We are restless. We want to make the most our time, and online we see so many ways of doing that, that we are constantly second-guessing ourselves. We judge ourselves, and out of that we judge others.

I’m used to resisting that comparison urge. But still, It’s a little weird not to be able to do anything to help. We’re in a weird time that the best way we can serve our neighbours for a little while is to… stay away.

You can hear it in the way announcements are made… “it’s time for us to come together!… by staying apart! Let’s all unite! I mean that metaphorically!” It’s upside down. Help your neighbours by doing literally nothing.

Maybe this comparison is obvious, but it just keeps bringing me back to the gospel. How the whole point of it is that we can do nothing to save ourselves. God had to come in from outside and do what we could not, and all we have to do is believe in him. There are good works that spring out of that salvation, but the works are not the salvation.

It’s an old saw for us Christians, but we keep saying it because it goes against our nature. We were made to work, to have dominion, to be fruitful, to have agency. Because of our sin nature, we take that a step too far, to trying to save ourselves. Whether by money or diet or exercise or justice or whatever, so many good good things we twist into wickedness by trying to save ourselves by any means but what God offers. And what God offers is this: to save your life, lose it. do nothing. Let me do it.

That’s been my meditation for the last few days. I’ve hardly been doing nothing; you know I have to keep my hands busy. But I’m trying to keep a loose hold on my plans, let ideas come and go as they fit or don’t, be supportive of everyone’s efforts, and strongly resist all comparison. Turns out it takes a lot of nerve to do nothing.

Stay safe and sane, my friends.


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