I was bringing my seedlings in for the night while my husband read bedtime stories to the children, contemplating the day that had passed with dissatisfaction. My two-year-old was still cranky in the wake of a recent illness, so for the first half of the three short hours his sister spends at pre-school, we played Operation and read stories. Thinking I might finally get started on “real work” for the day, I turned on a movie for him. He asked me to watch it with him. It was a Pixar movie I had never seen so, I confess, I didn’t need much convincing. So much for pre-school. At least I still had nap time to get something done. We picked up my daughter, ate lunch, got the little brother down for a nap and the big sister settled in front of a tv show, and I took a shower all by myself. “Now,” I thought, “now I am ready to settle in and get something done.” Except I didn’t. I thought about writing a blog post and tried to do some online tasks, but the internet was down. The tv show ended, so I read my five year old a story. The two year old woke up. I tried to do some gardening, but I couldn’t find my clippers, so I never got farther than watering. I tried to paint some trim for the home repair project we’ve been working on. My son insisted on “helping,” so I only got one small piece painted and had to clean up. And so the afternoon went, until my husband came home to a messy house and leftovers for dinner. Not a particularly satisfying day.
On my third or fourth trip out to the garden for seedlings, a line from The Sayings of the Desert Fathers floated to the forefront of my consciousness. An abba asked one of the brothers how he was fairing, to which the brother replied “‘I am wasting my time, father.’ The old man said, ‘If I happen to waste a day, I am grateful for it.'” Grateful? Grateful for what? Why? Like so many sayings of the desert monks, I really don’t know what this means. Sometimes I can blame my lack of understanding on the huge gap of time and culture that exists between me and those ancient fathers. In this case, however, I think the idea of “wasted time” was nearly as anathema (though for different reasons) in the world of the desert as it is in our productivity-obsessed culture. What could be good about a wasted day?
“If I happen to waste a day, I am thankful for it.” To begin, I suppose I should be thankful that I had the leisure to waste a day. It is rarely possible to waste time in the midst of catastrophe. Today was peaceful enough that there was time to waste. Good. I am thankful that I was here to waste a day. I am alive. I am healthy. I have the freedom to choose whether to be busy or to be lazy. I am thankful for the good things that happened today in spite and even because of my lack of focus and motivation. The fact that I was unable to settle down and “get things done” meant that I was available to read and play with my children. I didn’t resent their demands for attention because I wasn’t really doing anything anyway.
I am thankful for the chance to be humbled. Who do I think I am, anyway? What have I got to do that is so terribly important? The fate of the world does not hang on my weeding the garden, folding the laundry, or balancing the books. And here, I think, is the crux of the matter. My value as a human being does not hang on those things either. There is important work to be done in the world. Even small tasks are important, since it is largely through small, daily acts of care that we show love for those around us. An attitude of alertness, mindfulness, and readiness to work are important, too. Scripture and the fathers both are clear on this point: we do not have all the time in the world, and it does matter how we use what we have. But nothing, absolutely nothing I could accomplish today would alter my worth in God’s eyes. He first loved us, and while we were yet sinners He died for us. The most important work has been done for us, because we were unable to do it for ourselves.
We were created out of love, and by love we are saved. How we spend our time matters because we want to use it in a way that frees us to receive that divine love and share it with our fellow human beings. But I am thankful for the reminder that God, Who redeems even our worst sufferings and darkest sins, is the source of that love. Without that love, even the greatest of good works are pointless. With it, everything, even the most pointless of wasted days, can be redeemed.