Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Free Time

Perhaps nothing sounds better on a schedule than “free time.” But it can be a source of anxiety for many—how will I fill up that time? Will I be bored? Will the moments be wasted? What am I to do?

To be honest, though I have no problem spending leisure time with friends, when alone I have difficulty with leisure time. I like to work, I like to be constructive, I like to do things, I like to grow. But the idea of free time does sound luxurious. I love the currently popular song by Bruno Mars, “Today I Don’t Feel Like Doing Anything.” I wish I could live its ideal!

In a video I use during my retreats on Henri Nouwen, Henri talks about how proud we are of being “busy, busy, busy,” buzzing these words like a bee! We brag about it to others, “Oh yes, I’m very busy.” I’ve met clergy who needed to go into detail about how busy they were to counter the misconception that they only work one hour per week! Henri describes our need to be “occupied,” or if not occupied, “preoccupied,” which he jokes as “occupying a space before you even get there”!

This tension between work and idleness is why I begin my workday with morning prayers. There’s a lazy part of me that is attracted to a time when I don’t have to accomplish anything, and so this is a seductive way to begin my workday. Sure, I read various things during that time, but the goal is to spend time in reflection, meditation, and prayer. It can last anywhere from five minutes to two hours, depending on the day’s agenda.

A counseling professor in seminary told of being assigned a child by the courts for therapy. Each visit, the kid said nothing, but wandered around the office looking at things in silence. In frustration, the professor told the child that he would ask the courts to assign another therapist. The child cried, “But I like coming here!” Astonished, the therapist asked why. “You’re the only adult who leaves me alone,” the child replied.

Free time is perhaps the only time that leaves us alone. One possible origin of “scholar” is a word that means “leisure, rest, or free time.” Though most of us worked our way through various schools, we understand that luxury of having been students. I’ve never stopped being a student, though I did not go into academia as a vocation. And maybe that’s partly why I didn’t—I didn’t want my “free time” regulated, occupied, or preoccupied.

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