You Can Be Busy and Idle At the Same Time

By Beth Demme

You can be busy and idle at the same time. (@BethDemme)

I used to think of busy and idle as opposites, but now I’m not sure. Lately, I’ve felt like a car idling at a red light. The engine is running, but the car isn’t moving. The mechanical and electrical components of the car are active, even busy, but the car goes nowhere.

Sometimes being busy leaves me at a standstill.

We usually connect being busy with being productive:

  • The early bird catches the worm.
  • A rolling stone gathers no moss.
  • The office is a hive of activity.

We have a mentality that says: I’ve got to roll up my sleeves and hit the ground running in this race against time where I have my work cut out for me.

What if these expressions are wrong? What if productivity doesn’t come from being busy?

What if the most productive action we can take is Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God”?

A few months ago, transportation engineers in London began trying to change the way people move through Tube stations with escalators. The rule has always been stand on the right side and leave the left side for those who are willing to walk up the escalator. The right side was idle, the left side was busy. Conventional wisdom said everyone would get out of the Tube station faster if at least some people walked faster, if some people were busier.

Engineers no longer believe that’s true. They’ve done a Changing of the Guard “About Face” and now they want everyone to stand on both sides of the escalator. They want everyone to be idle during their escalator ride.

According to the London transport engineers, having more people idle will make Tube stations more productive. They have mathematics and everything on their side. You can read about it here.

This lesson feels important to me right now. I need to learn that being in motion doesn’t necessarily create progress.

In Matthew 13, the disciples asked Jesus why he spoke in parables. Jesus replied: “The reason I speak to them in parables is that seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.” Jesus goes on to quote Isaiah, saying people “will indeed look, but never perceive.” Jesus says the people’s “ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes.” (Matthew 13:14-16)

My (current) favorite devotional, Pray-As-You-Go, illuminates the passage this way: “Jesus talks about how we have so many images and experiences in our life and yet we don’t always understand the importance of them. … Jesus says we are blessed right now, at this present moment, for what we see and hear.”

Blessed for what we see and hear? Right now? If my desire to be productive always compels me to focus on the next moment, idea, opportunity, or task, I’m probably too busy to notice God’s presence with me in this moment. Being busy can rob us of awareness.

I wonder how many moments with God I’ve already missed?

We tend to think Bible study is a place to meet God—and it can be. But I’ve also read the Bible without pausing to experience God. (This tends to happen more when I’m trying to stick to a reading plan or other self-imposed deadline requiring me to complete specific readings each day.)

Don’t throw tomatoes (or stones) at me, but reading the Bible doesn’t necessarily move us forward spiritually.

I can be busy and idle at the same time, even in Bible study.

In Bible 100, I encourage people to end every Bible study with this question: “So What?” I learned this in EfM. Asking this question made me realize how much time I had invested in Bible study classes because I wanted to do “the right thing.” I wanted to check it off my Christian to-do list when, really, Bible study is about transformation. If Bible study isn’t making you into a more loving, caring, and forgiving person, you might be doing it wrong.[Twitter Link]

Is Bible study transforming you? @BethDemme

I get it. If we are productive we can be sure we haven’t wasted this one earthly life. This life is too precious a gift to let it go to waste. But if I’m so busy I miss God’s presence with me in this life, then I have wasted it, no matter how productive I’ve been. I’ve been a car at a red light; mechanical and electrical components busily humming along, all the while sitting still.

What do you think? Are you ever busy and idle at the same time? Do you think it is possible to be busy and idle at the same time, even in Bible study? Tell me about it in the comments, in an e-mail, or on Facebook.


More Like This From Beth:

A Christian who loves to think, read, and laugh. A wife and mom with more love than I deserve. I have a passion for public speaking. I'm a licensed Methodist pastor, a blogger, and a lawyer, but wait ... there's more, I'm still figuring it all out.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments I deem offensive or off-topic.

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