Holy Uselessness

By Jannice May

In a Family Circus cartoon in the Los Angeles Times a little boy asked, “When I finish my homework, can I do something useless?” Taking the time to do something useless is not such a bad idea. We all lead busy lives and need a little down time.

Why are our lives so busy? Sometimes we have responsibilities thrust upon us; sometimes we take on more than we need to; sometimes we don’t know when to say yes and when to say no.

I caught part of a Dr. Laura Schlessinger radio show while driving to the Glendora office. A young woman lamented she told a co-worker whom she barely knew that she would be her bridesmaid. Now her own sister was getting married and wanted her to be her bridesmaid as well. The cost of both weddings was too much for her, so she wanted to know what to do. Dr. Laura told her she had given her word and her word is important. She suggested the woman either borrow the money or charge it. Dr. Laura added, “After the wedding you need to take some time to think about what it is about your personality that keeps you from saying no.” Her answer started me thinking about my personality and why I take on more things than I should.

I know I’m not alone. Having a ministry for ministers’ wives allows me to hear how much some women have on their plates. Along with their family duties, many are leading worship, serving as church treasurers, giving sermons, shopping for church socials and don’t leave out making coffee every week – plus working full time. I wonder if some innate personality gene in ministers’ wives prevents us from saying no! It reminds me of the book When I Say No I Feel Guilty. Do we think the more we have on our ministers’ wives resumes, the better ministers’ wives we will be?

At our Delaware Connecting and Bonding Conference last year author Marilyn Hontz, also a minister’s wife, shared how she avoids taking on too much. At the end of each year she prays for God to show her where she should be serving next. This helps her focus on what she should be doing the next year so she won’t be all over the place. This idea might help some of us.

Just as important as learning to say no is knowing when to say yes. Ruth Vong, Dean of Students at Fuller Theology, spoke at one of our ministers’ wives luncheons. Ruth told us about her busy life and her need to slow down and make some changes. She shared that a good friend invited her to a picnic lunch with her daughter and volunteered to bring the lunch. Ruth was very busy that day and wanted to say no, but decided to say yes. If her friend who also leads a busy life taking care of a physically challenged daughter could take some time off, so could Ruth.

The picnic lunch and walk through the park restored Ruth’s soul. She realized she needed to put more of these breaks in her schedule. Ruth said: “We all need a Sabbath. I’m not talking about a certain day or block of time. It’s about taking the time to do something different to restore our souls.” Ruth called it “holy uselessness” time.

Jesus set the example for us for holy uselessness. He often sought to get away from the crowds and daily grind. He took time to go to the mountains to be alone and pray (Matthew 14:22). He also enjoyed an occasional nap (Matthew 8:23-25).

Ruth mentioned taking time to savor a cup of coffee while reading the paper can restore our souls. My husband likes to go to the movies and to Starbucks to restore his soul. We have a friend who loves to hike and collect rocks. Maybe you like to read, take a bubble bath, watch ocean waves or just sit in peace and quiet. Holy uselessness is finding out what you enjoy doing and taking time to do it.

Those in ministry will always lead busy lives. Learning when to say no or yes will always be a struggle. And our plates will more than likely always be overflowing a bit. But we must guard against burnout. Holy uselessness can help. I encourage you to take the time needed to restore your soul. It may be 15 or 30 minutes or maybe a whole day – whatever works for you.

I think the boy from the Family Circus cartoon may have stumbled upon something profound. Let’s all do something useless today.