It’s time I planned more nothing in my life. A small wager: Ask five people the question, “How are you doing?” or, “How’s it going?” Three or more will, in the space of a single sentence, utter the word, “Busy.” Some might say it with exasperation, some with a measure of a contented I’m-doing-something-productive-today attitude. Others simply are resolved that this is the way of the world, as if they were a black pawn, plodding down the board one step at a time, pushed by an invisible hand. “Busy” has replaced the former number-one-answer-on-the-board, “fine.”
“How are you doing?”
We’re experts at filling up our lives; digital technology’s primary promise is greater efficiency—to get what we want faster. And how do we respond to technology’s “generosity?” We stuff our schedules like a 38” waist into 36” pants. Muffintop schedules. Our iPads are really iBelts…just keeping it all in.
Innately, we believe that busy-ness is a good thing; such a disposition prevents what many would consider a polar opposite condition, laziness—a calamity of which no decent, hardworking American tacitly approves. The general idea is that being busy is the process by which we fill up our lives with meaningful activities, with an emphasis on active. Laziness is the unwillingness to engage in said activities. If forced to decide, herds of Americans choose the tyranny of the schedule over the slothfulness of the couch.
But laziness cannot be the opposite of busy-ness. Laziness implies a certain measure of responsibility that is being shirked, or at least put to the side for the ends of doing nothing of substance. Laziness is not something to strive for, mind you, but again…it’s not the opposite of busy-ness. What, then, is?
Intentional space, not laziness, is the opposite of being busy. Being busy isn’t necessarily bad, but within each of our schedules, intentional space is a must. Exert a little interpretation on the word, “space,” if you must. Translate the term in terms of time, as in, “I’m clearing out some space in the afternoon.” Or, by actual physical area, as in Bruce Dickinson’s request to the unstoppable Gene Frenkle, “Really explore the space!” …sometimes you need more cowbell, after all.
The value of this approach is holistic. Because we are thinking creatures, a schedule with intentional space finally permits some reflection on the big and little things that make life worth savoring: how to best encourage my child, how to nurture the relationships in my neighborhood, how to tweak my barbeque pork recipe, and on and on… Squeezing in moments of thought, like caulk in the cracks of your kitchen tile, won’t do. If we want to override the brain software that digital technologies excel at, we’ll have to run a wholly new operating system. In a strange paradox, it requires great diligence to adequately plan for nothing.
“Intentional space makes for the best spiritual acoustics.”
Because we are spiritual creatures, intentional space creates the necessary silence to hear someone speak back. Namely, God. Jesus withdrew to the hillsides, seashores, and wilderness areas—presumably not because he was an introvert (though, if he was, that would strangely please me)—but because intentional space makes for the best spiritual acoustics. After all, many Christ-followers are gifted with the art of prayer—but how many of us actually listen for a response in carefully considered silence.
My wife and I have made a concerted effort to ditch the word, “busy,” as an excuse not to do something. “I’m too busy” will not exist in our family. Knowing that being too busy is actually a real dilemma for countless hard-working people and shouldn’t be dismissed to the realm of make-believe problems, I am not saying that we are trying to simply remove the excuse. We are trying to remove the condition. The change has to be substantive; intentional space must replace chunks of a schedule filled with stuff to do. Some seasons of life don’t permit this disposition—I get it. But I am responsible for the culture of my life, my schedule, and have the power to determine what the norm is, and what must be tolerated as the exception to the norm.
Intentional space has an inherent centripetal force; a force that both orients us toward even while it draws us to the center. The technological life (the birth-parents of busy-ness), by contrast, is a centrifugal force, flinging us outward to the fringes toward those commitments that, while often valuable, simply aren’t at the core of who God created us to be. Intentional space, then, is one way that God draws us inward to the heart of the target—to the bull’s-eye, described in John 10:10: “I have come so that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Hearing is ultimately not nothing, of course. It’s something. But it’s a wholly passive something, no matter what your sixth grade teacher told you. An absorption. Osmosis. The nothing in my schedule allows for a fresh reception of God’s presence, his creation, and/or his words as they soak into my skin. The nothing in my schedule receives the something of God, gifted for this time and place: his breath to fill me, his whispers amidst my cacophony, his nudging against my resistance.
A common preface found in many of the great prophetic texts in the Old Testament is, “Then the word of the LORD came to _____.” What a beautiful movement of God’s calling, his divine message, from God’s own heart and will to his probably unsuspecting servant. It’s almost as if the “word of God” is an independent agent, seeking to and fro to find the receptive, listening person who would deliver the Almighty’s message in such a time as this. Perhaps the word of the LORD have been waiting patiently at our doorstep. Waiting for some intentional space they can fill.
 I Kings 16:1; I Kings 21:17, 28; Jer 1:4; 18:5 to name a few.
© Joel Oesch and Fishing for Leviathan, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Joel Oesch and Fishing for Leviathan with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.