September 8, 2023 • Article, De Pree Journal, Marketplace Leaders
Have you ever considered intentionally wasting time?
I know. It sounds like, well, a waste of time. But hear me out.
If you place high value on efficiency and productivity, time being wasted can be one of the most frustrating experiences. Meetings that could have been communicated in an email drive me to the edge of my sanity. My two-year-old son insisting on putting on his own shoes tests my patience. Waiting in yet another shockingly long line at Costco makes me irritable. When time isn’t being used to get the most done in the shortest amount of time, I’m annoyed—to say the least.
But while wasting time is something I would almost never do intentionally, sometimes I do. And truthfully, it’s often some of the best time spent.
Let’s Define “Wasting Time”
Let’s start by clarifying what I mean by “wasting” time. A simple Google search of the word “waste” will give us a definition like the following: to expend carelessly, extravagantly, or to no purpose; to allow to be used inefficiently. All of these definitions characterize how I think most of us feel when our time is being wasted. When we point out that someone or even a situation has “wasted” our time, we often mean that the time taken from us could have been used more productively.
This is why situations like getting stuck in traffic or a delayed flight can be some of the most unnerving experiences. The time we spend sitting in the car or waiting in the terminal is time that could be better used in the office finishing a project, at home playing with our kids, or even just sleeping. Our time is precious, and when a person or a situation wastes our time, this can feel like a personal affront.
So then, why would we ever intentionally waste time? Why would we ever choose to spend our time being unproductive, or, by definition, careless, purposeless, and inefficient?
“God Is Not a Workaholic”
The answer begins in the beginning. In Genesis 1 we are given a glimpse into the extraordinary process of creation. God’s power is put on full display as the world is spoken into existence. We see that for six days God works creatively, productively, and very efficiently. But then something different happens on the seventh day: God rests. One could argue that God even wastes time. Because on that seventh day, not much seems to happen. In fact, it’s quite clear that God doesn’t work or create anything on that seventh day. From a productivity standpoint, this day is a bust. This day is inefficient. And I can’t help but playfully wonder how much more this world could have if God had just taken one more day to get more stuff done—one more day to give moms those eyes in the back of their heads that they so desperately need.
But God doesn’t keep working. Because, as Walter Brueggemann notes, “God is not a workaholic.” Despite having limitless stamina, boundless creativity, and no need for a break, God stops working. And what is revealed to us in this stopping is that being unproductive is necessary. Wasting time can be good and meaningful. And while this might come across as counterproductive in our current “hustle culture,” the truth is that God’s example of wasting time sheds light on our own innate human need to do the same.
So, I want to suggest three areas we should absolutely intentionally waste time: at work, with people, and with God.
Waste (a little) Time at Work
In a Forbes article entitled, “Why You Should Embrace The Concept Of ‘Wasting’ Time,” the author highlights the value and benefits to people and businesses when they waste time: “As it turns out, people are not equipped to work 16-hour days or even, perhaps, eight- or 10-hour days while maintaining high productivity and consistent quality. The human brain can focus, but only for short periods. In between those focused sessions, people should be encouraged to waste a little time.”
The article goes on to say that wasting bits of time helps our brains reset and refocus. Additionally, our minds are also better equipped to problem solve when we briefly step back from projects and tasks. In fact, breaking up your work day with shorter breaks can actually make you more productive and serve as a catalyst for more creativity. Stepping away from your computer to take a walk with a coworker or eating a quick snack are all ways to break up your work day and keep your brain from becoming stagnant and overworked.
Even companies like Google encourage wasting some time. Google is known for asking their employees to spend 20% of their paid work time exploring new ideas and taking on projects that don’t have instant pay-offs. Knowing these are avenues for innovation, they’ve encouraged their employees to meaningfully and intentionally waste time—and out of this 20% ideas like Gmail have been birthed. This “wasting” of time, it turns out, can actually serve as a deposit of rest from which your brain greatly benefits.
Waste Time Relationally
The second way we can waste time well is relationally. If we look to Genesis again, we see that God doesn’t waste time alone on the Sabbath but with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. And while we don’t know the details of what they did on that seventh day, we do know it was spent in community. I like to think that they got nothing “done” and simply wasted time being with each other in the garden—and it is this type of unproductive, relational time-wasting that we are called to emulate.
But the time we need to waste with others is no small amount. A Gallup poll revealed that people need six hours a day of social time to have a “thriving day.” For the introverts out there, don’t worry—this doesn’t mean six hours of talking. This six-hour total can be comprised of catching up with people at work, texting a friend, calling a family member on the drive home, and even sending an email. The point is that wasting little bits of time socially throughout our days is actually good for us: it reduces stress and promotes overall well-being. Our “social” lives, it turns out, cannot be defined as our lives outside of work. They include it.
However, this can be difficult for those who work remotely. Some of us need to actively look for ways to waste time relationally. This could look like working from a coffee shop and purposely not using earbuds to be more open to random conversations. It could also look like taking a long lunch with a friend. For some of us, it just means saying “yes” to more weekend plans instead of a “maybe” or a “next time,” knowing that wasting time with others is essential to our well-being and part of God’s design.
Waste Time with God
Lastly, and by far most importantly, we need to waste time with God.
A few years ago, my spiritual director asked me a simple question: “Describe to me how you pray to God.” I gave her a response I think a lot of people could relate to: I start off with praise and thankfulness, move on to my list of requests, and usually end by thinking about what I’ll cook for dinner or how I still need to respond to my mom’s text.
And that’s how my “holy” moments with God typically go. Formulaic and a bit scattered.
But my spiritual director’s response surprised me. Rather than giving me a book to read on prayer or tips on how to focus better, she challenged me to dramatically change my approach to prayer: She encouraged me to spend time with God as a friend.
Initially, this sounded like not-so-spiritual advice. To spend time with God as a friend would absolutely be wasting God’s time and my own. Sure, time with our closest friends can be intentional and meaning-filled, but more often it involves conversations about fairly mundane things. It’s texting a picture of yet another shockingly long line at Costco or hearing about how my friend’s son did at sleepaway camp, or—more embarrassingly—watching the Bachelor and making predictions on who we think might win. How could I possibly approach the Creator God so casually?
In his book, The Gift of Being Yourself, David Benner advises those who wish to know themselves and God more intimately to approach spending time with God like a friend. He writes, “What God wants is simply our presence, even if it feels like a waste of potentially productive time. That is what friends do together—they waste time with each other. Simply being together is enough without expecting to ‘get something’ from the interaction. It should be no different with God.”
I want to make a suggestion that may sound a bit unorthodox: Sometimes we need to waste time with God rather than spend time with God. In other words, sometimes we need to put aside the perfectly crafted prayers—the ones that are often devoid of our mundane and quirky musings—and instead remember that, like our closest friend, God wants to hear all the things. Especially the “time-wasting” things. Consider sharing with God what you’re craving for lunch, how nervous you feel about your upcoming presentation, how you can’t believe the line at Costco is this long on a Tuesday, again. This is a meaningful, good, and even beautiful waste of our time and God’s time. And while this time may not be “productive,” it is producing something garden-like between us and God. So, let’s challenge ourselves this week to make time to meaningfully waste time.
Banner image by Collin Hardy on Unsplash.