When Doing Nothing Does Wonders

I was dipping into a book titled “Soul Keeping” that Pastor Thomas gave me. John Ortberg is a gifted writer, and I must add a gifted preacher too for I had heard him live a few times. In the chapter on “The Soul Needs Rest” he writes about entering soul rest and how we can experience four cycles of grace: 1) Acceptance – to know that you are loved apart from deserving or earning it; 2) Sustenance – the need to develop habits and practices that replenish us spiritually, 3)Significance – a cycle where grace we have received flows out from us to others. This is about who we are before it is about what we do. 4) Resting in Achievement – bearing spiritual fruit by God’s grace and then resting in it. Ortberg then talked about the important practices of solitude and “doing nothing”(rest). Here is where it got me into an experiment.

“The capacity of doing nothing is actually evidence of a lot of spiritual growth. The French writer Blaise Pascal wrote centuries ago: “I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they are unable to stay quietly in their own room.” In solitude we liberate ourselves from the pressure of the world. You don’t do that by going into solitude with a list of things you want to work on. You don’t even approach solitude with the expectation that you will come away with some deep spiritual insight. It’s not about what you’re going to do; it’s about what you’re not going to do. In solitude you rest” .


“Whether with an entire day, or periods of time set aside every day, your soul needs rest. Not a change of scenery or a spiritual retreat – those are fine and may contribute to rest. But to remain healthy, our souls need solitude with no agenda, no distractions, no noise. If someone asks you what you did in your “time apart’, the correct response should be, “Nothing.” Doing nothing does wonders for the soul.” 


A Little Experiment

I was reflecting on this and asked myself, Can I idle? Do nothing. Not touch the phone. Not reach for a book or a screen. Not do anything productive, useful, helpful, purposeful. Can I let my mind idle; let my hands be free of holding anything? Can I cease fidgeting and be still? Breathe. Do nothing. I actually set a timer to one hour and tried this. I saw an empty space on the wall and almost got up to nail and hang a frame. I saw the dust on the window pane and thought of getting the Windex and a cloth from the yard to clean it. It was too quiet and I wanted to play some instrumental music. I saw my phone and wanted to look through the WhatsApp messages. It was not easy to sit in my chair and look out into the distance at the swathe of green that was once the Jurong Country Club. After a while I got fidgety and looked at the timer. The minutes moved too slowly.

Then I noticed my breathing. I noticed the sound of the KDK wall fan in the room. The wandering of my mind slowed down and I was thinking nothing in particular. Just looking into the distance and doing nothing. At the end of the hour, I realized it was not easy to do nothing and rest the soul. However, when I later read and meditated on Scriptures I found myself more alert and present to the words I read, and to the presence of the Lord. Wonderful.

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