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The art of doing nothing: A Catholic embrace of boredom

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Daniel Esparza - published on 05/08/24

When faced with a seemingly unproductive stretch of time, it is advisable to embrace it.

In today’s fast-paced world, the concept of “wasting time” is often viewed negatively. Schedules are meticulously crafted, productivity is king, and any moment not actively “used” is viewed as a missed opportunity. However, from a Catholic perspective, there is significant value in what we might call “productive boredom.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that, after creation, God “rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done” (CCC 299). This divine act of pausing sets an important precedent. The biblical text recognizes the importance of stepping away from our constant striving. In these moments of tranquility, free from the demands of productivity, a different kind of work can begin: the work of introspection –and simply being.

Boredom is not laziness

Now, boredom is not synonymous with idleness or laziness. Boredom can provide an opportunity for our minds to wander and for creativity to spark. Some commentators claim that St. Augustine once wrote that it is beneficial for the mind to be occasionally unoccupied. In that “emptiness” of sorts, a receptivity emerges, allowing us to connect with things and ideas we would often simply pass by, and appreciate the beauty of the world around us.

Consider the instances of sudden insight that have shaped history. Tradition claims that Archimedes, while bathing, observed the displacement of water by his body, which led to his discovery of the principle of buoyancy. Newton is said to have formulated the law of gravity after being struck by a falling apple.

These breakthroughs were not the result of relentless work, but rather moments of attentive idleness, where the mind was free to make unexpected connections. Needless to say, this attentive idleness is not born out of nothing: it is the consequence of a well-trained mind.

Affirming our own value

As Catholics, we believe that humans are created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27). This inherent value is not contingent on our achievements or production. We are worthy simply for who we are. Allowing oneself time for unstructured exploration, even unstructured prayer, or simply gazing at the clouds affirms this fundamental truth. It is in these moments of seemingly unproductive time that we can reconnect with ourselves, with God, and rediscover the value in the ordinary.

When faced with a seemingly unproductive stretch of time, it is advisable to embrace it. Allow your mind to wander, be present in the moment, and trust that even in the quiet, something positive might emerge.

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Catholic LifestylePersonal GrowthSpiritual Life
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