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From the January/February, 2000 issue of Touchstone


Waste of Time by Thomas S. Buchanan

Waste of Time

Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she shall rejoice in time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness.
—Proverbs 31:25–27

The virtuous woman described in the thirty-first chapter of the book of Proverbs does not eat the bread of idleness. This does not mean that she only eats fast food, but that she spends her time wisely. Although that seems like a frivolously obvious and almost silly thing to say, nonetheless, I submit that it is a common misunderstanding.

Whether it is running to work or doing errands or going to church or driving the kids to an event, our lives tend to be busy. It is remarkable how busy they are compared to those of a few generations ago. Then, modern technological conveniences did not exist to make people’s lives easier. For example, people did not have machines to do the dishes, and clothes were washed by hand. These things took enormous amounts of time, yet it is their generation, not ours, that seemed to be more relaxed and have more free time.

The reason for this is simple: we try to pack more into our days than they did. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean we lead better, more enjoyable, or more worthwhile lives. We do not appear to be better educated or more clear-thinking, and we do not appear to lead happier or less trivial lives. We certainly do not appear to have any more time for God. In short, our having more time has not meant that we use it more wisely.

There is a modern misconception that quality time can be substituted for quantity time. While the quality of the time we spend on something is important, we are often arrogant if we think we can spend our time engaged in work that is of higher quality than our forefathers’, especially when it comes to the simple things in life. Mothers or fathers who think they can do a great job as a parent in just a few minutes a day because they know some secret skill that their parents did not have are most likely misguided. Those who think they can spend one minute a day praying and do as good a job as those who have gone before them, because they are more earnest, are deceived. Some of these old-fashioned things take time, and there is no real substitute for buckling down and just doing it.

If we do not put time into those things that are truly important, in what do we invest our time? One of the most common ways to spend time poorly is to watch television. Some consider this to be a reasonable way to spend quality time together as a family. But having several people sit in the same room and stare at a box is not exactly the type of thing to do if one wishes to learn people’s feelings, share in their lives, or show any concern for their well-being. It is simply eating the popcorn of idleness.

It is tempting to spend our lives running from one thing to another, to chauffeur the children endlessly when we are not working, to fill our evening schedules with TV shows and other forms of entertainment. But we who take the name of Christ must act differently than our neighbors do. We do not need to fill our lives with superfluous things in order to have meaning. We should not need to work more hours in order to have more possessions. We should not expect to be constantly entertained. We should be driven by the things of God, not the things of this culture. If we do that, strength and dignity will be our clothing, and we shall rejoice in time to come.

Thomas S. Buchanan is a member of the Orthodox Church and lives in Chester County, Pennsylvania, with his wife and three children. He is a senior editor of Touchstone.

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