Being Useful in Idleness

There is a quote that a friend read to me the other day that actually fit quite well with what I already wanted to talk about in this post. It’s from a book of letters by Vincent Van Gogh and he says, “There is a great difference between one idler and another idler. There is someone who is an idler out of laziness and lack of character…Then there is the other kind of idler, the idler despite himself, who is inwardly consumed by a great longing for action who does nothing because his hands are tied, because he is, so to speak, imprisoned somewhere…Such a one does not always know what he can do, but he nevertheless instinctively feels, I am good for something! My existence is not without reason!…How can I be of use, how can I be of service? There is something inside me, but what can it be?

I have found that with a lot of free time and empty space comes a feeling of idleness – though not without the desire to act and be useful. Since having a lot of free time (with only a part-time job and my creativity to keep me busy) there have been a lot of moments when I have felt like I’m not doing enough with my time or talents. It leaves quite a bit of space for thinking and wanting to act, but with every avenue open it ends up being difficult to know where to direct your focus.

There has been a word on my mind recently that encourages me to not feel that my idleness is going to waste. That word is ‘abide.’ It isn’t a word we use a lot today; it’s actually from Old English and was at its highest use in the 1800s (but maybe we should bring it back)! It means ‘continuing without fading or being lost; to live or dwell.’

It’s a good thing that seeds are planted along the way that come back to us in these times of ‘not knowing.’ Awhile back I had a friend who encouraged me to start a blog. For months that idea sat on the back burner while I was too uncertain to do anything serious with it, but it came back to me about three weeks ago and I knew it was the right time. In beginning this blog, I’ve had to research and plan, write and photograph, seek help and advice, and struggle through technological processes (yikes!).

In my time of not knowing what to do, where to put my energy, or how to be useful, I found the idea of abiding to be something rich and meaningful. Having a project to throw myself into has provided me the opportunity to sit and dwell – to revitalize that part of me that engages with a topic and gets to write about it and to put my thoughts into words. So even if I’m not on a seemingly straightforward track with finish lines in sight, I am abiding. I’m creating a substantial, creative outlet in which to flourish.

Really, I think we (don’t mind if I speak for you for a moment) could all use a little help abiding. When everything in this world pushes toward the next thing, prizes goals and achievements, and is never content, I find that taking a moment – or a season – to dwell can be just the thing we need in order to grow.

6 thoughts on “Being Useful in Idleness”

  1. I love the quotes you used. They really make you think about the meaning of the word idle and abide. I usually think of them as negative words but in a way all words are open to interpretation and can be what we make them!

  2. This is a really lovely post, Sarah. I love blogging and ‘dwelling’ has certainly been good and enjoyable for me. It has also helped to evolve my perspective on a number of things I wouldn’t normally consider. Really interesting to see this laid out in words! Great post!

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