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Pray, work, rest

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I spent the morning rummaging around in the basement, looking for a box marked “virtue letters.” It contains wooden letters that spell out various virtues. Over the years, I’ve propped the letters on the mantel, rotating them out each month and adding seasonal decorations to go with them. Every September, I spell out “diligence.” September is for buckling down, setting goals, setting about one’s work, getting it done. I found the letters, and then I realized that despite having many fireplaces in our new house, we have few mantels. So, virtue letters set aside, we began our school year by taking a good look at Scripture. 

“For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right” (2 Thes 3:10-13).

St. Paul is quite serious in his admonition to us. He urges that we not indulge in idleness, but that we cultivate a life of diligence. This is not a “Type A” pep rally to produce; it is a reminder that the Gospel calls us to allow God to work in and through us. Idleness is counter to that call. God wants peace in our lives. He wants us to work quietly throughout the day, making our every movement an offering to him for his glory. Work in this way is recollected work. It is prayerful, peaceful and patient. In such an economy, prayer is work and work is prayer. It’s a seamless and beautiful offering of our lives to God.

If work is prayer — if it’s our opportunity to join our lives to the Lord — then what is idleness? It’s those things that pull us from purposeful, intentional focus on God. For many of us, the greatest temptation to idleness is a screen. It’s scrolling Facebook, indulging in a Twitter battle, or binging on Netflix. As St. Paul warns, it’s not merely doing nothing, but empty time, spent unproductively intruding on someone else. We feed each other’s idleness.

Instead, let us be busy about God’s work. Let us consecrate all our moments to God. We can borrow a practice from the monks who pray the Liturgy of the Hours. It might not be practical to pray the Hours all day long, but it is useful to mark the time throughout the day with short prayers that bring us back to God’s purpose. We begin by offering the day to the Lord with joy and optimism upon waking. As we set about our workday, we call upon the Holy Spirit to guide our work. At noon, we remember Mary’s fiat, and issue one of our own, asking her to unite our yes to hers. In the mid-afternoon, at the hour of mercy, we focus on forgiveness. We look at work yet undone and ask for the blessings of grace and mercy. We extend both to others, and we forgive ourselves as well. In the evening, with the golden hour, we call peace upon our households. Nighttime brings us to memento mori. We surrender sleep to the Lord and ask his peace upon our rest and our waking.

We can rest peacefully and sleep well because rest is not idleness. Rest is purposeful and intentional. It cares for the body and the soul. Contrast the way you feel after ten minutes of intentional stillness and silence with the way you feel after ten minutes of scrolling your news feed. That’s the difference between rest and idleness. One restores. The other makes you restless.

And you will be restless until you rest in the one who made you. Work and rest, day by day, moment by moment, offering it all to God for his glory. It’s a good plan for even the most tumultuous autumn.

Foss, whose website is takeupandread.org, writes from Connecticut.

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020