We all recognise the value of time, but do not always spend it wisely. We often squander it on futile pursuits. Do activities like browsing social media, viewing our favourite sequel, watching birds or sitting on a river bank constitute a waste of time? When we say that we are killing our time, what do we mean, and should we consider it a sin? Priest Dmitry Palamarchuk of Saint Nicholas Parish in Gorlovka Diocese, Ukraine, shares his views.
Time wasted or well spent? Some basic definitions
I find today’s topic very engaging, and personally relevant. I am one of those people who do not always spend their time well. Although I have yet to figure out how to stop wasting time, I know very well how it happens. We use our time in vain when we begin to do something aimlessly, like browsing social media, viewing images on the Net, reading comments under a post, or doing some other activity without a visible benefit.
Before we continue, let us agree up front that our views on the quality of our time vary, depending on our character, occupation, way of life and many other things. Some appreciate their quiet moments spent in silent reflection. To them, they are not a waste of time, but their way to take a break, give their day a fresh start, a make a natural transition to another project. Others – who are more action-oriented – would consider this pastime wasteful. “Stop sitting around! Come help me do something useful, or go help someone else,” they would say.
Everyone is wired differently. To some, the seemingly pointless scrolling through a newsfeed can be refreshing. I do it when I am tired: I enter one of my favourite social media groups – of street artists – and browse the photos. That is my way to refocus my thoughts. So let us settle with our definition of the sin of wasting time. We commit it when we are not engaged in any activity that benefits ourselves or others. Why is wasting time a sin? By preoccupying ourselves with things that give us nothing in return, we squander the days, hours and minutes of our God-given lives.
Some good uses of our time
Rest. We need to rest to restore our enthusiasm and energy. We rest in different ways, and so we should not feel guilty if we engage in an activity that brings us no obvious benefit but helps us relax and switch gears.
Going for a walk or taking a bike ride. Movement is healthy. Lonely walks and bike rides are not always safe in my area, as there are many wild animals around. But outdoor activities are refreshing for the mind and body, and are a healthy pastime.
Contemplation and reflection. From time to time, we need to slow down and look around – to see the beauty of the world around us, restore our inner peace and give ourselves a break from the daily routine. God made this world beautiful, and it is good to spend our time enjoying this beauty.
Projects on social media. Creating a post is not as easy as it seems. Even when we write a news update, we still need to gather the information and decide in what sequence and manner we will present it. We also need to make it interesting. Writing about theatre, our city’s history, a musical piece, film or book – and even about our faith – can benefit others a lot, especially if we do not expect any monetary reward. But even when we are being paid, there is nothing wrong with it either. Running a profitable web resource can have significant time and resource costs. It can be our full-time job, certainly not a waste of time!
Socialising. We are social beings and cannot live without communicating with others. It is good to keep in touch – especially when we do so with an open heart.
Entertainment. All work and no play will do us little good. We all need to rest and have fun. Even studying can be fun nowadays. Popular science shows and films are as entertaining as they are enlightening.
Spend time with our families: watch cartoons, play with our children, play outside and enjoy our favourite TV sequels together. The things we do as a family strengthen our bonds and deliver us from loneliness. Children who do not go to daycare during the week while their dad is on holiday are not wasting their time, they are spending it well with their dad. But when the whole family wants to do something together and we choose to watch a TV show alone, it can be a disappointment to all the rest, and possibly a waste of time. Not a good idea.
Shopping. However advanced we may be in our spiritual life, we still need to attend to our worldly needs for clothes, household articles, building materials, and other essential goods. In most cases, we have to shop for all these things. We cannot avoid it, so why not take it as a way to relax? There is nothing wrong with a hard-working mum shopping for a new dress and coming home happy. Shopping for many hours in a day or week to the neglect of one’s domestic chores is a different thing, and can harm your family life.
Some common time wasters
Procrastination. We waste time when we look for excuses not to do our most urgent or essential tasks because we find them too onerous or demanding. For example, we may choose to watch a soap opera instead of working on an urgent task due today or shop for a new fishing rod instead of doing some important paperwork.
We are not making good use of our time when we browse other peoples’ photos, ads, mems and images in the media. It is wrong to let listening to music or film watching interfere with our prayer life and worship. A priest who watches video clips because he is ministering among young people is probably doing his job; but if he is doing the same to the detriment of serving his flock or being with his family, he is spending his time badly.
We waste our time by imposing ourselves on others – like sharing with them the news and information in which they have no interest. Soft or diplomatic people are especially vulnerable. Often, they are too polite to interrupt their intrusive companion. That should not happen. People can impose themselves on others out of their fear of loneliness, which drives them to enter a conversation with others under any pretext.
We waste our time when we do not come to church to worship, but to chat and gossip with others. Some small talk is fine if it happens after a service. The rest of our time at church should be dedicated to prayer, icon veneration and choir singing. A church is not a social club, it is a place for meeting God.
We do not spend our time well when we avoid our family members when they need us the most. A mother who runs away to the church not to be with her children is an example of her spiritual labours lost.
We also waste time when we let other, more important engagements, keep us from going to church.
Likewise, we are wasting time if we allow shopping to become our passion.
Are there any exceptions to these general examples?
When we make decisions about our time, we sometimes need to consider the health and well-being of others. Here is a typical situation. In sickness, some believers think that they will make the best use of their time by going to church. From their perspective, it is salvific, as the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force (Matthew 11:12). But perhaps they would have served God and others better if they had stayed at home and not spread their infection. Sometimes, the proper effort for the Kingdom is to think of others, not just of ourselves, especially during times of epidemics.
So let us learn to spend our time to benefit ourselves and others and not squander it away. Let all your activities add to your strength, knowledge, and positive experiences. May your every walk in a park, every cup of tea you have and every book you read give you a welcome break from your everyday routine. Enjoy your breaks and moments of contemplation. Let them add to your happiness, improve your lives, enrich you with new knowledge and strengthen your inner peace. Spend your time with your family and loved ones.
May your days be also free from procrastination. Finally, do not neglect your duties to your family, your spiritual life, or your work. Ignoring these tasks would be a waste of time and sin.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds