In the UK there is an offence of “wasting police time” when we do things that cause an unnecessary police response, wasting man-hours and their attention. Wasting time, whether our own or someone else’s seems generally to be considered, if not a sin, then something wrong.
Mental illness steals our time and leaves little to show for it. We spend long periods of time in inactivity – forced by illness severe enough that we cannot work, socialise, think. We seem to stop growing – certainly I, in the depths of depression, cannot read, cannot reflect on things, I am gnawed up by awful feelings and have no room for anything else. I have wasted my time, unwillingly, by having mental ill-health – it has been nearly ten years and, in worldly terms, my life has not moved on. I am working – finally – but in an entry-level service job – not what I expected when I graduated. I am single, and I live with my parents. Again, this is not what I expected but a direct consequence of my mental illness. I feel like I have wasted my time, spent too long ill and failed to grow as a person or achieve the success I was promised as a schoolchild.
Many Christians suggest we be wary of wasting our time – and many Christian books show people who are a powerhouse of evangelism, who are successful, never have a problem, who convert thousands and stride on day after day generally being awesome. There is an expectation of activity – we must not be idle for idleness is a sin and we all know that “the devil finds work for idle hands”.
Is this really so? I would point to Jesus – who spent thirty years before his ministry started, apparently “wasting time” as a carpenter. Why did he not start his preaching earlier? I don’t know the answer to that, but I know that as Jesus never did anything that was not right, that this time of waiting, of apparent idleness in terms of ministry, was necessary and good. Sometimes this is the case for us too – our wasted time, our time when we are not obviously growing and doing good may be preparation for a more intense time of service for God, may be preparation for spiritual awakening and growth. Just because we cannot see anything good come out of a time of doing little does not mean it didn’t happen – for example I can confidently say that I am closer to God through having had depression, and that each depression brought me closer. I am now well and hope to remain so but I do not think that my bipolar has not brought benefits.
Can we waste God’s time? Sometimes I feel that I am wasting his time by telling him my troubles, so tiny in comparison to the world’s poorest and others. I think, why should he want to – and why should I try to make him listen to me saying “Lord, I would like to get a small job” or “Lord, I hope I lose weight this week”. Am I simply wasting his time? Am I also wasting his time with my continual misunderstanding of his message, with my ignorance, with my doing the wrong thing? Why should he even bother with me? I am no spiritual giant or evangelistic powerhouse.
Yet…Paul tells us to cast our cares upon God, and Jesus reminds us that God even watches over the sparrow:
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
God is interested in us, even though we are unworthy – that is the heart of the gospel and I am guilty of disbelieving it. God chose us, he chose us and he suffered for us – but he did not choose us because we were “worthy”, he chose those who were sinners, all of us, to be his people.
And as for wasting God’s time…the disciples were pretty good at that! How many times did Peter and the others fail to understand what Jesus was talking about? How many times did they say something stupid, do something stupid? And yet Jesus stuck with them, continued teaching, and gifted them something amazing, his spirit and his salvation. I read the Gospels when I want to remind myself that we have a God of infinite patience – he put up with Peter, so he will also put up with me, and have compassion on me.
We do not waste our time in illness. It may seem so, but I believe that there is a growth, a change in us, even if only slight, a change which brings us closer to God. It may feel like anything but that at the time, but certainly in my own life, looking back, I have noticed a change in me for the better, and I have grown closer to God in the process. Understand that I am not glorifying suffering for its own sake – suffering is terrible and we should take all effort to end it, and I do not think God sits in heaven saying, I know, I will give Emma bipolar because it will be good for her. I don’t think that at all, but we know that the Lord can bring blessings out of curses and I believe that that is what he has done for me.
We ourselves do not waste God’s time – he loves us, and just as we wouldn’t tell off our child for “wasting our time” so neither will he. I have been reading a nice blog called Dreaming Beneath the Spires, and the author writes:
And he who is melding the shards of my life—wasted time, wasted energy, wasted intensity–into a beautiful stained glass window sees me turn them over sadly, and says,“I will let nothing be wasted.”
This is from her post: In which I ponder False Starts and Dead Ends, and God says, “Come, Dance.”
Nothing is wasted, and God has his eye upon us, whether we are well or ill.