The Art of Wasting Time

A marble statue of a woman.

At present, I am reading through C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, a collection of letters written from the demon Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood about a man’s struggles with Christianity. Although I could continue writing this blog as if reading this was a very noble pursuit, I will instead admit that I am still working on the same three books I have been working on for the past several months.

I am ashamed, as a Ridgeview community member who loves and values reading, to admit this. However, I am committed to the lesson this particular confession contains, and will thus explain:

As a Ridgeview student, and even as a college student, my primary pursuit was learning. The novelty of that only strikes me now that I have worked full time for about eight months. Until May, I had the seventeen-year luxury of having prescribed reading and learning times. When eight hours a day are spent in academia, spending an hour or two watching videos or TV shows hardly seems like much of a detriment.

Youth educates people in the art of wasting time. There is, indeed, virtue in being more creative and less wasteful. But, when time is so plentiful, a few moments hardly seem indispensable. And, when most time is useful, flippant moments seem acceptable.

How many moments have we, young and old alike, spent disengaging and merely passing time? A moment in a college classroom tells you how adept young people are at a half-conscious habitual withdrawal. A glance around an auditorium of two hundred students will quickly reveal more than that many devices offering distractions not just from the learning itself, but from the time between classes. A waiting room at a doctor’s office shows tens of adults absentmindedly tapping at a game on their phone.

Upon reflection, I believe that technology has conjured one of the worst distractions:  the art of not simply wasting time, but of doing nothing. Perhaps this is not entirely a new problem. In the twelfth of The Screwtape Letters, I came across this passage: “The Christians describe the Enemy as one ‘without whom Nothing is strong’. And Nothing is very strong: strong enough to steal away a man’s best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why, in the gratification of curiosities so feeble that man is only half aware of them, in drumming of fingers and kicking of heels, in whistling tunes he does not like.”*

There is a special evil in being distracted by something that brings pure distraction rather than pleasure. That said, I would argue that some of the shows I watch have value, intellectual and otherwise. However, at what point do we keep watching not because we want to, but because we are attached to wasting time?

With this realization, my hope is not to cease wasting time, but to waste time more sparingly. As Screwtape chastises Wormwood, he remarks: “And now for your blunders. On your own showing you first of all allowed the patient to read a book he really enjoyed it and not in order to make clever remarks about it to his new friends. In the second place, you allowed him to walk down to the old mill and have tea there- a walk through country he really likes, and take alone.Were you so ignorant to see the danger of this?”**

Indeed, if we are to spend time, rather than waste it, we might receive goodness and joy rather than emptiness and guilt. So, may our students realize the great luxury of spending eight hours a day in something joyful and worthwhile. And, may our community members like myself  make time for noble pursuits rather than filling our time with nothing.

*C S. Lewis, The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics, pbk. ed. (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2007, Copyright 2002), 219-220.

**Ibid, 221.

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