How to Waste Time Like a Saint

Categories: Features

Our common life as Dominicans follows a daily schedule of prayer and meals called an horarium, but that still leaves us with a lot of time left to plan on our own. How do we make the best use of that time for prayer, study, work, and recreation? One of the best time management tips I’ve read comes from Dorothy Day’s autobiography The Long Loneliness. She writes how – if you don’t have enough time to do what you need to do – then you should do what you can do well in that moment. If you have twenty minutes to write a sensitive e-mail, then stop. Don’t force what can’t be. Take those twenty minutes to pray a Rosary and come back to writing that e-mail when you can do it right.

This can be a helpful practice on a few different levels. For one thing, it’s a small act of trust that God will eventually provide the time that you need even if you’re intractably busy now. It also cultivates better presence of mind by setting boundaries on what you do at a given time, training you to focus more effectively. It even gives you an opportunity for some rest that you may not even realize that you needed. Yet, Day hardly proposes this as just another strategy for “work-life balance.”

If you can’t write a thoughtful e-mail in twenty minutes, then you certainly can’t bring about perfect justice and peace in one day. In fact, our tradition would have it that bringing about perfect justice and peace will take literally “all the time in the world!” Unfortunately, you’ll eventually realize that even your whole life isn’t enough time to make things right. In fact, this is a significant part of what disillusioned Day about the revolutionary socialists she knew in her early days. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI would later reflect in his encyclical Spe Salvi, it’s precisely our boundless confidence in our ability to achieve perfection in this world that leaves us so hopeless when we realize that we’ll never live to see that perfection.

Instead, our work in this world is inspired by our hope in the world to come, a world in which all work will be finished and our souls can rest in the undisturbed contemplation of God in all His glory. There’s real dignity in the struggles we take up in this life, but allowing ourselves these little breaks reminds us that our leisure time is not for the sake of making us better workers. Rather, we work for the sake of enjoying a more blessed peace.

Br. Philip Neri Gerlomes, O.P. | Meet the Student Brothers in Formation HERE