Help me do nothing at all

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I still have my “Calvin and Hobbes” comics from my childhood. Now, I enjoy reading them out loud to my young sons before bed. If I had been asked as a boy, I would have said that I read them just for fun, not to learn anything!

But the other night, I flipped open to a comic at random and discovered a spiritual lesson.

In the first panel, Hobbes the tiger lies in the grass with his back against the trunk of a tall tree. Calvin walks up and asks, “Whatcha doin’?” Hobbes replies, “Nothing.”

The next panel illustrates Calvin, a bit bewildered, who wonders, “Nothing at all?” With his eyes closed in relaxation, Hobbes answers, “Nope.”

In the final scene, Calvin sits down next to Hobbes and mimics his comfortable pose against the tree trunk. He says, “I’ll help.” And Hobbes responds with a big smile, “Please do.”

Don’t misunderstand me: I value hard work. I want my three kids to put effort into their schoolwork as well as extracurriculars. As part of our family’s resolutions, each one of them has to try a new thing — something that he or she has never done before. It can be a sport, a musical instrument or other activity. And each child makes his or her own choice. They don’t have to play baseball or ukulele like their father. They don’t have to take yoga lessons or run races like their mother.

Though I ask each one of my kids to take up a new activity, I am aware of the danger of overscheduling. It’s not only stressful on caregivers to schlep them from place to place, but children need downtime to explore their own creative energies. I was reminded of this need during the week after Christmas when my children spent hours playing with empty cardboard boxes that had contained their presents. From these discarded materials, they constructed suits of armor and built a rocket ship.

Bill Watterson, the creator of “Calvin and Hobbes,” wrote, “There’s never enough time to do all the nothing you want.” By “nothing,” I believe the cartoonist envisioned a definition of play as any activity that doesn’t have a measurable goal. That’s not the stuff of a new year’s resolution … or is it?

This year, I resolve to do more of nothing. Part of this involves taking time to relax and recharge. But another one of my goals is to make time to play. I am committed to driving my children to their activities and supporting this structured time. I also want to follow their lead and do things just for the fun of it. To look at a cardboard box and think of space travel!

I mentioned that, as a child, I did not read “Calvin and Hobbes” for spiritual teachings. But, thinking of the boy and his stuffed tiger under that tree, I’m reminded of ancient wisdom: “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10) Not “be busy.” Not “be productive.”

Perhaps being still is less of a resolution and more of a prayer: Help me to do nothing.

Andrew Taylor-Troutman is the pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church. His newly-published book is a collection of his columns for the Chatham News + Record titled “Hope Matters: Churchless Sermons.”


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