Wasting Time on Purpose


“Community, I am beginning to understand, is made through a skill I have never learned or valued: the ability to pass time with people you do not and will not know well, talking about nothing in particular, with no end in mind, just to build trust, just to be sure of each other, just to be neighborly. A community is not something that you have, like a camcorder or a breakfast nook. No, it is something you do. And you have to do it all the time.” – Wendell Berry

I have a good friend who had devoted his life to reconciliation between murder victims’ families and murderers. One day we were talking about the difficulties of explaining our work to other people, and he said, “Some people just have a hard time understanding that this work isn’t supposed to make sense.” We laughed, but I knew exactly what he meant.

When we say that something makes sense, we mean that it fits into categories we already have. When I tell people I run a ministry for people who are experiencing homelessness, they often reply with, “So, tell me about your shelter,” or “So you help people get jobs?”. Because the categories they have in their head around homelessness say that people experiencing homelessness need housing or they need jobs, and that to provide those things is what it means to work with this population.

So when I tell them that I do neither of those things, but instead I build community – they don’t really know what to do with that. It is often so hard to explain what it is I do, exactly. I mean, people understand the pastor thing, and that I preach once a week, and that we share food on the weekends. But honestly, that is like 20% of my time.

Most of my day consists of chatting with people, listening to stories, telling stories, asking if I can sit next to someone, laughing at bad jokes, telling worse jokes, eating donated fruit with Paul, hearing Dennis’ newest conspiracy theory, visiting Nancy in the hospital, or visiting Karen in jail.

In other words, most of it is wasting time.

And that is OK. Because that doesn’t interrupt my work.

It actually is my work.

Because my job is to build community, and while the marks of community are that we eat together, we celebrate together and we mourn together, community is built when we waste time together.

So that is what we do. We waste time chatting with and listening to people that we don’t know well, building trust, making time investments, being neighborly.

It is nothing, really.

But it is also everything.


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