I’ve realised that I am simultaneously both very good and very bad at being unemployed. I’m good in the sense I’ve managed to stretch my cash and food provisions beyond their logical limitations, despite not having a ‘steady’ income to comfortably support myself whilst I volunteer for 2-3 days a week at Trent Vineyard as part of its Discipleship Year.
I have shamelessly plundered left-over Church snacks and refreshments whilst making use of a presumably God-given ability to persuade other people to cook me dinner (feel free to do so people!)
Don’t get me wrong, I’m exaggerating. I’m not functioning on a ‘third world’ diet and I’m fortunate enough to be doing sessional work at Trent to make enough to get by for the moment, but in spite of numerous job applications and the odd interview I’ve managed to cobble together, I have been unable to find part-time work that manages to fully fill the rest of my week outside of DY.
This is where I have become painfully aware of my shortcomings in the midst of my lack of ‘contracted’ employment: I am kind of awful with how I use my free time. With at least 2 or 3 days a week where, at least at the moment, I am not obliged to be doing anything for the majority of them, I have found myself with a fair bit of free time on my hands, but rather than using it productively or in a way that is fulfilling, I have seen myself haemorrhage hour after hour by not doing much at all.
I’ve found myself drifting back into the mindset that I held as a student; just because I was ‘generally’ doing something (studying) I used that to justify the lack of productivity in the rest of my free time. Eight housemates across the course of two years will attest to my sometimes extreme levels of procrastination, a personal body clock that I systematically destroyed, and my tendency to drape myself across the sofa, belly partially out, whilst overly engrossed in my phone.
Although this led to some momentous achievements such as a high score of 115,492 on 2048 (CV worthy?), it has not been lost on me what else I could have done with my free time. I mean, for four consecutive Septembers now I have promised to myself that I will learn to juggle by the end of the year but I am still stuck at the stage where you tentatively chuck only a single ball from one hand to the other.
Now that I’m doing DY I am again justifying the way in which I poorly use my free time just because I am busy for at least half the week – doing something ‘generally’. I’m not about to dismiss the spiritual or practical value of rest, we all need to do it, sometimes we just need to lie down with the TV on, watching ‘Celebs Go Dating’ and speculating about whether Stephanie Pratt really believes Joey Essex is a compatible long-term partner. But our time ultimately belongs to God (Psalms 31:14-15), and the Bible clearly tells us that we need to be wise and make good use of it (Ephesians 5:15-17, Colossians 4:5), growing our faith and not side-lining it.
As such I’ve been challenged about how I use my free time. Why would I not use it to try and draw closer to God and deepen my relationship with Him? This was made a sharp reality for me at the recent Trent Youth Weekend Away, where after a conversation with one youth who has recently been particularly ‘on fire’ for God, we challenged/encouraged each other to read our Bible more regularly in our own time. This was only for him to tell me the following day that he had read the whole of Matthew that night whereas I had done jack-all, something which prompted a period of much vacant staring on my part.
I have great opportunities to strengthen my faith as part of DY, and I really value those, but I will always be limiting my faith to some degree if I only allow it to thrive in a Church-based environment. If I don’t include God in my free time then I’m unlikely to feel close to Him, or more attuned to what He’s saying, on a consistent basis.
In this sense, the lack of a contracted job filling Monday-Wednesday seems like a blessing in disguise as it has given me a greater level of flexibility in which I can better use the free time I have. With this in mind I want to shake things up a bit and become less lazy, I want to try and become better disciplined when it comes to how I spend my free time, because at the moment I occasionally feel like the ‘sluggard’ being addressed in Proverbs 6:6 (or as the God’s Word Translation puts it: a ‘lazy bum’).
I have tried to come up with ways in which I can better use my free time, and have landed on the following five areas: prayer, worship, reading the Bible, listening to podcasts, and relational time with others. Now I’m never going to be able to perfect any of these or dedicate all of my free time to doing them, but even if I can start to build them into my life as somewhat regular routines, making them habits, then that’s a win.
However, for someone like me for whom apathy comes very naturally there’s always the risk that I treat such a process as a chore. But I need to remind myself that it is a privilege. Trying to make my free time more God-centred shouldn’t be a legalistic thing, but something that is joyful as well as intentional. My free time should reflect the freedom I have to come before God and to experience His presence.
If I start to develop these routines and habits now, then I’m better equipping myself for the future. Laying foundations, sowing seeds, or whatever bit of Christianese you want to use, the fact is if we use our time well in the present, then we create more space for our faith to grow in the future, opening new avenues through which God will ultimately use us. As Jesus says in Luke 14:28 “suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?” How can I expect to grow spiritually or fully get hold of what God has planned for me if I don’t start preparing or readying myself now?
As I attempt to get better with my free time I also find the following verse in Ecclesiastes (3:1) helpful: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens”. It reminds me that there is a ‘season’ for everything, and that regardless of what it is God will use it for His glory.
As such, the ‘season’ I’m currently experiencing, whilst it may be one of less financial security or certainty, one where I may have more free time than I imagined I would because I’m not in a set job Monday-Wednesday, it is still one that can bear fruit. This is because God has afforded me more time in which I can invest in my faith, and created a context where I can step outside my comfort zone by having to more practically trust in His provision now that I’m no longer a student revelling in the wonders of a loan.
So hopefully over the next few week, instead of being in a vegetative state on my sofa when I haven’t got anything to do, I can pick up my Bible a bit more, or spend some prolonged time in prayer.
Or you can invite me round for dinner. Honestly, it would be my pleasure…
This post was written by Ed Earnshaw, my housemate and fellow DY-er. Sharing a flat with Ed, I’ve seen a lot of him over the period of time that he’s talking about in this post, and I love his honesty in sharing the challenges that he’s come up against. If you identify what he’s said and his words have helped you in any way, why not tell him by leaving a comment below?
If you have anything to share, then this is the perfect time to do it. As part of my Different Voices series I want people to share their experiences of God, life and faith just like Ed has here. Head to my contact page to get in touch and find out more!