When I was in college, I played the viola in the orchestra for three years. Our orchestra had excellent wind and percussion sections, since the band program was strong, but most of us in the string sections had been on our third or forth instruments a couple of years, so we had a great challenge to overcome. Our director encouraged us to keep working and challenged us to practice more in this way: “I don’t want your study time, I don’t want your sleep time, I don’t want time you have to spend doing the necessary things in life. I want your goof off time.” We did and we got somewhat better even though we weren’t ready for Carnegie Hall. Orchestra was enjoyable in spite of our limited talent and expectations because we were able to put enough goof off time in to make it a great experience.
Does goof off time get too high a priority? Depends on who you talk to. Rest and recreation are necessary, but just as we have to keep up with our basic needs during the summer like eating, sleeping, family time and personal care, we have to keep working on our faith needs whether we’re on vacation or not. God is the giver of all time, and we sometimes forget that. God does not take time away from us when we invest it in him. There’s a lot of things we need to unplug from when we rest, but it really isn’t possible to unplug from God: we may think we are, but God’s always plugged into us whether we’re aware of it or not. We may not always be working, but we’re always the people God created us to be, and God is in our Being, not our Doing.
That’s not to say we have to be focused on task all the time; spirituality shouldn’t be a chore. Some of our most powerful experiences with God can be in unfocused time. Spiritual growth isn’t just a matter of developing a prayer “to-do” list or a set of criteria to see how successful we are as Christians. God works through us in spurts: sometimes we feel the thrill of the Divine Presence all around us, sometimes we don’t. Motions of prayer can run hot and cold, and sometimes we feel an emptiness when we try to approach God. It’s nothing to be frightened of, it’s just something we need to be ready for, and walk through the highs and lows while seeing the special grace each has to offer us.
Making time for God, whether we’re at work, play or whenever is about making space for God and being open to God. Perhaps it’s better expressed as having an openness to God’s presence all the time, something we’re aware of but not concentrating on. It’s about being present to the moment, whether we’re engaged in something complicated or something simple. It’s about dedicating time to say specific prayers, go to worship, receive the sacraments, help people in need, and in that time, out of the corner of our eye, we see the face of Christ smiling at us.
Like learning a new instrument, it’s about spending time, time to make the music part of our soul. There’s technique involved, but the technique fades once the song becomes part of us, and when we’re really good, there’s no way to do it wrong it’s so natural. Perhaps that’s the best way to look at the practice of Faith: it should be so much a part of us, we don’t have to think about it or how we’re doing it. When and if we get that far, it doesn’t matter whether we’re in work time, goof off time, or whatever: we’ll always be making music.