Holy Idleness

by Jeannine Biron

There is nothing like sickness to bring you down to earth. Last winter, when I was lying in bed with bronchitis, I had plenty of time to think.

It all started with a cough, and at that point I refused to admit to myself that I was sick. I was just afraid that my coughing during the night would keep everyone awake. (In Madonna House, we sleep in dormitories.)

So I asked the nurse to give me something to stop the cough. This helped at first; but then my cough got worse, and she told me to stay in bed.

I resented this. I was thinking that we have so much work to do and that the people I work with would miss me. I am so important!

But, in fact, not working makes me feel useless and lazy and no good. So I said to myself, “I’d better fight this thing by going to bed early and sleeping later in the morning instead of being in bed all the time.”

So I disobeyed the nurse. That was my pride. For a couple more days, I continued to go to work, and my cough and my sickness got worse. The nurse told me again to go to bed, and this time I did.

Then I got depressed. So I asked myself, “What do I do about this depression?” Letting it simmer will not help. So I decided to offer it to God and asked him to help me.

After about an hour, the depression lifted. I received the grace to accept my sickness, and the peace of God that surpasses all understanding (Phil. 4:7) came over me.

After that, whenever I started to feel depressed again, all I did was say the name of Jesus, and the peace returned. I asked God to show me his will and he did. I came to realize that his will for me, my duty of the moment, was to stay in bed.

I looked up “idleness” in the dictionary. According to the dictionary, idleness is almost a sin, akin to laziness. But that is only one aspect of it. Is there a “holy idleness,” I wondered.

Idleness or “inactivity, passivity, state of rest or quiescence, a kind of immobility” can be good or evil depending on how it’s used. A bedridden person like me has a choice.

I can rage against God, or I can praise and thank him for my illness.

Idleness is a crucifixion and it can be useful. It unites me to the sufferings of Jesus on the cross and has redeeming value. I can offer it in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass all over the world, I can offer it to Mary the Mother of God who will present it to her Son. I can offer my idleness and my suffering for others.

I think there is a holy idleness. It is resting in the living arms of God the Father and reclining on the gentle breast of Mary our Mother.

From Restoration October 2000