Who AM I when I DO nothing? I don’t know whether most people ask themselves that question regularly. I do, but then I’m quirky. But I do suspect that in this time of COVID-19 quarantine, more people than ever before are being confronted by that question whether they like it or not.
In our culture, at least in The Before, most of us were so busy that it took a conscious effort to find a quiet time and space to sort out the Who Am I? question. We would answer the social query “How are you?” with “Busy” or “Kinda crazy right now.” Upon meeting someone, a common introductory gambit was “So what do you do?” We tended to fill our leisure time with Going Places and Doing Things–shopping, travel, dining, entertainment.
But now, for the first time in my lifetime, all of that Getting and Spending has hit a wall. Hit it abruptly. And hit it hard.
In this time, those of us who are working are faced with the Who Am I? question in a new way. Working from home, and having no distinct end to the day or beginning of the weekend, tends to force people toward the sad realization that life needs to be more than work and leisure. That I need to BE something that adds up to more than what I DO.
And if those questions are beginning to nag at people who are still busily employed, just think of the many, many people, who now no longer have much of anything to DO with their hours. Consider how profound the question becomes when it’s not just Who Am I? but Who Am I When I Don’t DO Anything?
All of a sudden, vast swaths of humanity are being confronted with this existential dilemma at exactly the same time. When I am stripped of all the things that make up my life–my job, contact with friends and family, social and religious outlets, hobbies and leisure activities, and, in some even worse cases, of my health, what is left?
Is there a self in there someplace? Or am I only the layers of an onion, peeled away one by one until there is nothing left?
In recent weeks, various Evangelical leaders have been in the news for refusing to stop holding services at their churches in defiance of government shut-down orders. Many have speculated on the reasons for this. Do they just want the money? Is it because they don’t believe in science?
I think the reason is simpler, and perhaps sadder than that. I suspect it is because many Evangelical leaders have never really answered the Who Am I? question in any deep way for themselves. They might claim to have answered it–A Born-Again Christian! A Child of God! Someone with a Purpose-Driven Life!
But even with these “right” answers, I suspect that, deep down, they still conflate who they ARE with what they DO. If their church is silent, if they are not “sharing the gospel” in front of people, they might have to face the fact that when they can’t DO anything for God, they know that there is nothing left.
They don’t know how to just BE. They only know how to DO. They have become human DOINGS, and not human BEINGS.
Full disclosure: I actually am very judgmental about religious leaders that make the choice to put their followers, and anyone who comes in contact with their followers, in mortal danger. Yet even so, I have to admit that I have struggled with some of the same issues that I suspect are propelling bad behavior in those leaders.
When I sit at home alone in my apartment for days, Who Am I? When I spend my time playing Sudoku or computer solitaire or working on a jigsaw puzzle instead of being “productive,” Who Am I? When there are howling unmet needs all around me, and I stay at home and do nothing about them, Who Am I?
Is just BEING enough?
I am told that it is enough for God. But is it enough for me?