Spiritual Dawdling

The opposite of seek is dawdle. To live aimlessly and listlessly.  (Eugene Peterson in As Kingfishers Catch Fire, p. 137).

Picture a three-year-old captivated by the world around her. Her eyes follow a squirrel scrambling up a tree. She bends over to pick a fistful of bright yellow dandelions. She turns to watch a musical ice cream truck rattle down the road, blaring circus music. She is trailing her mother who has a list a mile long to accomplish before lunch . . . and she is dawdling.

To dawdle means to hang back or lag behind, to take your time, to linger. Dawdle has an old-fashioned synonym: lollygag, which means fooling around or spending time aimlessly. My mother was in constant motion and walked fast enough to quickly leave us in her dust. She constantly said, “Quit lollygagging.” In our fast-paced world, dawdling or lollygagging may be beneficial for our mental and emotional health. Weren’t you charmed by the child who just couldn’t ignore squirrels and dandelions and ice cream trucks, no matter how impatient her busy mother was. Don’t you wish you had time to dawdle?

But when it comes to our spiritual journey, Eugene Peterson is critical of those who dawdle or lollygag. He encourages “seeking” instead.  Seeking is actively searching or hunting for something. It can also mean requesting or even entreating or begging.  Seeking is an active pursuit; dawdling is a passive response.  A dawdler drops in on God; a seeker never leaves God’s presence.

What does a spiritual seeker look like? He is someone who always has his face to God – listening, asking, conversing, thanking, collaborating – even debating. She sees life as a “with-God” experience, a “way of living life with God that will satiate us, consume us, and enable us to live ‘the life to which we are suited'” (Susan Green in the Renovare Weekly Digest for July 25, 2016). Seekers are looking for a life-long companionship with God, a “long obedience in the same direction” (Eugene Peterson’s definition of discipleship).  Seeking is more than Sunday services and occasional Bible studies. It is more than making church the center of our activities. It is a lifetime of  actively training to be an apprentice of Jesus. 

A spiritual dawdler adds a relationship with God to other pursuits, rather than pursuing God and working creatively with God in life’s activities. God is necessary, but mostly ancillary. A dawdler fits God in. I think that many churches encourage spiritual dawdling by offering a plethora of groups, dinners, events, celebrations, and service opportunities in place of a purposeful plan for the life-long experience of spiritual formation from childhood until old age.  These activities have their place, but they are not a substitute for a life-time of seeking to know our Creator. They also often create a busyness that masquerades as obedience.

The good news is that the Holy Spirit is in the business of turning a spiritual dawdler into a life-time seeker. We can believe God when he says, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). And then we can surrender our dawdling and lollygagging for a with-God life.

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