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The art of stopping

How good are you at doing nothing? Better or worse than other people, would you say?

South Korea’s annual Space Out Competition challenges competitors to zone out for 90 minutes. Just stare into space. Fall asleep, and you get disqualified. Your pulse is checked regularly; the contestant with the most stable heart rate wins.

The event was started in 2014 as a response to the tyranny of productivity – our inability, to the point of burnout, to ever really switch off. This year, Space Out seemed more necessary than ever. Many participants found themselves with more free time during the pandemic, but struggled to translate that into actual rest.

There’s an irony, of course, to making a contest – an achievement – of doing nothing. It’s the same with meditation apps that track and reward you for reaching your mindfulness “goals”. Or reading about the benefits of boredom for the brain and then developing a program for being bored as effectively as possible.

As someone who prays, I find this a constant battle. To sit down each morning and bend my attention to an unseen God, to praise and debrief and plead with him, feels … inefficient. What do I have to show for it? What could I have ticked off my to-do list instead?

Jesus said, “When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

Prayer is not a performance; it’s not for measurement. It is a space apart from the pressure to optimise, in which to be, and to be loved.

The paradox? If prayer truly is time spent with the Creator and Sustainer of the world, nothing else I do today could have a greater impact.