We Can Learn a Lot by Watching Nature
There’s a saying, it’s been around for quite a while, that idle hands are the devil’s workshop (sometimes play things is swapped in here). The exact origin of the saying isn’t quite known, but the phrase has stuck around for centuries. And it’s often taken the wrong way.
“Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.” Proverbs 6:6 ESV
Fortunately, we have many other sources of wisdom other than a vague notion that the devil is using our hands when we’re not doing anything else. Let’s consider for a moment what is meant by idle hands, the ant, and the art of being productive.
Go to the Ant
When we read Proverbs chapter 6, we come across some advice. I love the verse because it doesn’t sugar coat anything. It calls out the lazy people, and says, “Look, even the ants do better than you!” While most translations use the term sluggard, others say slacker, lazybones, or lazy man.
Some of us can relate to the ant, others to the sluggard, and most of us are somewhere in between. Let’s consider both extremes.
If you’re reading this, then you are most likely not a sluggard. These are the people who expect everything done for them. Their houses are a mess, they can’t keep a job, and they want to be spoon fed everything. You can probably picture them laying on the couch, belly hanging out of their dirty white t-shirt, the light of the TV flickering and a cheap beer in their hand. If I just described you, then you may need to pause for some serious introspection.
On the other hand, we have the ant. Ants are all work and no play. From the time they wake, to the time they go to sleep, they are busy helping to build the colony. They gather food, tend to the young, dig tunnels, and toil away. The result is that they have a fully functioning colony that seamlessly works for the greater good of everyone.
Both lives sound terrible. On the one hand there is no ambition, dirt, disease, and laziness. On the other hand there is no joy, no leisure, and nothing but work.
Fortunately, the Bible doesn’t tell us to be exactly like an ant.
Don’t be a Play Thing
As the quote suggests, we should avoid becoming a play thing for the Devil.
That doesn’t mean every waking moment must be consumed with work and toil. But it means that we should guard our hearts, and not allow ourselves to be caught up in bad ideas. When we are being lazy, or bored, that’s when the bad ideas slip in.
How many of us have been bored, and notions of fun creep in? Or at least they seem fun at the time. For instance, when I was younger, we decided it would be a good idea to go up onto the Rimrocks and light fires. Fortunately nobody was hurt, and no fires got out of hand. But in hindsight, if we hadn’t been idle, we wouldn’t have gotten into the mischief.
When we combine the two notions, being like an ant and not letting ourselves become the Devil’s play thing, we can reach a happy medium. We work hard like the ant so that we are prepared, productive, and our homes and lives flow seamlessly. We also have productive hobbies, and activities to fill the down time so that we don’t let ourselves slip off into boredom and make bad decisions.
How to be Productive
We want to avoid idleness. But we also don’t want to conflate being busy with being productive. That’s where organization, such as found in the ant colony, comes into play.
When we structure our lives, so that we have systems in place, we can avoid being idle, we can be productive, and we don’t have to feel busy. This means that we plan our work, plan our rest, and plan our day. When there is down time, we have go-to activities that enhance and encourage.
Do you want to let the beer belly grow, or create a life that seamlessly flows?
Go to the ant.