What do you do when you can do nothing? Well… nothing! If you do nothing out of strength, that is good; but when you do nothing out of weakness, that is just more weakness. From my own bitter experience I have put together a couple of thoughts that may help. They are the following:

¨             If you feel stuck, if you feel that nothing you do has any significance, do something! Action has a way of waking us up. Clean the footpath, clean the car, clean the sink: just do something useful! Do something useful, however small - even brush your teeth! You will feel better; you will feel that you exist, and that your existence makes some sort of ripple in the world.

¨             The only way to do something is to begin to do it! A friend of mine, a very bookish man, took up meditation. On the very first evening the teacher began to teach them some simple physical postures - simple in themselves, but difficult for my friend, who was, as I said, a bookish man. All the others were making painful efforts to assume a particular posture, but my friend just sat there making no effort at all. When the teacher came around to see what was wrong, my friend launched into a complicated explanation why he was doing nothing. "I am only a beginner, you see!" he explained. The teacher suddenly gave him a powerful thump on the back and shouted, "Begin then!" It makes perfect sense: if you are a beginner, begin!

¨             After you begin how do you continue? "The work will teach you how do it," said the wise one. You don't need to see all the way to end; just begin and you will soon know all you need to know. I knew a man who needed to be able to speak French. He said to himself (being very logical), "First I must learn it." He set out to learn it from books, missing hundreds of opportunities to speak it (he was in a French-speaking country). Of course he never did learn it, because it is by speaking it day after day that you learn it - ­which doesn't seem so logical, but it's the only way that works. It is like learning to ride a bicycle, or learning to swim. It is by doing something that you learn how to do it.
¨             It doesn’t matter if you do it badly. We have a saying, "If something is worth doing, it's worth doing well." Right! - but somehow it doesn’t give me any encouragement; it suggests a schoolmaster standing over me and criticising my efforts. G.K. Chesterton, who loved to turn things around, said, "If something is worth doing, it's worth doing badly!" Better than not attempting it at all! At least I will learn something from the effort. All the most important things we do, we learned to do by doing them badly! How did you learn to walk? By walking badly. How did you learn to talk? By talking badly. How did you learn to dance? By dancing badly at first. Then you improve by keeping at it.

¨             It you try to be completely balanced you will never do anything. To do anything at all is to be a little unbalanced; it is to come down on one side; it is to choose. If you are not convinced of this try walking without waddling to one side or the other. That will teach you that you have to be a bit unbalanced if you want to do anything with your life or anywhere. You can be perfectly balanced when you are doing nothing; but if you decide to do something, be prepared to be unbalanced, prepare to take a risk.

¨             If you are waiting for conditions to be exactly right, you will be waiting forever and you will do nothing. You yourself are imperfect: how could you perform a perfect action? Your perfectionism is likely to be only an excuse for doing nothing; your contemplated action is just too perfect to exist, too perfect for this world. Come down here to earth and join us!
Centuries ago there was a guild in London called the Annaburg Clockmakers' Guild. Like all guilds in those days it regulated the lives of its members in ways unthinkable in a modern trade union. There were strict rules of behaviour. In regard to violence between members of the guild there was an amusing rule in two parts: (a) If a member struck another member he forfeited a week's pay; (b) if member made to strike another member but missed he forfeited two weeks' pay! See? The mind of a clock-maker! For such a person, failing to be accurate is the bigger fault!

¨             How do you feel when you fail at something? Rotten? But maybe it was a blessing that you failed! Can you not imagine future circumstances in which you will be thanking God that you failed in some venture? Imagine all the wonderful things that happened because someone missed a bus or lost a wallet or failed to convince his wife about something…. Imagine all the great discoveries that happened by accident.

Good luck!


Donagh O'Shea

These are brief articles, one per month,
on a wide variety of topics concerning the living of the Christian life.