There is a term I hear regularly among college chaplains called “loitering with intent.” With so many students and so little time, it is a practice which most of us find remarkably difficult but undoubtedly necessary. Intentional hanging around, it seems, is the best formula for building relationships. For instance, only yesterday I was standing idly on the men’s floor of the residence wondering where I should look for the cleaning staff next when I suddenly found myself in a conversation about gaming and anarchy with two students I had never even seen before. A few minutes later, politics turned into sharing experiences of privilege and childhood abuse.
The young men laughed at the idea that three introverts had stumbled into such a full conversation, but I realized that those kinds of conversations are unable to take place without the practice of presence. As we stood there together, sharing laughter and our deepest convictions, I kept fighting an almost physical compulsion to hurry back to the office. “I’m wasting so much time here!” I thought to myself. “I haven’t even finished my email for today and I have three services I should be working on!” I had to laugh at myself for thinking it was a waste of time to do the very thing I’ve become a chaplain for: being present to walk alongside young people as they wrestle with the big questions of life.
On my way home from work, I began to wonder what it would look like to loiter with intent in our own lives. What if I intentionally “hung out” with myself on occasion just to see what happens, to be present for the things that matter to me most rather than rushing through my days checking my metaphoric email so intently that I don’t remember why I’m here in the first place?
As I’ve mentioned, the monastic practice of being present to each moment as it presents itself does not come easily to me. I come from strong Anabaptist stock which had the idle hands bred right out of it! Yet this makes it all the more important for me to loiter intentionally, so I’m looking ways to build “loitering” into my regular routine. For example, the biggest waste of time in my life (apart from sleeping!) is taking the bus, but it is also the only time of day when I am required to sit still and either watch the world around me or talk to God. I can’t read on the bus because I get carsick, so instead I find myself resting in a way which my spirit longs for but my brain deems unnecessary.
Another way I’ve started loitering in my life is taking time to sit at the table and eat dinner together with my roommate. Even when I lived alone I had the rule that I would not work or study over dinner, but that it would be set aside as a time of rest and refreshment. It seems to me that Jesus was the inventor of loitering with intent, lingering as he did over meals with friends and strangers, wandering through the marketplace to see who would show up.
What amazes me, though, are the times that God shows up when I hang around doing “nothing.” God sends me hurting students, rest for my soul, and glimpses of the kingdom- all when I’m sitting on the bus in traffic! What about you? What ways have you learned to loiter in your own life in order to make space for connecting with God, with yourself, and with others?