I need a little niksenin my life, and I bet you do, too. And, no, that’s not a misspelling of “Nixon,” thank you very much.
Niksen is a Dutch word for doing nothing. It’s when you take a conscious stand against busyness and let your brain rest and recover. According to Olga Mecking in “The Case for Doing Nothing,” niksen “literally makes us more creative, better at problem-solving, and better at coming up with creative ideas” (The New York Times, April 29, 2019).
It’s hard to do nothing, because our brains and bodies are always doing something, even when we sleep. Psychologist Doreen Dodgen-Magee likens niksen to a car whose engine is running, but it isn’t going anywhere (idem). You set aside time where you have no plan other than to be. With burnout, anxiety disorders and stress-related diseases on the rise, intentional idleness might not be such a bad idea.
Sometimes we need to sit idly so we can think actively . . . and pray. But the idol of busyness keeps our thinking and praying at a minimum. We believe our busyness is a symbol of our status: the busier I am, the more important I must be. We want to prove our self-worth by the measurement of activity.
Nonsense. The busier I am may only prove I lack discipline and time management.
When I gave our church elders my sabbatical proposal, they responded with one critique: “Your proposal is too busy. We don’t want you coming back from your sabbatical more tired than before you left. You need to cut it back and build in times to rest.” Basically, they told me I needed to include niksen. I did, and they approved my sabbatical. And I am forever grateful for that gift of grace and that nudge for niksen.
Now, I’m trying to live that on a weekly basis. I’m trying to set aside one day every week for a sabbath. Shabbat, the Hebrew word for sabbath, means to cease, rest, desist. Or, as the Dutch would say, shabbat means niksen. I’m also trying to do a better job of implementing niksen on a daily basis, where I build into my schedule regular breaks. Studies have actually shown that regular breaks increase work performance and productivity (https://www.nature.com/articles/nn864).
I hope you will give yourself permission to take time each day to let your brain rest and recover, and a day each week to exhale the stress and inhale the rest. Put down your smart phone, close your laptop, turn off the TV, and idly sit so that you can actively pray.
“Come to me, all of you who are tired and have heavy loads and I will give you rest” (Jesus, Matthew 11:28, EXB).