Ronald Rolheiser, in his book The Shattered Lantern, reveals a second factor that keeps most Westerners "busy and bored."

The first was narcissism.

The second is pragmatism.

Initially, I read that word and thought, What on earth is wrong with a little pragmatism?

As Rolheiser explains, the word pragmatism stems from the Greek word pragma, alluding to things like efficiency, sensibleness, and practicality. Sounds like a description of most Iowans I know!

In many ways, pragmatism is good. As my friend Karla might say, "Pragmatism gets shit done!"

According to Rolheiser, however, when it comes to creating a life beyond "busy and bored," pragmatism can have a dark underbelly:

  • In a pragmatic society, worth lies in achievement... [therefore] we feel good about ourselves only when we are achieving, producing, and contributing in a pragmatic way.
  • In a pragmatic society doing counts for everything, being counts for nothing.
  • When self-worth depends on achievement then very few persons are going to spend much time in prayer or contemplation [opening their lives to God] since these are by definition nonutilitarian, pragmatically useless, a waste of time, a time when nothing is accomplished.
  • Caught up ... in the efficiency demanded by a pragmatic culture, we most often end up like the persons who refused the king's invitation to come to a wedding banquet in Christ's parable. The persons who were excluded did not turn down the invitation because they were impious, irreligious, or morally lax... They simply never showed up, given that they were so busy buying oxen, getting married, and measuring land. In pragmatism [life with God] dies, not through badness, but through busyness.

Before reading this I did not realize how much I am driven by a pragmatic worldview.

My mindset skews this way:

When I am busy, effective, efficient and productive, then I am worthwhile and my life, my existence has meaning.

However, when I am at ease, unproductive, at rest or enjoying people or activities simply because I love them, I am unsure of my worth. I feel like I am getting away with something naughty and must make excuses for such behavior.

Thus, when I sit down to pray, read, or meditate I feel itchy and unsettled.

When I spend time pondering the meaning of life it seems like a shameful luxury.

When I read a book because it is gorgeous or intriguing I am tempted to hide the cover.

When I play with my dog, or plant beautiful flowers, as opposed to vegetables ...

When I babysit someone's toddler, or take a nap, or go for a slow walk without any step counting ...

When I use my imagination to contemplate the teachings of Jesus, or chat with a dear friend ...

When I go on a vacation just because or take an hour or three to watch the sun set ...

It all feels unproductive. A poor use of my time. An epic failure of getting shit done.

But what priceless, rich, existentially beautiful things I will miss if I always bow to the god of pragmatism, rather than the Mystery that makes life on this whirling planet meaningful.

What a "busy and bored" life I will lead if I don't occasionally tell pragmatism to take a seat.

To occasionally say: "Hey pragmatism, you can go right on ahead and get shit done without me for now!

Because on this balmy, clear, night I am going to go sit outside and watch the moon rise and the stars begin to shine, just because I can!"