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June 25, 2022
Author Portrait of Kirk H. Neely 2022

The Hebrew prophet of old declared, “Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength.” (Isaiah 40:31) Since March 2020, I have learned the truth of this passage again.

My cousin Candy Neely Arrington is a well-established Christian author. Her award-winning book, published this April, is Life on Pause: Learning to Wait Well. Candy rightly observes the impatience in our lives. “Life pauses seem negative, and we chafe at having our plans and pre-arranged schedules brought to a halt.” Then, she raises an important question, “But what if waiting is beneficial? What if pausing can ensure protection, provide time for preparation, or develop patience?”

One reviewer writes of this book, “I’ve waited for the dawning of a specific answer to prayer for five years now, and I don’t see even a glimmer of light on the horizon. This book mixed practical advice with soul-searching questions in my time of waiting that helped me so much.’”

Candy’s book is available through many reputable booksellers.

Dr. Eric Berne was a psychiatrist best known as the creator of transactional analysis and the author of Games People Play. Berne identified the various ways in which people spend time. One of those is pastimes. As defined by Berne, a pastime serves to make time pass agreeably, a pleasant means of amusement. A pastime differs from an activity in that a person is not emotionally invested in a pastime. For example, knocking a tennis ball around may be a pastime until you begin keeping score or working on your backhand. Then it becomes an activity.

According to Berne, we spend far too much of our lives engaged in activities. The Psalmist David said we need time for our “souls to be restored.” We need time for our engine to idle.

I heard a story about a big game hunter who set out on an African safari. He gathered all the needed supplies and employed a team of porters to carry the equipment into the interior of the Congo. His guide advised the hunter that they must reach and cross a river by nightfall because of the rising water. At flood stage, the river would become impassible.

The group broke camp at first light and pressed through the heat and humidity of the tropical forest. After traveling more than twenty miles, they arrived at the river and crossed to the far side ahead of the flood and nightfall. Porters set up camp. Cooks prepared the evening meal. The weary travelers slept through the night.

The following morning dawned sunny and bright. The hunter was ready to continue the journey. He instructed the guide to break camp and prepare to leave.

“Sir, we cannot travel today.” The guide said.

“Why not?” asked the hunter in a concerned tone.

“The men say they will not move today.”

The furious hunter demanded, “They will travel, or they will not be paid.”

“Sir, they will not travel today.

“And why not?”

“Sir, the men say they worked so hard and traveled so far yesterday that they must take a day to let their souls catch up with their bodies.”

We also need time to let body and soul catch up with each other.

The quest for simplicity is tedious. It takes time and requires difficult decisions. Try cleaning out that drawer where every odd and end, every broken part, even loose change accumulates. Then move to your calendar and begin thinking about which commitments are essential and which can be eliminated. Our lives so quickly become cluttered.

Dr. David Emory Shi is president emeritus at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina. He is the author of several books focusing on American cultural history, including the award-winning The Simple Life: Plain Living and High Thinking in American Culture. Dr. Shi writes, “Our current less-is-more impulse may have contemporary trappings, but the underlying idea has been around for centuries. From Puritans and Quakers to Boy Scouts and hippies, our quest for the simple life is an enduring, complex tradition in American culture.”

Shi finds that nothing is simple about our devotion to the ideal of plain living and high thinking. “Difficult choices are the price of simplicity.” Our efforts to avoid anxious social striving and compulsive materialism have been essential to the nation’s spiritual health.

The issue of spiritual health is at the heart of waiting and simplicity.

Waiting can become Sabbath time, an opportunity to ponder and reflect. At its best, it is the practice of the presence of God. It is praying with eyes wide open even amid the frantic activity swirling around us, the deafening cacophony of the world, and the distracting noise of our hearts. Spiritual guides like Roman Catholic monk Thomas Merton and Quaker friend Richard Foster call this attentiveness contemplative prayer.

An early Shaker tune puts all of this succinctly, ‘Tis a gift to be simple, ’tis a gift to be free.”   

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Rick Bragg writes a regular column for Southern Living. In the February 2012 issue, Bragg reflected on an obituary he saw in the Birmingham News.

Ellis Ray of Moundville passed away Saturday.

He was a loving husband, father, and grandfather

who loved to fish and piddle. He will be greatly missed.

The obituary prompted Bragg’s “Southern Journal” column, “The Fine Art of Piddling.” He calls piddling “The act of passing time, without waste or regret.” What Eric Berne called a pastime Rick Bragg identified by its more common Southern name, piddling. Piddling is not to be confused with work. It is not changing the furnace filter or sharpening a lawnmower blade. It is neither spreading mulch nor washing dishes. A person piddling never breaks a sweat.

Neither is piddling to be regarded as goofing off, killing time, or wasting time. It cannot be done kicked back in a recliner. It is a first cousin to puttering. While the Urban Dictionary ( gives other meanings for the word, in its purest form, piddling describes an integral part of our Southern heritage. Piddling is a cultivated art.

Piddling never involves a clock or a watch.

Piddling may require tools, usually no more than a pocket knife or a screwdriver.

Piddling is not on a To-Do list. It is never planned. As Bragg points out, we just meander into piddling.

I tried to think of some of the ways I piddle. These came to mind.

I sharpen the hooks on old fishing lures though I never intend to fish with them again.

I sort bent nails and old screws though I reach for a new one when I have a repair project to complete.

I doodle when I take notes. I usually end up with more doodles than meaningful words. Come to think of it, piddling may be a way of buying time rather than spending time. It keeps my hands busy while my mind is preoccupied with weightier matters.

For Christmas several years ago, our son and daughter-in-law enjoyed a lovely red cedar tree in their living room. After the holidays, their beautiful tree was laid to rest on the curb. One day while visiting, I noticed the discarded cedar. As we were pulling out of the driveway, I stopped, hoisted the tree, and threw it in the bed of my pickup truck.

When Clare asked, “Just what are your plans for that dead tree?”

“No plans,” I answered. “I just like the smell of cedar.”

I took the red cedar tree home and tossed it on the wood pile. Occasionally, I would cut a few dried branches off to use as kindling in my chimenea. Finally, nothing was left but the trunk.

When I had a little time to spare outside at night, I whittled on the aromatic wood. I singed the small loose shavings away from the trunk. Over time the cedar became smooth to the touch.

Clare wondered, “What are you making?”

“Nothing. I’m just piddling.”

One of these days, I’ll probably rub a little linseed oil on the piece of cedar. I already use it as a walking stick when I roam around the backyard. It is especially useful in steadying myself on uneven ground.

One night before the pandemic, I was out under a full moon. I walked down the railroad tie steps that descend the hill near our waterfall. In the moonlight, lying on the warm path, was a small garter snake. Using my cedar stick, I gently flipped the critter up on the bank under a hemlock tree.

Tending the geraniums on the front porch, Clare heard the disturbance and called out, “What are you doing?”

“Just piddling,” I said. “Just piddling.”

May I encourage you to pause, pray, and piddle?

It will be good for what ails you.


Some of the stories in this column will be in the forthcoming book

Splinters: Tales from the Lumberyard

By kirk H. Neely

Kirk H. Neely is a freelance writer, storyteller, teacher, pastoral counselor, and retired pastor.

He can be reached at

Over these past months, I have asked that we contribute to our local charitable agencies. Thank you for all you have done. I will continue making suggestions because I have learned that these nonprofit organizations are quickly forgotten unless they are called to mind. Please know that I respect your freedom to choose agencies that are meaningful to you. One way to measure the strength of our community is to observe how we respond to those in greatest need. Please continue with your kindness and generosity. This week, please volunteer, or donate, as you are able, to The Salvation Army, P.O. Box 172557, Spartanburg, South Carolina, 29301-0062, (800) 725-2769.

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