Sometimes You Do Nothing

You can count on this: If it’s a horribly hot day—or a bitter cold day—our public library will fill up. With people who are unhoused. With those who have nowhere cool (or warm) to escape to.

That Wednesday was our most extreme weather day yet. I stopped by the library to grab a book, eat some chocolate, and drink a Diet Coke in between errands in town. You have to go to the lounge on the 2nd floor for that.

I’ll tell you what to expect on the 2nd floor of the library: the unexpected.

God was already up there. I knew that. (Where people are, God is.) All manner of people were gathered around the wooden tables sitting in the plastic chairs.

The only person in the room that you’d label conventional was the Coke machine guy doing his restocking.

  • At the closest table to the door were two loud Black brothers talking random things—“Yeah, he tries too hard to be ghetto.”
  • Another table held a disheveled white guy with a tiny Black woman, maybe 19. I’ve seen her around, usually with a different guy each time. As hard as it is be an unhoused man on the streets, it’s even harder to be a woman. Women sometimes find a guy to be their covering, but I’d seen and heard stories of how “helpful” that could be. My heart went out to this girl.
  • A third table held a man in his 40s with a half loaf of bread. He was making a sandwich, muttering under this breath all the while. I could tell he was agitated.

Finally the man making the sandwich could take no more.

“Excuse me,” he started talking with an edge to the Coke machine guy. “There are some people here using crass language and they need to stop. Will you handle that?”

I looked up. What would the Coke guy do? The two men by the door just laughed. I assumed they were the ones being accused of the language.

The poor Coke guy.

He glanced up, barely, and muttered some response. Not much. He sped up his work and got out of there fast.

It crossed my mind to leave, too. I didn’t mind hanging out there, but I didn’t want to get caught in the midst of a brawl. Not prepared for that. Ever. But I stuck around anyway.

What happened next?


The white guy with the girl stood up and stretched. The Black men kept talking, laughing. The sandwich guy kept eating.

I finished my Coke, folded up the other half of my Dove bar for tomorrow, and walked back into the world of books.

Just as God had gone in first, I knew God would stay to the last. That’s what God does. God is always present.

And God likes it when we are present too. If God needs us to do more, God will let us know. And if we’re paying attention, we’ll act on that knowing.

So why had I been at the library that afternoon? No idea. Maybe just to observe. Maybe for someone else to observe. Like many other places I’ve found myself the past few years, I’m just showing up. Once I’m in, if God wants more from me, I’ll find out about it then.

And if not, so be it.

I’m finding contentment in just showing up with God. Stopping my overanalyzing. Releasing my hyper-responsibility to figure things out.

We don’t have to understand all we see. We don’t have to actively achieve something in all we witness.

Sometimes the most important thing we can do is just be present. Trust God to be present, too.

Presence was enough that day in the library.

Image: Sometimes you do nothing

* * *

When have you found doing “nothing” was the right thing to do? Please share in the comments.

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67 thoughts on “Sometimes You Do Nothing

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I think we all tend to worry about that from time to time, but we are free to rest in Christ’s finished work on the cross. Preaching to the choir. 🙂 Thanks for all you do too to remind us to stay focused on Jesus, Mari-Anna.

  1. Etta

    Oh Lisa, I’m so glad you mentioned this today. I think sometimes we are so concerned Jesus is to use us at every moment that we forget to just sit still. Like you said maybe we are to just be observed by those around us, to be available if they approach us.
    Wonderful insight on this Lisa – keep being there in the “Now”.
    Blessings over you, my friend!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Staying in the “now” is going to be a challenge this year, I already know it. 🙂 But yes, often we just need to be present and sit still. That’s enough. Thanks for stopping in, Etta.

  2. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

    Doing nothing? Last night, actually. My beloved old Lab got bloat, and all I could do was watch him die.

    Getting him to the vet was a nonstarter. He was too far gone, and we live on a dirt road, so the ride would have killed him anyway.

    This morning I buried my best friend, and a part of me went with him.

    Normally I would be all afire with philosophical gleanings. Having watched the gentlest soul I have ever met die in pain, I don’t think I can to that.

    This SUCKED.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Aw, I am so sorry, Andrew. This is a great example though of how doing “nothing” (although sitting with your friend was “something” big!) was the most loving thing you could do. Jostling him around to go to the vet might have made us as humans feel better (I’ve got to do something!), but it wasn’t in his best interest. You did good, even though it hurts.

  3. TC Avey

    Thanks, I needed to read this.
    Often I think I have to rush in and help but God is showing me that that is not always the case.
    But I find it so hard to not interject or try and fix things….

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Isn’t that a common problem we all have? 🙁 We think God *must* need us to do something. Glad he continues to show us otherwise. He’s a powerful God with or without our *help*.

  4. Kelly Chripczuk

    I really appreciate this perspective, Lisa.
    “We don’t have to understand all we see. We don’t have to actively participate in all we see. Sometimes the most important thing we can do is just be present. ” I too am recovering from a overly heightened sense of responsibility, learning to hold things more loosely. This has been my stance at our church for some time now as my hands are so full at home. It’s been a good lesson in the meaning of the word “witness” which I think, as you suggest, has a lot more power than we give it credit for. Thanks for linking with Small Wonder.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      It’s just so hard at times to find that balance though, isn’t it? So thankful when God gives us clarity and peace as we work it out. He’s good. Thanks for bringing positive words here, Joanna.

  5. Beth (@SimplyBeth3)

    This really hit home, Lisa. I’m not even fully sure why. “We don’t have to understand all we see. We don’t have to actively participate in all we see. Sometimes the most important thing we can do is just be present.”
    It’s kind of freeing, isn’t it? That we don’t need to understand it all? I took a deep sigh of relief right now. Thank you for that. Blessings. xoxo

    1. ~ linda

      “This really hit home, Lisa. I’m not even fully sure why.” This is great, Beth. I feel the same and don;t quite understand the why of it, but I just love the post.
      ~ linda

    2. LisaNotes Post author

      Isn’t it crazy when something hits us so strongly? I find that often myself when I’m reading someone’s blog, and out of the blue–whammo! God just let’s me know it’s meant just for me for such a time as this. I’m glad this simple message was a breath of freedom to you.

  6. melody

    Sometimes I feel like if I don’t jump in and help the situation that it will just all fall apart. I need to be a better listener to His voice and know He’ll make it clear when my involvement is what he’s asking for. Love these words of wisdom today.

  7. Natalie

    Oh, Lisa. This was an encouragement to me to hang in with being uncomfortable places. After a lotta years of working with adults and children in social services, my eyes and ears are sensitive to the people in need and I am overwhelmed by all there is to do. Sometimes my sensitivity to the vile way that one person sometimes speaks to another has left me unwilling to set foot in a store. I’m getting better about that–about looking for the way I am supposed to help, about being willing to be uncomfortable. So your words– Sometimes the most important thing we can do is just be present–help me.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’d love to sit and pick your brain, Natalie, about the lessons you’ve learned through the years. I can get easily overwhelmed with just a few friends who are exceptionally needy. But yes, we do need to be able to stay even when we’re uncomfortable. My eyes have often been opened to more clarity in snippets of real-life situations than in hours of Bible classes I’ve sat in….

  8. ~ linda

    I love this whole post! Just observing and checking out the best and the other best!

    “Over-analyzing….” Oh, I am so good at that!! And letting God be the doing and being and sometimes, sometimes, He is all the world needs at that moment and He will use us later with the observations we made when we let Him go in first and leave last. Much to ponder!!
    I really LOVE THIS post, Lisa!
    Caring through Christ, ~ linda

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thank you so much, Linda. As a caregiver, I know you’ve experienced so many times where you can’t “fix” the situation but you just stay in it anyway. Blessings to you for all you have done and do! You’re a wise and caring woman.

  9. bluecottonmemory

    Right now, I’m letting one son move out, just like his brother did a few years ago – and I’m trying to say nothing, walking in faith that experience will shepherd him more than my logic. I’m letting God go with Him – and it’s hard, but experience has taught me to take my hands off and let God! Sometimes intentional “nothing” is the biggest thing of all! Blessings to you, Lisa!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      You’re a courageous mama. And a loving one. Sometimes it takes more love to sit still than it does to chase after. I know you’re a woman of praying and of listening to God, so I know God will be faithful to keep you and your son in his hands. You’re inspirational.

  10. Jody Collins

    Lisa, this was a great post! I’m getting better at doing nothing (which just sorta goes against all our good Christian ese upbringing). But I’m learning from our home group leader who is a dear friend, when there’s something going on, just pray, “Jesus what are you doing here? Expect Him to tell you. Or not. And if He does, ask Him, “Am I supposed to come alongside in this right now?”
    And maybe the answer will just come back as ‘be there’ not ‘do something.’

    Well said, friend.

  11. Janis@Heart-Filled Moments

    Wow, Lisa! I’m still contemplating this one. Everything in me says, “I need to do something if God brought me into this situation.” I always feel like I have failed if I walk away without doing something. But there are times where I am too afraid to do anything–like asking those men to quiet down.
    I like what Elizabeth said above. That this post teaches her to have her eyes and ears more open to God in situations and listen for what He is directing her to do or not to do.
    I’ll be thinking about this for awhile.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      We overstress ourselves, don’t we? Always thinking we need to do, do, do, when sometimes God just wants us to simply be. Sigh. Thankful that he’s so patient with us! 🙂 I appreciate your words, Janis.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      True. 🙂 There have been times in years past when I would have peeked in, and not even stepped in, after seeing who all was in there. So yes, I at least did *something* by going in and staying.

  12. Jennifer Frisbie

    I loved your words, Lisa. This was incredibly thought provoking. I, too, feel the need to overanalyze and determine my reason for being in certain circumstances. So often I will even avoid a situation out of fear that maybe I WILL have to step in – unprepared and unequipped. I realize now how absurd that sounds. I know that if He needs me to intervene He’s also going to equip me with the steps to take in which to do so. I truly loved this post – thank you for sharing!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I relate exactly to what you’ve said, Jennifer. I can EASILY avoid a situation altogether if I fear I won’t be able to do anything in it. But we’re right to trust to that God WILL prepare us for whatever he wants us to do, and maybe not until that exact moment. It’s a great leap of faith that I want to make more often. One jump at a time….

  13. Joanne Viola

    Lisa, the post may have been written a few years ago but it still makes such a good point. We don’t always have to do something. Sometimes remaining quiet is what we are to do. Let a comment hang in the room or in the air and let the comment do all the work 🙂

  14. Jean Wise

    wow you brought me right into this story. What an observation and witness. But I do need to know your secret – you can stop at eating only half of a dove bar? wow, that is self control LOL

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I have been hoarding chocolate since I was a child (so they say). lol. But not to worry–it eventually ALL gets eaten. I just spread it out over time. 🙂

  15. beth willis miller

    Joanne, you described the situation with such warm specificity, I could practically taste your Dove bar! Yes, I have been in a similar situation, and I believe you are right. We are all image bearers of our Heavenly Father, and the Holy Spirit goes with us wherever we go. Sometimes, just being there with the peace that passes all understanding is the best thing for the situation. Many blessings to you!

  16. Sarah

    Lisa, Thank you for this reminder of priorities and expectations. My priority needs to be our Lord and my expectation to follow him, not fix the world or be comfortable. Sometimes showing up is the first step and sometimes it’s the only step.

  17. Lea @ Lea's Menagerie

    Each morning I ask God to give me a nudge in the right direction if an opportunity to speak up presents itself during the day. Sometimes He does, and other times He doesn’t. And I am content to leave the decision in His hands.
    Have a blessed day!

  18. Carlie

    Lisa, this post about doing nothing is making me think about so many things. But a key takeaway for me is to keep showing up for God and be so in touch with Him that I will know when He wants me to act or simply be present.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, to keep showing up, again and again, is such an important thing to do–we don’t give God enough credit to work through our presence together. It’s valuable!

  19. Maryleigh

    Just show up – I’ve been thinking about those exact words for quite a whole, months and months! This is what I’ve discovered – if you don’t show up, you can’t move forward. Problems can’t be solved; challenges can’t be overcome. Lives can’t be changed, including your own, if you don’t show up! I’m glad you did!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thanks, Maryleigh. The past few years I’ve felt God wanted to use “just show up” as an important mantra in my life. It’s put me in some unique situations that I might not have appeared in otherwise! 🙂 But that’s been a good thing.

  20. Deborah Rutherford

    Lisa, I never knew a library these days could be so interesting! I love how you knew God was present at the moment and took you along to be present at the moment. It’s important to experience how other people are living. Also that we are not always called to do something but to be present. I think I will go visit my library.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Our library has become more and more interesting as the years go by. 🙂 Or maybe I’ve just learned to wander around it a bit more. lol. Hope you have your own adventure soon in your library, Deborah.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thanks for stopping by, Laura. Being present and paying attention sound so easy when I say them aloud, but they can be amazingly difficult for me to put into practice on a regular basis! 🙂

  21. Paula Short

    So beautifully spoken Lisa. This >”And God likes it when we are present too. If God needs us to do more, God will let us know.” Is so true. All’s we need to do is show up, he’ll take care of the rest.
    Thank you again for linking up with Sweet Tea & Friends this month.

  22. Wemi Omotosho

    A beautiful piece. This touched me and is helping to release me from my “hyperresponsibility” and “overanalyzing”. “Sometimes the most important thing we can do is just be present. Trust God to be present, too.”

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