Alma counseled his son Shiblon to “refrain from idleness” (Alma 38:12). But he had just praised Shiblon for his “steadiness,” “faithfulness,” and “diligence.” Why would he give this counsel to a son who was clearly hard-working?
One possible answer: Shiblon was in a time of transition. He had just returned from a mission. Now, that period of intense focus was over, and it was time for him to establish new habits and goals. He would need to be more intentional than usual about how he used his time.
Another possible answer: maybe it’s possible to be both diligent and idle.
The word “idle” descends from the Old English word idel, which means “empty, void, vain, worthless, useless” (Online Etymology Dictionary).
When my car is idling, the engine is actually running, burning valuable fuel. It’s just not moving forward.
Human beings have a natural desire to stay busy. We don’t like to be bored, so we naturally fill our time with activities. Why are video games so popular? Because they engage our minds, reward specific behaviors, and give us the illusion of progress and growth.
Elder Quentin L. Cook once spoke of a young man who wanted to serve as a missionary, but whose daily activities were not moving him toward that goal:
He had not learned to work hard. He was not serious about school or seminary. He attended church, but he had not read the Book of Mormon. He was spending a large amount of time on video games and social media. He seemed to think that showing up for his mission would be sufficient.
Elder Cook then extended the following challenge to all of us:
I encourage everyone, young and old, to review goals and objectives and strive to exercise greater discipline. Our daily conduct and choices should be consistent with our goals. We need to rise above rationalizations and distractions (“Choose Wisely,” General Conference, October 2014).
I have found that, when I have something important but unpleasant to do, I can easily become very busy doing something else. Working hard on another activity can serve as a distraction from what I know I should be doing. When that happens, I am idling—burning valuable time and energy without making needed progress toward my most important goals.
Today, I will strive to engage fully in the most important activities. I will remember that working hard is not enough. To “refrain from idleness,” I will need to diligently work on the most important things.