Undoing The Doing

As I escape today to this surreal and sacred Kalein retreat deep in the Rocky Mountains called “Sanctuary“- attempting to center that mysterious and elusive place where body meets soul – the phrase that emerges from the noisy quiet is “Undoing the Doing.”

A lifetime of “doing” garners raucous applause from a Western world measured by success at all costs, but unfortunately, it gradually erases the “being” right out of our souls…and body.

Five of us gathered for conversation in a spacious but cozy downstairs room filled with aromatic white cedar and soft brown leather. The space naturally accentuated by floor to ceiling windows framing a painting composed by the master artist of snowy mountain peaks, verdant evergreens, rushing waterfalls and blowing snow. The snow and ice, though outside, seemed to freeze the moment in time. Aquinas might have described it as “proportio” or harmony.

All of us artists granted gifts beyond our deserving. All of us with lofty achievements gained from a lifetime of doing. All of us honestly (desperately, perhaps) searching for what it means to “be.”

As I facilitated the extraordinary and candid conversations, a phrase spontaneously came to me.

“Be alone in the being, not alone in the doing.”

When I speak of aloneness, it should be understood in the context of solitude – not loneliness. For most of us, we twist this idea into a real life filled with crowded being and lonely doing.


Because most of us have not been mentored and thus we lack the courage to face the trueness and wholeness of our being in solitude. Our lives have been filled with adages such as, “if you want it DONE right, do it yourself.”

Henri Nouwen says, “The question is whether we let our aloneness become loneliness or whether we allow it to lead us into solitude. Loneliness is painful, solitude peaceful. Loneliness makes us cling to others in desperation; solitude allows us to respect others in their uniqueness and create community.

Sometimes it seems as if we DO everything possible to avoid the painful confrontation with our basic human loneliness, and allow ourselves to be trapped by false gods promising immediate satisfaction and quick relief.

But what if the painful awareness of loneliness is an invitation to transcend our limitations and look beyond the boundaries of our existence.”

As my life coach once pointedly asked me, “What are you running from in all the doing?”

A life of doing and no being exhausts us and fills us with bitterness, cynicism and dangerous hostility.

We need to “undo the doing.” It is a painful and extremely counter-cultural process, but one that is absolutely necessary for our well-being.

What is one thing you could “undo?”

34 Responses to “Undoing The Doing”

  1. Amen Randy, I love it. We are human beings and yet so often we live our lives has human doings. Jeff and I close on our retreat cabin in November. It’s on two acres of land in a cove on Lake Hudson. I’m in love. And it comes with a smaller one room like house right at the end of the property that we plan to convert into a guest house.

    Now to your question, what is the one thing I’d like to undo? — Hero worship. Sounds silly when I think about it, but real nonetheless. God has opened amazing doors for me once I agreed to take my story from 12 step rooms to the church – and then I got to know everybody that he sent to teach me and suddenly I find myself overwhelmed with the thought of “oh my GOSH I can’t tell them THAT!” — “That” being stuff I’ve been sharing from a podium in other rooms since I was 14. ;-) workin on it.

  2. Randy, my undoing might appear to be backwards in relation to what you wrote, but here it is. Because of a lack of mentoring in my life my tendency is to not do. It’s probably based on lack of confidence and fear. Therefore, I must undo not doing.

    Thanks for sharing ideas from the retreat. In this way I can be there.

  3. I have always said that loneliness is our opportunity to realize our need for God and to have community with Him. He tells us to be still and know He is God. I was just laid off and really will be broke in a matter of days. Today I sat and had a pity party. Then I realized what a grand opportunity this is to really depend on Him and to have extended time with Him. I have been so busy going about the business of finding a job I have placed Him on the back burner. No wonder my faith is weak.

    Great post Randy.

  4. It reminds me of the two Martha’s one who was busy with all the preparing for the visit of Christ and not enjoying Christ visit. Are we to busy doing the work of God and not enjoying God wondrous works. I wish there was somethings that I could undo instead of doing… there is some doing that can be done going forward that I won’t have to undo later.

    Retreat for creative’s do creative’s need to retreat?
    I have been out of work… I need a vacation?
    Randy is this better then my last post?

    Living the Surreal life. Ted,

  5. One of the most valuable things in life is finding solitude with one self. People cannot understand how I can sit or lie starring at the ceiling or trees or sky or what have you for hours on end… it’s called “being” — peaceful soliditude!

    Happy you have that oppurtunity Randy to get away from all the business & be up in the mountains… one of my favorite places to be… mountains for some reason are just the perfect spot.

  6. Thoughtful post Randy. It is said in the Bible: “He created all things that they might BE.”

    We know that “God rested on the seventh day.” (Genesis 2:2). Indeed for us to follow His commandments we are also to respect the Sabbath….unfortunately very few people do.

    I have found resting on the Sabbath, truly resting, gives me the time to Be and this follows into the other six days of the week. In Hebrew it is said on the Sabbath was created ‘menuha,’ which means stillness and peace they say the Sabbath is therefore a place of still waters that
    soothes the soul.

    By respecting the Sabbath I can approach my work and everyday life with my motto: ‘Peace is found in creation.’ Meister Eckhart rather brilliantly put this slightly in a different way:- “Conflict of action, passion and motion are stilled.”

    In his book, The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man, Heschel indicates: “The Sabbath supplies the antidote to consumerist madness. It is designed for us to make friends again with time, to appreciate the ‘now’ when we are not begetting things or worrying or regretting, but simply being.” – Whilst written over 50 years ago, Heschel’s book can make you ponder over what may be missing in the busyness of modern life and return to being by respecting the commandment of the Sabbath – I strongly recommend it.

    Blessings and Peace.

    • @James Cohen, James, your comment is a perfect example of “the conversation following exceeding the blog post.” I am buying Heschel’s book the moment I finish typing this reply.

      All of your post is worthy of note, but this quote resonates throughout my soul:

      “I have found resting on the Sabbath, truly resting, gives me the time to Be and this follows into the other six days of the week. In Hebrew it is said on the Sabbath was created ‘menuha,’ which means stillness and peace they say the Sabbath is therefore a place of still waters that soothes the soul.”

      Thanks for enhancing our conversation.

  7. I would the last month.

  8. Powerful and compelling post, yet again, Randy.


  9. This is such a great post Randy. I’ve reread a few times since yesterday to let it settle. So thought provoking and TRUE. Two years ago I “was” that person filled with crowded being and lonely doing. God called me to step off of a very large platform so that I could hear Him calling me into rest and a new season. Most difficult yet rewarding step I’ve ever taken. I’ve learned to treasure solitude and seasons of quiet. This resulted in discovering “being”, discovery of community, and now having opportunities to pursue my passions like I would have never had. Pure. Fresh. Freedom. Fulfillment.

    Thanks for the post.

    • @Holly Newton, Holly, by changing your quote to read four instead of two years—I also could have written your words… “Two years ago I “was” that person filled with crowded being and lonely doing. God called me to step off of a very large platform so that I could hear Him calling me into rest and a new season. Most difficult yet rewarding step I’ve ever taken.”

      Thanks for joining the conversation. A pure, fresh, freeing and fulfilling comment!!

  10. Once again, this one hits home..If you follow my tweets, or my comments on here, you know I am a “doer”…I love the thrill of adventure and will spontaneously go wherever my hearts leads…However, this blog directly corresponds with my thoughts this week…

    I just got back from a week long adventure with two of my girlfriends…We had a wonderful time in Florida, and quite frankly, I need a vacation from my vacation!..ha!…But!, my first tweet Monday morning was this..

    “I spend so much time alone, that I have grown accustom to the solitude. It’s nice 2b home, in the peace & quiet, where I can think & dream…”

    There is a difference, for sure, to loneliness and solitude…Which you eloquently pointed out…In all of my adventures or even “stuff’ that I have..I have come to enjoy the mundane and at times long for it…Simply put, it’s “contentment”

    Now, as for the “if you want it DONE right, do it yourself”…Well, with two teenage daughters, that’s a whole other story…One that’s much too long to tell; and one I’m still working on *gasp*…LOL

  11. If there was ever a post that could literally look into my soul and my life situation right now and speak to it this is the one.


    I have gotten so caught up in my doing that I forgot how to just be. I equated attention of others and my need for it by what I can do. I do not understand what it means to just be a child of God, that is who I am, not all the work I do.

    I have struggled with this so much. The times that I am alone I am truly lonely and never allow those to be times of solitude, instead I fill that time with doing, listening, or reading from others (twitter, blogs, etc) and cannot truly be silent.

    In need of attention and affirmation I have let my work speak for me not my savior.

    And the struggle for me in all of this is that I do not know how to just be. All I know is that if I do the right thing, say the right words, and do good work things will happen, God will bless me.
    I am really discovering that my doing is not who I am and will only leave me empty.

    • @Kyle Reed, Wow, Kyle. Your entire comment is noteworthy and quotable, and this especially rings true to me personally, “I equated attention of others and my need for it by what I can do.”

      Thanks for your transparency…

  12. ‘Without silence, passivity, rest, man’s nature cannot be itself’ Thomas Merton

  13. could i just post the word “tears”?

    that is exactly where i am. i feel loneliness not solitude. i’ve always been a human doing. i get my strokes from people, and hence good feelings by what i do, not who i am. i recently mentioned to a co-worker, “i wish i could find a nice quiet place in town where i could just go and read, write and be.”

    i often wonder why “ministry” is so lonely.

    thanks Randy, the Nouwen quote was worth the price of admission.

    • @Chuck Harris, Okay, so Chuck, you just brought tears to my eyes as well with your candid honesty—and I can honestly empathize with your feelings.
      “I often wonder why “ministry” is so lonely.”

      • @Randy, Chuck, what a great question..I think even the Apostle Paul asked that very question..(btw, I am by no means a bible scholar and hope I can make myself clear)..Paul had many friends and I’m certain God knew he needed them dearly..But even the dearest of friends can disappoint..Paul writes of this in 2 Timothy 2-4…He even names, names..Though, in his loneliness and disappointment he finds solitude in Lord (2 Timothy 4:17-18)..Obviously there is a lesson that God wants us to learn about finding that peaceful place where we can commune with Him, alone…

    • @Chuck Harris,

      Chuck I think me and you are a lot alike. I struggle with the exact same thing, wanting to be known for my doing.
      Almost like you create and do to be recognized and in fact all it does is leave you more lonely then before.
      I empathize with you but also support you in this search to find solitude.
      know that you are not alone

  14. I have had a rough month creatively, spiritually, personally & physically. When I read this post all I could think of was ‘I want to undo it all.’ make sense? Every decision, every conversation, every gesture has left me numb & full of regret. So in undoing the doing, sometimes I think God puts us in a place where we want a mulligan, a do-over on almost a day to day basis. But I also kind of believe that taking mulligans every time something goes wrong, and we want to undo the doing so to speak, means we will never get to the green. We’ll always stay at the tee. My life has been like my golf game this month. I am in the rough all the time. But to myself I keep saying, “Out of the wreck I rise” and keep getting out my rescue clubs because truth is you can’t always undo the doing. You just work your way out of it.

  15. Love this post. To get approval from my dad I always wanted to DO everything for him, and not just do it but do it perfectly. Found out later it didn’t work. Whatever I did I didn’t get the attention and approval from him. And I still was not good enough and I ended up miserable. I had enough of it and started to change. He didn’t like it and if I wasn’t bad enough he started calling names. I don’t know how I did it but I just refused to believe him I was like that. Refusing what he said made me strong and believe I was good at who I was. I don’t know where I got it from but I told myself that I was worthy to be valuated and respected for who I was. Really! I think God was already in my life but I didn’t know it myself yet. Henri Nouwen knew what loneliness was and he also knew solitude. I’ve been lonely in a room full of people and in a room with no people. I’m so happy it’s not there anymore. Solitude. i believe I need sometimes solitude. Being alone in my own space. Really loved this post, Randy.

Created by Randy Elrod

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