Leisure or Laziness?

“One does not work to live, one lives to work.”

This is a very common saying I’ve heard all too often, and sadly too many would agree. In a world of almost total work, I too have struggled with balancing work, family life and rest. Forever questioning whether I’m just being lazy and should be working harder because I can still see the sun is up! I recently read a book called, “Leisure: The Basis of Culture” by one of the most prolific twentieth century philosophers and writers, Josef Pieper. I want to share how this book has dramatically altered my way of thinking.

We have all grown up in a culture and society that worships work and money, even to the detriment of our most important relationships. We are often willing to place work ahead of our spouse, our children, our appreciation of the world around us and the things of God. Leisure is a most misunderstood concept today, but is the antidote to our workaholic society. Leisure is often seen as synonymous with being lazy or idle. I have often heard the phrase, “you can rest when you’re dead!” as though there really is no time to rest here and now. This mentality gravely misses the essence of leisure, and offends God greatly. After all, God thinks leisure is important. He taught us how to be leisurely and demonstrated what purpose leisure serves.

Leisure is the state of being receptive to the beauty of the created world.

In Genesis we read that God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. This is something I always missed that Josef Pieper helped me see. After the fifth day, God pauses… to take delight in his creation! “And God saw that it was very good” (Genesis 1:25). After the sixth day, the day he creates man, the high point of his creation, “God saw everything that he had made and behold it was very good” (Genesis 1:31 emphasis mine). Leisure is the rest required to absorb the beauty and appreciate the wonders of the created world, given to us by our Creator. If even God, who made everything from nothing, pauses to appreciate his own creation, how much more should we pause to enter into a silence of contemplation, wonder and praise to God for the world he has given us?

Pieper warned the twentieth century that if the concept of leisure were not recovered, we would destroy Christian culture and ourselves. Sadly this was prophetic. Leisure provides a space for philosophy, for silence, for contemplation and appreciation. Leisure is not sitting on the lounge watching TV for hours on end. That is laziness. Leisure is an activity. The state of leisure Pieper says is an attitude of the mind and a condition of the soul that fosters a receptivity to both physical and spiritual realities. One of the reasons our mainstream society has rejected God, is because we are too busy for Him. We don’t have the time to contemplate the things of God – much less talk to Him!

We must make time for leisurely activities that provide a time of rest from “the world of total work.” We must return to silence and contemplation. Are we too busy to rise up early and watch the sunrise? Or pull over and watch the sunset on the way home from work? Are we too busy for a hobby that helps us get in touch with beauty like reading, music, art or poetry? Are we too busy to go on a date with our spouse, or go fishing with our son? Does a father have the time to look his daughter in the eye, give her a hug and tell her he loves her, or does he not have time? Are we too busy to make time for daily prayer, spiritual reading to nourish our souls and form our minds? Or are we too busy to become saints? The greatest of life’s tragedies would be to work hard and earn an honest wage, but not become a saint! Our energies should be put into filling our souls rather than our bank accounts! “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt 6:21).

I urge you to create an attitude of leisure in your life. When we begin to slow down, pause and appreciate the eternal realities before the finite work deadlines, our lives begin to open up to peace and beauty like never before. You will feel like the scales have fallen off your eyes, and wonder how you missed all the beauty around you every day, beauty that takes the form of a rose, a book, a person, and discovering that is worth more than all the money in the world.

“Leisure is not the attitude of mind of those who actively intervene, but of those who are open to everything; not of those who grab and grab hold, but of those who leave the reins loose and who are free and easy themselves – almost like a man falling asleep, for one can only fall asleep by “letting oneself go”. Sleeplessness and the incapacity for leisure are really related to one another in a special sense, and a man at leisure is not unlike a man who is asleep.” – Josef Pieper, pg. 47.