In a world of constant work and busyness, the concept of leisure has almost disappeared. Our culture’s obsession with work can be – and often is – detrimental to the most important relationships in our lives; God, our spouse and our children. I myself, like many others, struggle with maintaining a healthy work and family life balance. Forever questioning if I am spending too much or not enough time here or there. Am I being lazy for not working every waking hour, or am I selfish for taking the time for self care? These are important questions, and leisure is the antidote to the anxiety surrounding these questions. Leisure is the antidote to our workaholic society.
The Enemy of Leisure
Anxiety and worry are the greatest enemies of leisure. An anxious person is worried about the things of the past and the future, but struggles to fully engage with the present. They constantly stir over what has not been done, and what is yet to be done. Satan will try to convince you that God isn’t real so that you wont pray. But if Satan can’t convince you that God isn’t real, he will convince you that you are too busy to pray! Satan tempts us to be so anxious about the past or future, that we are unavailable to the present.
In the Gospel of Luke, Mary is seated at the feet of Jesus, while Martha her sister is ‘burdened with much serving.’ Jesus says to her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need only of one thing. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42). Martha is so anxious and worried about serving, that she is blind to the gift of the present moment – Jesus in her home. Jesus rebukes her busyness and praises Mary for having chosen the better part, being fully present to him.
Leisure is not idleness
A common misconception about leisure, is that it is synonymous with idleness. Idleness is a passive word, referring to what someone is not doing with their time. If they are doing something, they are only passively receiving what is happening – such as watching TV. Leisure on the other hand, is an active word. Leisure is the state of being receptive to the created world in all its grandeur and beauty. Leisure is an attitude of the mind and a condition of the soul that fosters receptivity to both physical and spiritual realities. When we are receptive to the beauty in the created world, it awakens within us a longing for uncreated Beauty – God. Hence we can say, that leisure, is the necessary posture for prayer and intimacy with God. “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Without leisure, we are unable to receive the wonder of the universe that should lead us to our knees in worship of the Creator.
Even God made time for leisure to behold the beauty He created. In Genesis we read the creation story. On the fifth day, God pauses to take delight in his creation. “And God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:25). Before creating man, male and female, St John Paul II says, “The Creator seems to halt before calling him (man) into existence, as if He entered back into Himself to make a decision” (TOB 1:3). God was still before creating His masterpiece.
On the sixth day God creates male and female, and after beholding the creation of man, “God saw everything that he had made and behold it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). On the seventh day, God finished the work that he had done, and rested. What was God doing in His rest, but taking delight in the grandeur and beauty of His own creation. In a similar way, Leisure is the rest required to absorb the created beauty given to us by our Creator. If God paused to appreciate the beauty of his creation, how much more should we pause and enter into a silence of awe and wonder at God’s creation.
The Basis of Culture
Philosopher Josef Pieper warned that if the concept of leisure were not recovered, it would destroy Christian culture and ourselves. Sadly this was prophetic. Mainstream culture has rejected God and Christianity. I would propose we rejected leisure – the posture necessary for prayer and wonder – long before. Leisure is the stillness of mind and silence of heart that allows for philosophy and theology. If we are too busy for leisure, we are too busy for God. We must make time for leisure and leisurely activities that provide a time of rest from the world of total work. We must return to silence and contemplation to restore our culture by restoring our relationship to God.
For this restoration to happen within us, we must make a firm resolution to carve out time in our busy schedules for leisurely activities. Hiking affords me beautiful views and breathtaking landscapes, that lift my heart to praise God. Reading places me in a world beyond this world, where I dream of spiritual realities. 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 music, art or poetry? And is there anything more refreshing than splashing about in the waves at the beach like a child?
Are we too busy to make time for daily prayer, to tell the God of the universe how much we love Him? Do we make time to read God’s Word to nourish our souls and form our minds? Or are we essentially too busy to become saints? The greatest of life’s tragedies would be to submit ourselves to the world of total work and not become a saint!
We must never be too busy to go on regular dates with our spouse. To say that we don’t have time is a lie, we always have time for what is important. This is another example of how the anxieties and busyness of life convince us that we cannot do the important things we need to do. Do we carve out the time to spend quality time in conversation each day with our children. Family holidays are a beautiful time away, yet they cannot be the only time for quality time. Each and everyday is an opportunity for you to connect to the people closest to you.
I urge you to embrace leisure in your life. To slow down and appreciate the created beauty all around you. Beauty in the form of a rose, music, a book or a person. All of these beautiful created things are signs of the Beauty of God. Created beauty awakens within us a yearning for uncreated Beauty, but it does not fulfil the thirst for uncreated Beauty. If we have the eyes to see, everything beautiful in the created world, can lift our mind and heart to the praise and wonder of God.