Leisure: Why God Likes It
For years I have thought this quotation was insightful: “We worship our work, work at our play, and play at our worship” (Gordon Dahl). Working hard is a good thing but we worship work when we overdo it, use it to feel good about ourselves or make it more important than relationships, health, and the good of others. Playing at our worship is about engaging in worship in a way that resembles entertainment more than devotion.
But work at our play? We do this when we try too hard to have a good time. This is so common that many people find that they’re just as tired when they return from a vacation as when they left, or more tired after a lunch hour in which they tried to do too many things. Working at play creates an empty feeling, hence the whimsical question: Are we having fun yet? Leisure now has to be elaborately planned or expensive or out of the ordinary. It is no longer about being renewed or even satisfied with simple pleasures: watching a sunset, sitting on the porch, reading even something short.
That’s why I decided to include a chapter on simplicity of leisure in Abundant Simplicity. True leisure is, I think, breathing space in life when we are free from tasks and agendas to do what restores, soothes or even animates and excites us. To some people, an open space of time is not to be enjoyed but to be filled up. If someone asked, “What are you doing this weekend?” how would it feel to say, “Absolutely nothing!” How do you feel about having a morning or a day with nothing you have to do? Threatened (I’m not busy - that’s bad!) or excited (I wonder what will happen!)?
To those who worship productivity, leisure is a useful way to get recharged for a driven existence or to find relief from a hurried, stress-filled life (as many Americans reported in a recent survey). But leisure is good and holy in itself. In fact, God thought open spaces were such a good idea that Sabbath (weekly open space) is built into creation. This divine rhythm became one of the Ten Commandments, and like all the commandments, it’s life-giving. We return to our normal routine with a fresh perspective, enabling us to love others better and even our own life with more joy. It sets us up to naturally take small Sabbath-intermissions in our day. These pauses create mental space to enjoy God and enjoy others, which might be called a “theology of leisure” (what God thinks it’s about, why God wants us to have it). It applies the Great Commandment (22:37-39) to leisure and invites us to enjoy God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to enjoy others as God enjoys us.
Jesus understood leisure and so enjoyed times of celebration and was quite a party goer. He attended dinner gatherings in people’s homes and at least one wedding and participated in feast days in Jerusalem. (These celebration feasts were invented by God for the Israelites. Does it surprise us that the so-called “Old Testament God” is a party planner?)
Jesus also enjoyed beauty, considering a field lily more charming than the best efforts humans (including the great King and cultural rock star Solomon, Matthew 6:28-29). You get the impression that Jesus enjoyed being alive. Leisure is so important in life that C. S. Lewis said: “leisure, even our play, is a matter of serious concern. We can play, as we can eat, to the glory of God.” (“Christianity and Culture” Christian Reflections)
In order to practice leisure to the glory of God, need to be intentional about it. We can’t ignore it or just hope it happens. Please consider asking God about leisure in your life, maybe with these questions:
What, O God, truly renews me? What restores me? What helps me enjoy You and your creation more? What makes me grin to the glory of God?
The above is excerpted and adapted from chapter 8 of Abundant Simplicity.
Grace and peace,
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