“I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live, also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil– this is God’s gift to man.” Ecclesiastes 3:12-13
Work is a prominent feature of most American lives today. We use our work as a fallback topic for conversation. We worry about being out of work. We judge people for not working hard enough or for being workaholics. Ironically, our problem is not work but leisure.
You know you’ve done it before. Friday evening rolls around. You come home, sink into the sofa, and turn on your favorite television show. You could do something useful like clean the house or help the little elderly lady down the street with her groceries, but you’ve had a long, hard week and this is your chance to do indulge yourself. Did it ever cross your mind that other ways of spending your leisure time may not only be more productive but more satisfying?
Leisure is for engaging our God-given abilities in intrinsically motivating activities. Not for imitating a vegetable. By God-given abilities, I mean our bodies, our intellect, our creativity, and everything else that makes us human. We were given these things to cultivate, not to ignore. Yet most of the activities we use to fill our free time with are minimally engaging. Movies, video games, spectator sports. We choose them to give our minds a rest, but that is not we really need.
Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, my brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable– if anything is excellent or praiseworthy– think about such things.” Also, Psalm 34:8 says, “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good.” We are surrounded by beautiful, pleasing, and good things, both creations of God and creations of man, who are made in his image. Why wouldn’t we want to engage with these things? Beauty brings us to Christ, who is the true source of peace and rest, but to get there we have to put forth some effort. You might try reading an interesting novel and then researaching the cultural and literary factors that went into its creation. Or you could learn carpentry and build something with your family. Use your abilities!
I imagine there might be some objections to this proposal, and I would like to address them. First, you might say that this approach to leisure sounds a lot like work. Granted, but life without intentional leisure is necessarily incomplete. One reason for this is that most people work for extrinsic rewards rather than for the nature of the work itself. You may love your work, but would you do it if you weren’t getting paid for it? Leisure is something you pursue as an end in itself, not to provide for material needs.
Another reason intentional leisure is important is that it brings balance to your life. I plan to work in a field that stimulates my mind but doesn’t allow me to make full use of my body. Therefore, it is important for me to find hobbies that will allow me to cultivate my strength and movement. Others may be in the opposite situation, where leisure allows time to cultivate the mind, while the body is utilized at work.
You might also argue that our leisure should be used for the good of others, not ourselves. This is also true, but remember that Christianity is not about giving as much as you can, it is about loving God with all of your heart, soul, and mind. Sometimes that might be as simple as doing something that you love, provided it is not a sinful activity. Furthermore, taking time to ourselves enables us to better serve others, just as Jesus took the time to withdraw from the crowds and be with the Father.
To conclude, I admit that sometimes we do burn out and simply need to shut down for a while. I believe that as Americans we tend to do this too often, however. So next time you feel like looking for mindless entertainment, make a choice instead to behold the glory of God in a new way. You will find yourself more refreshed than you would by choosing to be lazy.