Apply The Brakes! The Need For Holy Leisure
Have you ever found yourself wishing for a big snowstorm that would shut everything down for a few days? Sure, snow can give rise to any number of headaches. But at the same time, snow days can force us into slowing our life's pace a little bit. When work, school, and activities are canceled (and possibly the Internet is down too), we receive a gift of time during which we can play board games, bake treats, reconnect with one another, curl up with a good book, and take a much needed "breather."
Taking breathers is not something we Americans are especially good at doing. Surveys reveal that we spend more time on the job than workers in almost every other nation. Our children's lives are typically overbooked as well, their days being filled with sports practices, music and dance lessons, club activities, and increasing amounts of homework.
All sorts of negative consequences can arise from excessive activity. We become candidates for burnout and place' ourselves at risk for stress and the related problems of eating disorders, headaches, high blood pressure, depression, drug and alcohol abuse-even suicide! We rob ourselves of opportunities to daydream, reflect, and have fun. Parents don't spend time enjoying their children and passing along their values and adult wisdom. Friends and spouses don't communicate with one another as they should. And we deprive ourselves of the sleep we need, making us crabby, less productive on the job, vulnerable to illness, and dangerous behind the wheel. Giraffes may sleep only thirty minutes a day. We, however, need at least seven or eight hours of restful sleep.
Excessive activity can compromise our spiritual life as well, as Jesus himself cautions us. "Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy," he warned, "from ... the anxieties of daily life" (Lk 21:34). When he spoke these words, he was referring to his coming again in glory at the end of time. He didn't want his listeners to be so distracted and busy that they wouldn't be prepared to greet him when he came. But his words are intended for us too. He knows that frenzied activity can produce a flimsy faith, and he longs for us to recognize him when he comes into our lives today.
Jesus invites us to slow down, just as he encouraged his disciples to slow down. Once, the disciples had come back together after having been away on missionary journeys, and they surely must have been exhausted. We can also imagine that they wanted to swap tales and share their experiences with each other. Yet so many people were pressing in to speak with Jesus, and with them, that they couldn't find an opportunity to rest and reconnect. And so Jesus, recognizing the disciples' need, invited them to get away from the crowds and spend some time together in a deserted place (sec Mk 6:30-32).
The challenge for us is this: If Jesus thought it important to rest and spend quality time with those he loved, shouldn't we do the same? In other words, if as Christians we are to live in imitation of Jesus, then we need to make time for family, friends, and refreshment. The earliest Christians knew this. Their leaders, such as Saint Augustine, emphasized the need for Otium Sanctum, Latin for "holy leisure," which we might understand as slowing down by stepping back from work, not in order to waste time, but use it to nourish our relationships with God and others.
We need "holy leisure" because we all can benefit from a measure of balance in our lives. In fact, this is such an important topic that our Church has stressed, in its Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, that leisure is necessary to foster "familial, cultural, social, and religious life." Elsewhere, this same document hopes: "May this leisure be used properly to relax, to fortify the health of soul and body through spontaneous study and activity." Understood this way, leisure time is not wasted time, a conclusion sometimes made in our productivity-obsessed world. Instead, leisure allows us to fulfill our need to spend time with ourselves, spend time with each other, and spend time with the Lord.
For the health of our bodies and souls, let's find time for leisure time. Let's gather around our tables and share our stories with each other. Let's open a book or watch a movie that might stretch our minds or soften our hearts. Let's exercise and get the blood really flowing through our veins. Take a good hard look at your commitments and obligations and consider cutting out a few things. Reach out and touch that person you've been meaning to call for so long. Stare at the clouds and dream dreams. Rediscover an old hobby or take up a new one. Play with your kids. Take a mental health day. Take a nap. Say a prayer.
Scripture shares that God himself rested after having created the heavens and the earth (Gn 2:2). In the Ten Commandments, God actually insists that we rest like he did, on the Sabbath day, which for us is Sunday. If we truly honored that, we'd enjoy the equivalent of nearly seven weeks of vacation each year!
It's claimed that psychologist Carl Jung concluded that hurry isn't of the devil―it is the devil. So if it's the devil we're looking for, by all means, let's speed things up! But if it's God we're seeking, then for heaven's sake, let's slow things down.
from When Faith Feels Fragile―Help for the Wary, Weak, and Wandering by R. Scott Hurd pp.131-134