The Loss of Leisure

I was forced to get summer jobs in high school, because my father didn’t want me to become a “lady of leisure.” My family places great emphasis on hard work, self-discipline and maintaining a competitive lifestyle –with the frequent “Your Opa immigrated here from Germany, worked night shifts at a steel factory, and supported his wife and six children entirely on his own” reminders. Leisure was often confused with laziness and there was nothing more evil than laziness in my home.  This is not an isolated case, but rather a symptom of a disordered culture.

We can see this “leisure schema” highlighted by how few vacation days Americans receive. According to a 2013 USA Today article, “The United States is the only developed country in the world without a single legally required paid vacation day or holiday. By law, every country in the European Union has at least four work weeks of paid vacation.” Vacation is not a priority, because vacation is not productive. This sends the message that our value is based on our level of productivity.

Dissuasion from leisure is a reflection of our anti-life culture. If my life revolves around producing content, generating an income, and constantly seeking the next step towards professional advancement – who am I if I get into a car accident leaving me paralyzed? If I can no longer work in a typical office setting – do I still have ideas? Humor? Worth?  The same question must then be raised for our brothers and sisters who are born disabled and are dependent on others to accomplish simple, daily tasks their entire lives. The elderly do not contribute to our labor and productivity – do we disregard everything that comes from their mouths as worthless? Of course not – each life stage reflects a bit of God’s wisdom. I watch how slowly my grandmother crosses the street and I realize how much she must have grown in patience. She continues to teach me so much, and her days consist of Mass, watching the news, and reading murder-mystery books she borrows from the library.

Leisure_Pope_Francis

If work does not constitute our value, then why do we structure our days and lives around it? I find myself going through the workweek with my eye steadily looking at the Saturday and Sunday ahead. Holiness is embedded within the weekend; our third commandment even directing us to “remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day.”  The Catholic Catechism teaches that Sunday is a day of grace and rest from work and that “just as God “rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done,” human life has a rhythm of work and rest. The institution of the Lord’s Day helps everyone enjoy adequate rest and leisure to cultivate their familial, cultural, social, and religious lives (CC 2184).” The word “rhythm” is key, signifying the need for a healthy balance between our job and our time for leisure. This text also implies that rest is a responsibility for us all. We can then better serve our families and our Lord. Do I pray better when I am well rested? Certainly. And with a clearer mind and refreshed body, I become more aware of my loved one’s needs in that present moment.

We are not above God and we are not above resting on the seventh day. “Rest” does not simply mean to lie still in a sleep-like state. We can rest by building recreation into our schedule through hiking, admiring art, writing poetry, reading, and engaging in conversations. If we break up the word “recreation”, we get “re-creation.” We are re-created and renewed in God’s image the more we implement leisure and rest into our life. We become closer to the person God has designed us to be. There is great value in leisure.

It’s important to differentiate leisure from laziness. Dedicating more time to leisure does not mean dedicating more time to Netflix-binging. Leisure should be a festering ground for contemplation and thought. Leisure should be energizing and not contribute to sluggish behavior. Sloth is a disordered form of leisure; but overactive lifestyles are another disorder.

I recognize the dignity of work. Our Lord worked as a carpenter for the first three decades of His life. Surely Jesus Christ was disciplined in His craft, giving His all in each project. I pour so much of my time and energy into my job right now, and I rationalize it by telling myself, “The Lord blessed me with these gifts, it is my duty to use them for His glory.” And I truly believe that. I truly believe we can use our time and energy at work as prayer. So what do I do when I get work-related emails on Sunday? I often find myself in this dilemma. I can work ahead and dedicate time to a job that’s explicitly Catholic, but does that compromise my time devoted to rest?

The solution lies in the perspective. Why do I work? Why do I rest? I both work and rest to become closer to Christ. With this as my goal, I no longer separate the two, but I look at my life as one big opportunity to serve Him, punctuated with moments of both work and leisure. It is a healthy rhythm, each part flowing in back-and-forth at the appropriate time.

We must combat the twisted idea that leisure is to be earned. We enter dangerous territory when we place our identity in our work. Our value is found in both the active and contemplative state, but we need to integrate the contemplative back into our everyday. This can be executed in simple ways – like taking a meaningful lunch break, or engaging in a good discussion at the office. Another simple way of integrating leisure into the everyday is through other human interactions. When initiating conversation, a typical question is, “How have you been?” The automatic answer for many is “Busy.” This response plays into the dangerous idea of professional supremacism. “I am busy; therefore, I am important” may be the subconscious thought behind that answer. We shouldn’t encourage this bizarre busy-competition amongst professionals. When engaging in conversations, we should be thoughtful with each response, sharing a bit of ourselves we’ve discovered through our personal leisure time.

The Church, in her great wisdom, has created a way we can easily integrate rest with our everyday responsibilities. The Liturgy of the Hours provides an opportunity for contemplation, prayer, and a reminder of our identity in the busyness of life. The prayers throughout the day provide a natural rhythm and a necessary pause. This approach can deter us from walking a life of either extreme: laziness or over-activity. When we have this perspective, invest in our time for leisure, we become closer to our image in Christ.

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