From the time I was a young child it was easy to feel that one of the biggest priorites in life was work. Up until the time I was seven, both of my parents worked full-time and we had a live in Nanny to care for me and my three brothers. Ever since I was little I would get lectures about how you have to love your work and how you have to work. On Sundays we would go to church as a family and then usually out to eat or for a bagel, but afterwards we would drive around for hours looking at my father’s jobs. In school you are made to feel that the main purpose of your education is to do well in school so that you can get a good job. Growing up my whole life I was told that you need money; money solves lots of problems; it offers security ect. Yes, it is true we need money and most of the time it is provided to us by God through our jobs; but really is the main purpose of all we do for work? Pieper in Leisure the Basis of Culture says, “To be fettered to work means to be bound to this vast unitarian process in which our needs are satisfied, and, what is more, tied to such an extent that the life of working man is wholly consumed in it.”
When I was 13, I started babysitting 4-8 hours on Saturdays and right before I was 16 I got my first job at a coffee shop. I spent my time going to school, going to work, doing homework, and cheerleading. Working on Sunday afternoons was never a problem, after all for a teenager in school is was a good time to make money. By the time I was a teenager I often found much of my self-worth in what I was accomplishing, even if it wasn’t for “money”; I still felt good if I had a nice long check list and could mark off all I accomplished.
When I was 21 I had my first baby. I stopped working and knew I wanted to stay home with my baby, but what I didn’t realize was the identity crisis I would go through. Being a stay at home mom, with a new-born, and being sleep deprived, did not allow me much time to check off boxes of accomplishments. Also at this time, all my peers were finishing up college and getting “real” jobs. They were making money, they had titles of occupations behind their names. To feel a little better about myself, I started to think about myself as a work at home mom and once again strove hard to accomplish much and find my value in what I did.
Recently I read a really good book called Leisure The Basis of Culture by Josef Pieper. This book was very eye-opening. Yes, as a Christian I knew my main identity was in Christ, but what this book showed me that as an image bearer of Christ, I was created for so much more than work; I was created for worship, wonder, and awe. As humans we are the only created thing that has the ability to look at all of life and creation and see how they are related in light of the creator and to ask deep questions about life.
When we think of leisure, we often think of any free time we have and doing with it whatever we will. But the true heart of leisure is worship. In Greek the word leisure is skole, this is where we get our english word for school. The heart of this skole is not to learn to get a job, but to learn in order to be better worshipers and to seek truth, goodness, and beauty in all things. In this book he stressed the point that we work in order to have this leisure. Leisure; the time for worship and meditation and enjoying God, his creation and his people is our highest priority, not to be workers.
Robot’s can work, animals can work; only humans and image bearers of God can meditate, ponder, stand in awe, and worship. “Intellectual activity used to always be considered a privileged sphere.” To be offered this freedom of taking time to grow intellectually and meditate and worship is what inwardly causes us to grow and to be people who live from love. Aquinas says, “The essence of good virtue exists in the good rather than the difficult.” Another quote taken from this book to prove this point is , “Why should it be that the average Christian regards loving one’s enemy as the most exalted form of love?”
When I used to think of leisure I would associate this with idleness. Shouldn’t we be accomplishing something? As a Christian this point of view was starting to be challenged as I started to find a priority in spending time in the Word of God and in prayer, and from a human standpoint these things accomplished nothing. As a Christian, I knew this was my daily bread and that the main purpose I was created was, “To glorify God and Enjoy him forever.” Leisure and idlesness are not the same, Pieper says, “idleness, in the old sense of the word, so far from being synonymous with leisure, is more nearly the inner prerequisite which renders leisure impossible: if might be described as the utter absence of leisure, or the very opposite of leisure. Leisure is only possible when a man is at one with himself…. It implies an inward calm, of silence; it means not being “busy”, but letting things happen… Sleeplessness and the incapacity for leisure are really related to one another in a special sence, and a man at leisure is not unlike a man asleep.”
Leisure is found in the Sabbath and in Celebration. Think of the Sabbath and of holidays, “Holy Days”, the heart of these has always been worship. These were days that we put the total work world aside, this idea of working to produce, and instead spend time enjoying what God has given us, what he has done, and growing inwardly at a soul level as human beings. Pieper make the point that the Sabbath and Holy Days have always been the great leveling ground. When the Sabbath and holidays were culturally accepted or required, there was no longer the peasant and the high land owner, there was just the worshiper. The fact that now we can’t even find this picture shows us how much we have been consumed by total work.
In today’s society it is easy to see that work has become so much more important than leisure (skole, the inward education of our souls). We have turned our children’s eduction into something in order to make them workers instead of worshipers and people who use their intellect to grow in virtue and enjoyment of God’s creation. We have turned the Sabbath into another day to accomplish things, and if we do have the freedom to enjoy it, it is often at the expense of someone else (the sports team on TV or the waiter at the restaurant.) We have turned holidays into a time for worship of unworthy things (my eyes was really awaked at this when I heard they wanted to make Superbowl monday into a national holiday; I believe this is more of a priority to most than something like Good Friday).
Leisure is the basis of culture. How we spend our leisure really shows the value of where our heart is. Are we spending it to work, indulge, mindlessly consume? Or are we spending it with an inner peace, realizing that God is the provider of all that we have and enjoying his good gifts? Do we spend leisure intellectually philosophizing (which is really just standing in awe and wonder and pondering the reasons behind life in light of the truth of God)? Do we spend leisure enjoying the family God has given us and passing on a culture to them of what is good and true and beautiful. Leisure is used to define our culture, work should not define a culture. Leisure is used to spend time pouring into our children the true wonders of what life has to offer (scripture, hymns, beautiful art work , heavenly musical compositions, stories of virtue and courage, studying nature, creating art for beauty sake, talking about the meaning of life). These things are the essence of what is means to be image bearers of God, for only image bearers can enjoy these things. Work is a necessity and is to be enjoyed, but it is not to consume us. Work leads us to the ability of leisure, which makes us better worshipers.