Life & Worship: Leisure

I haven’t had very much time to write lately, because I’ve been spending a lot of my down time attending and/or throwing parties. It’s just one of those seasons, where there is much to celebrate with shared meals and late nights.

As someone who thrives on productivity, I find myself struggling not to feel too guilty about using my time in this way. I try to justify it as a much-needed or much deserved break from work (and maybe it is). I tell myself that I need things like parties to help me relax, so that on Monday I can return to the office refreshed and ultimately more productive (and maybe I will). But these excuses represent a common misunderstanding of leisure and what it’s for.

In the gospels, we see Jesus spending a lot of time around dinner tables or at parties. I suspect that his motives for doing such things had little to do with his need to relax so that he could calm seas more effectively the next day. Instead, God in Jesus seems to be showing us that leisure is actually really important in itself, and that he is at work through time wasted well.

Leisure is a form of worship, because as God’s image bearers, we have an ontological need for community. God’s very essence is communal – three persons, one substance, existing in perfect will and harmony. We aren’t God, so the communities that we create to fulfill this human need are often broken and chaotic, but our desire for them is good. And when we gather with family, friends, or strangers for happy hour, or in a coffee shop, or over dinner, the brief moments of peace that we might enjoy together point back to our triune creator and enable us to engage with one another as whole persons.

Likewise, when God created man in his image, he determined that man alone was “not good” (the first and only “not good” thing that he made). Man, by himself, had exclusive access to the entirety of creation, and his creator – basically everything – but it wasn’t enough. So God created woman, and together they were good. All of this to say, we need each other. Nothing, not even an exclusive relationship with God, satiates our need for other people. This is why we take care of our young longer than any other creature, and why, eventually, our young take care of us. This is why we might feel lonely even while staring at Facebook while situated in a crowded city. This is why we desire robust relationships with friends, siblings, parents, and spouses. And this is why going to parties is sometimes more important than sitting at home and writing.

And, as much as I love parties and robust community, there is even more to leisure than that. During my senior year of college, I read Josef Pieper’s little book, Leisure – The Basis of Culture. Here, Pieper makes a case for leisure, defining it, distinguishing it from work, explaining that it’s an end in itself, and ultimately arguing that it is the basis of lasting culture. In addition to feasts and celebrations, leisure is also the time that we allow for contemplation – that is, the time that we allow ourselves to ask unanswerable questions, think about first principals, and invest in that which might not grant us much return. But this contemplation time, or leisure, is what eventually produces great art, books, and ideas.

Earlier I wrote about how part of worship is creativity and productivity, and I think that we can do that not just through work, but also through leisure. Whenever we create, whether it be communities or culture, we are living up to our title of God’s image bearers, thus worshiping the one who made us.

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