by Bill Mowry
Who wouldn’t want to live a life of leisure these days? Our lives are so frantic that we long for those idle moments to step off the treadmill of life. Leisure is a break from activity to rest or re-charge our lives.
Leisure originally meant something else and this “something else” is what disciples need.
In forging the word leisure, the Greek and Romans designated it to mean a time free from the obligations of work to pursue knowledge and wisdom.1 Our word for “school” derives from scholia, meaning leisure.2 These ancient cultures exalted the importance of thinking but used slave labor to create a privileged class set apart for the pursuit of wisdom.
Our understanding of leisure is enriched by non-Western thinking. The Chinese character for leisure is made up of “space” and “sunshine.” It denotes the pause, the attitude of relaxation that creates a gap in life so the sun can shine through.3 In contrast the Chines ideogram “busy” is made up of two characters, “heart” and “killing.”4 What a contrast in symbolism! What a way to picture leisure!
My “check list” life works against being a person of leisure. I live by my monthly, weekly, and daily check lists. Sometimes, I’m so busy making things happen that I have little time to think about the value of what’s happening. I fall into the trap that Joan Chittister writes about: “We urgently need people who concentrate on the meaning of life rather than simply the speed, the mechanization, the computerization of it.”5 I need more leisure time but when I schedule it, I’m faced with another challenge.
Research has shown that my brain has been re-wired. Author Tish Warren describes how we now know that that the internet is changing our neural pathways – the ubiquity of words online is actually “rewiring our brains to take in small snatches of information quickly and forfeit the capacity to follow long, nuanced arguments and stories.”6 We must fight this condition and learn again to think in long and hard ways.
I’m challenged to leave my check-list life and practice true leisure, and help others do the same! “In biblical terms,” writes L. Paul Jensen, “a life crammed with activity can crowd out the Spirit’s activity, leaving the soul empty.”7 Leisure time is soul-filling time; it’s applying Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God, I will be exalted among the nations.”
“Being still” means responding to the Scriptures’ admonition to reflect, ponder, think, and meditate. All of these are acts of leisure, time spent acquiring wisdom, and knowledge. Unlike the practice of our Greek and Roman ancestors, wisdom is not for a privileged few but for all who embrace Jesus’s way of living. The Bible instructs all of us to reflect and meditate. Here’s a small sample of verses.
. . . they tell us what God has brought about and ponder what He has done.Psalm 64:9
He seldom reflects on the days of his life . . .Ecclesiastes 5:20
But his delight is in the Law of the Lord and on His law, he meditates day and night . . .Psalm 1:2
I think of you through the watches of the night . . .Psalm 63:6
Reflection means to bend something back to take a closer look. We “bend back” the Scriptures and life to learn and grow. This requires leisure time.
How do we disciple people in leisure? Here are three simple suggestions.
- Help people create“device free zones.” Where is a place in your home, office, or yard that you can go without being interrupted by a cell phone, tablet, or laptop? Create a space for leisure.
- Plan a time to take some leisure. I encourage people to have at least 30 minutes a week set aside to plan their week, reflect on a previous week, and choose their priorities. This can be spent in one’s car at lunch, in an empty office space, or in the device free zone of your home.
- Invite the Lord into this leisure space. A daily time with God spent reflecting on His word and responding to Him in prayer is a necessary leisure activity. We create space and time to be still and know He is God. This leisure time aligns my thoughts and priorities with His thoughts and priorities.
Living leisurely is more than time in my favorite chair or hammock. It’s a lifestyle choice that calls a halt to our 24/7 life of work and activity. Leisure carves out space for thinking and meditating; creating time to enjoy the presence of God and reflect on His ways. Every disciple needs to be a person of leisure.
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