I’ve recently come across a definition of leisure as being that which you’d never conceivably pay someone to do for you. Watching TV was given as an example. Work, on the other hand, is anything you do outsource if you can afford to. It is also said that leisure involves consumption whereas work involves production.
My initial reaction was that there is a very cynical view of life embedded these statements. Yet there does appear to some truth in it. Take a single activity, gardening say; someone who gardens for pleasure will tend to spend a lot of money on plants and accessories. Someone whose job is being a gardener might well regard a cut lawn, trimmed hedge or dug flower bed as as something they have produced.
But what about allotments? They can take a lot of time and effort and produce a lot of delicious vegetables but I’ve never heard of an allotment holder wanting to pay someone to do the the digging for them. So is that work or leisure? Maybe we conclude that toil is not work unless we would get out of it if we could,
Personally, I’m always envious of people who do what they like doing anyway and manage to get paid for it. They are the fortunate ones who don’t have to ‘work’. I’m not suggesting they are lazy or don’t put effort into what they do, it’s just to my mind work is doing something you really don’t want to be doing in order to be able to eat and do some of the things you do want to do.
Owning and trading people as slaves may have been made illegal years ago but the prevalence of the term ‘wage slave’ suggests that a large number of people in our society are not living in the sort of freedom that Jesus talked about. There is not a healthy balance of work or toil and genuine rest in people’s lives.
There is huge emotional pressure to maintain a certain lifestyle and that lifestyle then becomes a slave-driver forcing people to work too long and too hard. Look at the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, Jesus said; they neither toil nor spin yet they have everything they need.
My choice of image would be a cat basking in the sun; nothing to worry about, not busily doing anything, content to just be. To step aside from the treadmill of life and contentedly bask in the sun, whether literally or metaphorically, is my idea of leisure. It has nothing to do with consumption.
This was the idea behind the Sabbath of the ten commandments; six days to do all you have to do then a day to bask in God’s presence; a day free from the hassle and tension of must do this and must do that. Time to appreciate God’s creation and remember that we are part of it; that God is our creator and our Lord and to ponder what purpose he might have for us. What role might he like us to play in the over all scheme of things?
Unfortunately, this restful leisure has all but disappeared from our lives. Instead, we have a leisure industry that tells us we must travel all round the world having lots of experiences. We must go to the gym, shop, eat lots of different food, visit heritage sites and buy lots of souvenirs. If this hasn’t used up all our time, energy and money then we must watch television and play computer games. Above all, we must never be quiet. If alone, we must have a radio or TV playing in the background.
Anything to stop the still small voice of God from being heard. Even when going on holiday we are not free; we have to be at airports certain lengths of time before flights are due to depart; we have to book in and out of accommodation at set times. Going for a walk, instead of being a simple pleasure becomes an exercise in counting steps and miles covered as part of a fitness regime.
Jesus came to bring us freedom so let’s claim and enjoy this precious gift. Set aside just five minutes to look back over the day and consider what has been good. It might be a particularly good cup of coffee, a conversation with a friend – or a stranger. A rainbow or sunset, first flower of Spring. Just relish the feeling of it, relive it, let the memory soak in.
As we head into this season of Lent, it’s a good time to start a habit of giving ourselves five minutes of freedom; a brief Sabbath moment to appreciate God’s creation and our own place within it.