Turning eighteen, I had the choice of learning to drive on either an old brown safari van that felt like steering the Titanic or a smaller—but standard transmission—blue Mazda. Needless to say, I chose the Mazda. Needless also to say, I spent most of that year stalled out at nearly every intersection in our city. The most embarrassing moments were when I tried to skip gears, a mistake which resulted in various griding sounds and eventually a halting, graceless stop.
Most of us will encounter similar jarring moments in life. A death, a job loss, or a crossroads can take us from comfortably coasting to crashing stop almost instantly. What do we do in these moments? I don’t mean initially—there will always be a disorienting interim where no one is really sure what to do—but when the time finally comes to take steps towards adjusting to a new reality.
Such a situation occurred in Israel around 597 BC as many of her citizens were taken captive by the Babylonians. Understandably this would have been a jarring event—a far more jarring event than what COVID-19 preventative measures have meant for us. But God had not forgotten them. He even told Jeremiah to write a letter encouraging them, among other things, to, “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease” (Jeremiah 29: 5,6).
In other words, God’s intention in the massive shift of Israel’s gears were not to render them bitter recipients of disaster. In fact, such disruption was to remind them to “pray to the Lord [on the city’s] behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (v. 7). Back in their home country, and in the midst of their prosperity, the Israelites had grown spiritually complacent. They had forgotten to pray to the Lord. The Babylonian crisis, far from impoverishing them, was a means for their renewal and revival in the Lord.
Where do our hearts go in a crisis? Do we assume God has forgotten to be gracious? Do we assume any attempt at maintaining prayer, devotion, and personal development at such a time to be a frivolous waste? Or do we see it as an opportunity to suddenly wake up—much as I did in the midst of a first to fourth gear transition?
Recovering the Goodness of Constructive Leisure:
Though the recent safe distancing advisements won’t impact everyone, they will for many. This “forced domesticity” will also mean that some people, accustomed to putting in ten to twelve hour days at a job, will likely be at loss as to what to do with themselves now. This is partly because most people’s view of life has, up until now, looked something like this:
Work | Not Work
With the result that few, if any, spend much time thinking about life outside of work. Though this may sound like a macho, productive view of life, a kind of laziness can exist in the midst of even the most jam-packed schedule. This sort of laziness would sooner settle for the predictable, achievable routines of work than the more difficult, less achievable investments of family, spiritual disciplines, and personal development.
But it’s not just that we’re unfamiliar with leisure. Josef Pieper, in his Leisure: The Basis of Culture, hits on another important point:
“The inmost significance of the exaggerated value which is set upon hard work appears to be this: man seems to mistrust everything that is effortless; he can only enjoy, with a good conscience, what he has acquired with toil and trouble; he refused to have anything as a gift.”
And here we arrive back again at the universal human suspicion of grace. Many of us would prefer to live under the illusion that we are self-made people; that anything we have is ours by virtue of our own sweat and tears. But this is an illusion. Hundreds of gifts arrive—unannounced and unasked for—daily at our doorsteps: light, breathe, and health.
And here we find ourselves with a strange but no-less good gift from God’s hand: leisure. How many good endeavours have we put off in the past due to being “too busy?” Perhaps now would be a good time to revisit a few of them.
1. Enjoy Books
“Reading well adds to our life—not in the way a tool from the hardware store adds to our life, for a tool does us no good once lost or broken, but in the way a friendship adds to our life, altering us forever.” Karen Swallow Prior
Our triage list of priorities usually begins and ends with results. We get a paycheck from a job, we use a hammer for a nail, we get a laugh from a funny video on youtube. But lives that only invest time into output may miss out on certain depths that books can provide.
Reading good books—yes, the Bible first and foremost, but others as well—shape us in ways other things can’t. They develop character, build empathy, strengthen the mind, inspire and hone our appetite for beauty, and enable us accurately express our thoughts. Here again, I’ve resorted to output, but the benefits of reading good books far exceed these.
2. Enjoy Nature
More and more we are surrounded by machines, notifications, and towering concrete. Our absence of exposure to nature has impoverished us.
There is an expanse, an energy, and a “full-ness” to creation that cannot be duplicated by the man-made: the cedar canopy, the exultant vistas, the pillars of cloud all direct our eyes above and beyond.
And it’s not just the awe-inspiring that will nourish you. Just this morning, while fretting over groceries, I spied a chickadee outside my window, hopping from branch to branch. I marvelled. Here was a creature that lived, moment-by-moment, “seek[ing] his food from God (Psalm 104:21). God has not forgotten the birds, he will not forget you.
3. Enjoy God
I put this last not because it’s least important, but because it’s what I hope we will all leave here thinking about. Enjoyment of God is not only the duty of every human being but our highest privilege. The problem is that an increasing amount of Christians try to realize this privilege through the dusty lens of small, moment-by-moment, supplicatory prayer and bite-size portions of Scripture. Don’t get me wrong. These “tastes” have their place, but they can’t sustain you. For deep enjoyment, for deep humanity, Christians have to be willing to dredge deep in the waters of the Word. And nothing will so shape you as spending time—alone, with your spouse, via video with a brother or sister—in prayer.
In conclusion, as I (hope) you aren’t suspicious of God’s free gift of salvation through Christ, so don’t be suspicious of His other free gifts. Though a pandemic may prove a halting stop to our routines, it shouldn’t be to our sanctification. Rather, live as you are called—at work, at home, and at leisure.