Thou Shalt Have Leisure Time

Did you know that one of the Ten Commandments is “Thou Shalt Have Leisure Time”? It’s contained in the third commandment: “Remember to Keep Holy the Sabbath day” (Ex. 20:8).

We Christians tend to equate the third commandment with going to church on Sunday. Or with refraining from “servile work” or from shopping on that day. But the third commandment means something deeper than that. For the Israelites, the Sabbath was the day they were to refrain from all work. They were to hammocktake it easy. Relax. Rest. Why? First, so they could have time to praise and thank God for all their blessings. During the week, they were so busy working that they often forgot their blessings—especially how God delivered them from slavery in Egypt. On the Sabbath, they took time to remember this great event and to thank God. And secondly, on the Sabbath they were to take time to nourish their relationships, that is, to spend time with family and friends. This time away from work helped them to keep their work in perspective—always secondary to human relationships.

The people were given a role model when it comes to balancing work and leisure: God! They were reminded that in Genesis, God works six days to create the world, taking a rest in between each day. But on the seventh day, God takes a vacation!

The third commandment shows that workaholism must have been alive and well in ancient Israel–just as it is in our own day. Work can, indeed, become an “idol.” It can consume us. It can become not a means to an end, but an end in itself. And what makes workaholism so insidious is that it can look a lot like dedication. More than once I have heard people say of some sister in a parish or school, “She’s here all the time! She’s in her office/classroom every day of the week! She’s available 24-hours a day. And she has never taken a vacation! What dedication!” That’s not dedication! That’s crazy!

Even Jesus knew how to relax. He encouraged his disciples to “Come aside and rest a while.” He often had dinner with his friends. He took time to appreciate nature. He played with children. And where did he work his first miracle? At a wedding reception!

It is a challenge to follow the command to make time for leisure. With down sizing, many people have to work longer hours just to get their work done or keep their jobs. walking in woodsOthers who have to work on weekends have a hard time even getting to church. For many, Sunday becomes the one day they have to do all the chores around the house as well as transport their kids hither and yon to soccer practice, dance recitals, parties, or the pool.

But the fact remains, we all need time away from our work to rest, relax, recuperate and have fun. We need time to reconnect with the people we love. We need time to thank God for our many blessings and to ask for strength to face the challenges of daily living. The Israelites knew this. And Jesus knew it. And we know it too. As the Egyptian proverb says: “The rower reaches the shore partly by pulling, partly by letting go.”

How do you balance work and leisure in your life?

PS Thank you for your prayers for the retreat at Berakah Center in New Hampshire this past weekend. Fourteen women came. They were faith-filled and fun!

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  1. Kathleen Magiera on July 15, 2013 at 5:24 am

    Sr. Melannie,

    What a beautiful commentary about leisure! As I finish a week of vacation, I need to remember how important leisure is for balance in life.

    I refrain from any school work on Sundays including answering emails. Being electronic free one day a week has been very restful for me.


    • Melannie Svoboda SND on July 15, 2013 at 4:04 pm

      Dear Kathleen, You touched upon a vital element: being electronically free one day a week, that is, to be free from emails–especially those associated with our work. Good point! Thanks for adding it! Melannie

  2. Georgia Auckly on July 15, 2013 at 9:20 am

    This reminds me of a quote by Socrates: “Beware of the bareness of a busy life.”

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on July 15, 2013 at 4:05 pm

      Dear Georgia, Those Greeks were wise, weren’t they? Thank you for reminding us if the wisdom of Socrates! Melannie

  3. Mary Schneider on July 15, 2013 at 11:07 am

    I love to relax and do nothing on Sunday….but I fall asleep too easily. Oh well, God knows I have good intentions.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on July 15, 2013 at 4:01 pm

      Dear Mary, Sleep is a form of leisure too! I say this having just gotten up from a 30 minute “power nap.” Thanks for writing! Melannie

  4. Julie Teder on July 15, 2013 at 2:47 pm

    Hi Melannie,
    Thanks for reminding us that it is is o.k. to relax and take it easy. We should not feel guilty for doing it. And if God says so, we had better do it. I find that the work will always wait for us, unfortunately. Your messages are great.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on July 15, 2013 at 4:00 pm

      Dear Julie, I like what you said about the work: “it will always wait for us, unfortunately.” Someone said, “No one ever died saying, ‘I wish I had spent more time at the office.’ But many people have died saying, ‘I wish I had spent more time with my family.'” Thanks for writing, Julie! Melannie

  5. Biblioann on July 16, 2013 at 12:53 pm

    Thank you Melannie for this reflection. I really needed to hear exactly that, after more than two weeks of taking care of a beloved 90-something mother in the country, and just taking her back to her assisted living residence. My hubby and I are pretty worn out, and need the next week to recover, but I have felt very guilty about it, since she wanted to stay…..but she just needs too much, constant care, and we just had to have a chance to rest and be with each other alone for awhile. Your message was just so apropos! Thank you!

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on July 16, 2013 at 1:55 pm

      Dear Ann, I’m so glad my reflection proved very timely for you. Caring for a 90-something mother–no matter how beloved she may be–is a lot of work–even if it proceeds from great love. I’m so glad you and your hubby are now going to enjoy some leisure time with each other–guilt free and joy-filled, I hope! Thanks for writing! Melannie

  6. Barbara on July 18, 2013 at 10:20 am

    Dear Sr. Melannie, I have just returned from an eight-day retreat entitled, “Doing nothing and doing it well.” I have brought back many thoughts to ponder, among them the need to introduce a little bit of Sabbath into each day. I’ve learned that the two most important parts of any day are the Holy Hour (time spent quietly with God) and the Happy Hour (perhaps best described as “me” time – reading, engaging in hobbies, doing something for pure pleasure). My new agenda is going to feature learning to “BE”; I am more than well versed in DOING. My Sunday-Sabbath is going to take on a new flavour as well. Thank you for the above reflection … so in sync with where “I’m at” just now. Barbara

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on July 18, 2013 at 1:59 pm

      Dear Barbara, Your retreat sounds wonderful! Thank you for sharing some of the key ideas with us. I love the new slant on the daily “Holy Hour” and the daily “Happy Hour.” Sounds very wise to me! Thanks again! Melannie

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