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 take 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. Others 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!