It’s the middle of the summer of 2022. For some of us, this season holds more free time and relaxation than other times of the year. Whether our schedules are rife with social events or relatively empty, we all have pockets of time left for us to fill or kill. So what do we do with that time? It has taken a superabundance of “free” time for me to realize how crucial it is to be intentional with it. Maybe some of you have also found it too easy to let time go by, empty or poorly managed. I’m not here to talk about time management for maximum work productivity, etc. There are enough books and blog posts to help with that. Rather, I propose we reevaluate what we do with our leisure time. For the big picture of our lives to amount to the love and glory of God, the small decisions must be just as purposeful as the life-changing ones.
Below is an enlightening perspective on leisure given by Rosalie de Rosset in her essay “Mindful or Mindless: A Philosophy of Play”:
I think it is easy to see that many of us have a serious misunderstanding of the word leisure, corrected by looking at its etymological derivation. In Greek the term for leisure is skole and in Latin skola— from which we get our word school. Seen this way, leisure is part of the learning process. The spirit of leisure is actually the spirit of learning, of self-cultivation. Leisure provides the venue for the growth of a person’s whole being– for thinking about life’s great concerns, for activities that enrich the mind, strengthen the body, and restore the soul. Like education, leisure takes discipline, training, cultivation of habits and tastes, discriminating judgments… The God Who ordained rest, who commanded a day of rest, cares about what we do with all our time.
How do we use our leisure? I’ll start with an action that’s probably automatic for many of us: picking up your phone without a good reason. If you don’t deal with this, congratulations! Before I had a phone I was determined to be the stalwart, unwavering one who wasn’t constantly on her device. Well, within weeks of possessing a smartphone, I realized to my chagrin that I was becoming attached to it. How did that happen? Maybe some people have more addictive personalities, or maybe the world’s smartest people and billions of dollars have been thrown at human psychology and know how to get us willingly ensnared. Regardless, something needs to change. We, the people of Jesus’ otherworldly kingdom, should be the least entangled in today’s well-laid net of an endlessly digital existence.
What if, instead of turning to our little lifeless rectangles when we don’t know what to do, we made different choices? St. Augustine famously said, “Habit, if not resisted, soon becomes necessity.” We need to rewire that impulse for better results. Find a person to talk to face-to-face. Initiate a good conversation, or at the very least smile and reap a smile in return. Even a lame joke or a weather-related remark that creates a genuine human connection is better than sitting side by side glued to our screens. If there isn’t a person nearby, communicate with God. He wants us to keep up a close connection all day long. Choosing to interact with Him rather than technology does something good to us at a heart level.
Here’s another thing we might do when there’s leisure time or silence to fill: turn on some music! Ideally something to tickle the ears or put a spring in your step, right? I don’t have a problem with enjoying beautiful music, but we need to consider why we do it. A moment comes during your leisure time when you feel a need for some stimulation, and a little music would be just the thing; it’s been a busy and harried day, after all. Pause right there– why not let it be silent? There is far too little silence in our world. And if it feels uncomfortable, we need it all the more. Meditate on the Scripture you read that morning. Focus your thoughts on an issue that’s been niggling and needs dealt with. Fix your mind on the unseen heavenly realities, which are so much more real than our earthly lives, after all. Look out the window, let your eyes feast on nature’s beauty. Pray for someone in a difficult situation. Sing a song that has depth and truth, or make your own music with an instrument. Sometimes, for me at least, even turning on a good podcast or sermon is actually an escape from much-needed silence and serious thought. We underestimate the value of stillness, contemplation, and concentration. And they are becoming scarce as the world becomes more distracting and technology leaves us more distractible. Give it at least 20 minutes, and then see if listening to music is still a good idea. If so, go ahead, and enjoy it to the fullest.
There’s no better time than a free evening in August to get lost in a good book– only be sure it’s a good one. It seems like many – though maybe not Think Truth readers– are losing their taste for deep, complex literature that might not be easily comprehended but is full of relevant truth. So much goodness is to be had in such books, and it’ll be valued more when we have to actually think in order to grasp it. Of course, novels have a place, and an important one (see this podcast), but take a minute to ponder your “why” when you choose which book to get lost in.
Here’s another scenario that’s likely to arise in these laid-back summer days– or any time of year. You’re reading a thought-provoking book or article, and you think, “Wow, that is a really good point,” or, “This is so relevant to me, exactly what I need to hear.” And that’s where it stops. An hour or two later, you’ve forgotten about the nugget of wisdom and gone on with life. Is that how progress is made? It is so easy to ingest great information and impactful ideas, but do nothing more with them. This is often how it goes in the reading of Scripture, too. Oswald Chambers advises, “When in your soul’s vision you see clearly what God wants, let me advise you to do something physical immediately. If you accompany a moral or spiritual decision with a physical effort, you give the necessary initiative to form the new habit. A physical exertion is imperative in spiritual transactions, otherwise it is in danger of passing into thin air.”
It takes immediate effort and sustained attention, beyond just reading and agreeing with something, if any good fruit is to be produced. Suppose we would take some kind of action right away to reach the desired results? Whether you write a note to self and leave it within sight, or commit to do the thing suggested every day for a week–do something. Oswald Chambers also said, “Don’t say you will pray about a thing, pray about it.” That’s what “Pray without ceasing” might look like, and it’s an amazing way to live.
Here’s another idea. Rather than scrolling ad infinitum through Pinterest or Instagram or whatever, try creating a bit of beauty or some good memories in real life. Although I’ve decided against social media, there are many other places and ways I can easily waste time scrolling on and on. Stop, just stop, and think. All this mindless engagement with screens has a way of suffocating our zest for loving and living well. Is this really how we want to use the time God has granted us? Such scrolling can also breed discontentment and envy of others’ gifts or blessings. I believe everyone has a gift for some form of creativity, so use this time to develop that gift to bless people in your life.
Examples abound of how we can exchange empty uses of spare time for something rich and real. Instead of checking the weather for no reason, try looking at the sky and watching the clouds, letting your imagination go beyond the heavens our physical eyes can see. Instead of messaging a friend elsewhere, make a new friend or (what a novel idea), have an authentic conversation with a family member! This is what real life is made of. For some reason, we’re much more willing to spend a couple hours watching a movie (however “Christian”) than to spend that same time in fervent intercession for a friend or situation. There might be a time for movies, but media shouldn’t be the default time-filler. Maybe it comes down to our priorities, or maybe we just need to think a little more.
Perhaps the things we do in our leisure time affect us more than the things we do for work. Choices have consequences. Rosalie de Rosset wrote, “You can’t afford to be casual about any part of your life, or you will be… a mindless nibbler.” This article is an exhortation to be intentional even when you have time on your hands that you could use however you please. The things we cultivate and keep returning to will become the only things we find appealing. I’m preaching to myself as much as anyone, and I scarcely feel qualified to pen these words. But we all need to remember the value of time, especially time free from pressing obligations. With so many ways to “kill time”, we have to make conscious decisions to fill it wisely. Blaise Pascal said, “In each action we must look beyond the action at our past, present, and future state, and at others whom it affects, and see the relations of all those things. And then we shall be very cautious.”
And now, let us go forward into our long summer days, and cozy autumn evenings, and quiet winter mornings, being proactively purposeful with the time we consider free. May we keep our hearts pliable toward Christ and aligned with His values, with a clear-eyed vision for making the most of every minute we’re given, for the welfare of His Body and the glory of God.
Chambers, Oswald.(2000) The Complete Works of Oswald Chambers. Discovery House Publishers.
de Rosset, Rosalie.(2012) Unseduced and Unshaken. Moody Publishers.