The Need for Leisure

Throughout the year, it is easy to get thrown into the excitement, planning, and noise of our daily lives. Just our phones are enough to distract us with this hyper-awareness of all the things we should be doing, and often it is difficult to even just breathe.

In his book, Leisure: The Basis of Culture, Joseph Pieper defines Leisure as a “mental and spiritual attitude, a condition of the soul, an inward calm, of silence, of not being ‘busy’ and letting things happen.” It is exactly this disposition, an inward calm, that we are all craving. We all know the feeling of being tired. Maybe even going on a vacation, and wanting a vacation from that vacation. Why is that? What is it we crave? We have a desire, a yearning for something that brings us rest. This is Leisure.

Wild Austrian Mountainside
The Wild Austrian Mountainside

The Gift of Unplanned Unplugging

A few summers ago, I had the opportunity to visit friends in Austria for about three weeks. A teacher at the time, I had a couple of months of summer vacation ahead of me. In my organizing, planning, adventuresome spirit, I had all the things I wanted to do set in my mind. I had gone to graduate school in Austria, and so had many ideas of how I wanted to fill my time when going back. My trip, however, took a bit of a different path than what I had planned for myself.

Instead of visiting museums, historical sites, and different cities that were nearby, I went on a lot of walks in the surrounding fields and mountains. I read a book that I had brought with me, which I had not fully intended to open. I drank wine outside, watching the sun set over the hills in the area. It finally struck me one day, as I was asked to help harvest cherries at the house my friend was living at. No one else had the time–I had the time, I could truly just be.

In my head, I felt as if I had been transported into the life of a Jane Austen character. It was as if I had gone back in time to Longbourn to spend a summer with the Bennets. I could just be, not planning for what needed to happen, stressed about the coming school year, but instead present to those I encountered when they were in front of me. I was able to be of service to others, while also doing something for the sake of just doing it. Climbing a rickety ladder to pick cherries from an ancient tree, I felt connected to those that had come before me. I didn’t feel like some cog in a machine, spinning to get something done. I felt present to the world, seeing it with fresh eyes and the “inward calm” and “letting things happen” of which Pieper speaks.

A leisurely garden drinking wine
An Austrian Heuriger, where locals gather to eat and drink leisurely

Leisure Leaves Room to Encounter the “Other”

When reading the lives of different saints, I have always wondered how they were able to be so present to those in front of them. Knowing the extent of what they accomplished in their lives, it always seems to me like they would have been so busy. Wouldn’t they be burdened by giving of themselves so completely to others, as they clearly seemed to do? How did St. John Paul II remember the places and names of all those he met? He had so many important things he needed to be worried about– surely these side details were unimportant. Or St. Catherine of Siena. How did she have time to write all the letters she did, giving them each her complete attention, seeing in them her only concern at the time? Countless other examples point to the same thing: these people, these saints lived life differently. They had an internal disposition that allowed for this attention to others.

In What It Means To Be A Christian, Joseph Ratzinger writes, “How far we are from a world in which people no longer need to be taught about God because He is present within us! It has been asserted that our century is characterized by an entirely new phenomenon: the appearance of people incapable of relating to God.”

John Paul II and Joseph Ratzinger
Holy Friendship and Holy Fathers

Learning the art and gift of leisure helps us to correct this. Our frequent fear of having enough time, needing to finish projects, worrying of what is yet to be accomplished can stifle us. We are made for something greater. As Christians, we are presented with an alternative. While we are called to live in this world, we are not made for this world. There is much beauty in giving ourselves and our gifts to our work, but not to the extent that we become stifled and bound down by this work. We are given an opportunity to see the world through a different lens.

Leisure Leads to Freedom and Presence

When we seek this rest, knowing our worth outside of what we can accomplish or complete, we can allow ourselves to be free. We can live as many of the Saints did, present to the person in front of them, welcoming the Lord into that situation. Our worth stems from being created by a Father who loves us, who desires a relationship with us, and who wants us to be captivated by the beauty of the world he created for us.

beautiful decorated cake

Pieper writes, “Leisure is not the attitude of the one who intervenes but of the one who opens himself; not of someone who seizes but of one who lets go, who lets himself go, and ‘go under,’ almost as someone who falls asleep must let himself go.”

Take time this summer to open yourself to others, to the Lord. Surrender your worries to him, remembering, “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God.  Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Luke 12: 6-7)