The Lost Culture of Relaxation?

It's a beautiful, 70 degree, cloudless, sunny day here in Rockford today. As many others are, I would assume, I am here at work, thinking of countless things I'd rather be doing to take advantage of the day instead of sitting in my office. Things like planning a picnic (thanks to my sister for that idea), reading a book outside under the sun, driving to Chicago and wandering Michigan Avenue, walking to the park near my apartment and tossing a frisbee with Matt, finding a baseball game to attend...

And while I enjoy imagining all of these leisure activities, I wonder (and worry) if I am conditioned to equate relaxation with laziness. I was thinking about what it would be like to spend an entire day sitting outside, reading a novel that I haven't had time to read. I concluded that if I did that, even for half a day, I'd feel horribly guilty for "wasting" time and not doing anything useful with myself. Isn't that a terrible thought?

But I think that our culture is at a point where we really don't know how to value relaxation and taking things slow. We certainly value entertainment - hundreds of television channels available, tons of money spent on video games and technology gadgets, endless restaurants and food and alcohol - but I'm not sure that it is the same thing as valuing relaxation. Is there a difference between needing meaningful relaxation and feeling entitled to being entertained? I think there is. Perhaps the rise of entertainment has come because of the increasing speed and demands of a culture that has grown to expect that business and work and efficiency be our key values. In a world where the culture expects you to be productive - where people are working more and stressing more - we don't have time to relax. Instead, we only have time to cram in escapist and self-indulgent luxuries. Our expectation for entertainment is really an expectation that someone else will do the work to provide us with relaxation. Related to that is laziness, which is also not necessarily relaxation. After we work a full week, we feel entitled to spend a weekend doing nothing - we feel that we have earned our laziness.

I think that conscious relaxation is something different than either entertainment or laziness. Relaxation doesn't expect someone else to come in and entertain us, and doesn't mean doing nothing and just sitting on the couch, zoned out in front of the TV. I see relaxation as spending time doing things that remind us that there is more to one's quality of life than their productivity. Relaxation means seeking out activities that help add to the value of our lives. Relaxation means not feeling guilty for spending time apart from efficiency. And I'm not necessarily saying that television or games or movies or computers or food or alcohol or luxuries aren't sometimes elements of good, recharging, relaxing activities. But I fear that we have stopped being creative in seeking out fulfilling activities.

Moreover, I worry that we have continued to erode the idea that relaxation is good. I hate the innate guilt complex that comes with taking time away from work. I think that this is something I learned from all my years of being a student. Because I was never one to get all of my work done ahead of time. So no matter how much relaxing and fun I had on a Saturday, there was still homework to finish before Monday. At all points during my non-homework time, I knew that there was something else that I could or should be doing. And it's hard to shake that mentality, even now, when I generally leave all my work at work - when I go home in the evening, and when I have days off, I really don't have tasks hanging over my head. But it's hard to learn how to just accept the time I have to myself.

I've decided that if I had the day off today, I certainly would spend my morning reading. And I would convince myself that the sun and the story are indeed good for the soul. And I would remember that playing the piano and knitting and writing poetry (all things I love, but don't do nearly enough of these days) are all creative activities that help me live a well-rounded and full life. I would remind myself that enjoying the fullness of God's creation might just count as good stewardship of it.

1 comment:

  1. Have you read Daniel Erlander's Manna and Mercy: A Brief History of God's Unfolding Promise to Mend the Entire Universe?

    He writes about the gift of Sabbath.

    What happened? No manna fell on the seventh day of the week. Enough manna fell on the sixth day to feed the people on both the sixth day and the seventh day. The manna stored for the Sabbath did not rot.

    What the partner people learned? Humans do not have to work every day to receive and distribute God's manna. The extra time is a beautiful gift of God which makes it possible for humans and animals and earth to rest. Sabbath allows humans to experience full time the wonder of friendship - with God and others and all creation.

    The grandest part of the covenant word, the Torah, was the teaching about Sabbath, God's gift of time - time for resting, playing, singing, frolicking, feasting, praying, storytelling, and time for savoring friendships with God and others and all nature (Remember friendship is what life is all about, not piling up stuff).

    On Sabbath days the partner people will rest. What a gift of grace! God lets the people know the world will not fall apart if they do not work all the time. It doesn't even fall apart when God takes a day off (Gen 2:1-3).