On Leisure By Rebecca F. Kauffman

“How do you do it?” I questioned one of my housemates recently, “You watch, at minimum, a movie a day, you have a thriving social life, and you still manage to get your homework done.”  My friend ducked her head, laughed, and never really answered.  Now, it is not as if this is a great mystery that has been plaguing me, but I have questioned why it is that I lack free time like hers.  Yet, I know the answer lies within our differing philosophies of learning, that is, the difference between seeing education as a means to another end—requiring no more than enough effort to pass—versus seeing education both a means and an end—something worth wholeheartedly pursuing and loving.  However, not until I began to study the ideas presented in Witold Rybczynzki’s article “Waiting for the Weekend,” did I begin to comprehend the intrinsic connection between leisure and education and love.

Rybczynski quotes G. K. Chesterton’s perspective on leisure, to show the true historical sense of the word.  Chesterton made an important distinction by presenting three forms of leisure: “The first is being allowed to do something.  The second is being allowed to do anything.  And the third (and perhaps most rare and precious) is being allowed to do nothing.”1  The first kind he mentions, might further be described as having the needed time to accomplish something which one has been purposing to do whenever the time is available.  For example, washing the car or making a homemade birthday gift are both things which would be put off until adequate time presented itself.  Chesterton’s second type of leisure is not just having the time to accomplish something which you have planned, but having the ability to select the most preferable activity from any of the possible things to do as there is nothing more pressing to accomplish.  An illustration of this would be having the freedom to choose between strolling through the woods, reading a book, or painting a picture.  The third, and according to Chesterton, most glorious classification of leisure could be reworded in having the ability to just be.  Perhaps the reason this is such a precious form of leisure, is that there are very few opportunities in life which are afforded when one can only exist, with no activities, chores, or work to be done.


This truth, of the inability to do nothing, is seemingly epitomized in the American culture.  Western society has confused recreation with leisure.  True leisure is more than simply pursuing non-work-related activities; as Rybczynski points out, the seriousness with which people now pursue recreation has brought about “an enslavement of kind” to free time.2  But, according to philosopher Josef Pieper:3 “leisure…is a mental and spiritual attitude—it is not simple the result of external factors, it is not the inevitable result of spare time, a holiday, a weekend or a vacation.  It is, in the first place, an attitude of the mind, a condition of the soul.”4  Indeed, the ability to simply exist, is a rather spiritual process, which makes many people, including many proclaimed Christians, uncomfortable.  Our culture promotes busyness as a sign of a fulfilling life.  People simply do not consider “idleness” to ever be appropriate.

The heightened segmentation between professional lives and personal lives also decreases the ability to do nothing.  In fact, a near dichotomy of personality is created by the sharp contrast made between work and free time.  Work is no longer something that emanates from your being, it is just a role to be performed.  Thus, “playing” is also just another role.  A role is defined as “a set of expectations (norms) about a social position, defining how those in the position ought to behave;”5 and the two roles of work and leisure are no longer connected.  Because jobs and education cannot also function as or provide enjoyable times, free times must therefore be filled as much as possible with enjoyable pursuits.  Within this mindset, there simply remains no time to do nothing.

Another contributing factor is the increased automation since the industrial revolution.  Rather than simply creating huge amounts of free time to be squandered, as was expected, automation has, instead, impaired us.  The scientific processes through which everything from education6 to construction work are now being approached, have led to a “reduction of skills.”7  Less time and effort are required to successfully complete any projects.  The fact that we are so used to easily excelling has created within us a sense of entitlement to excellence.  So, hobbies and activities which used to be relaxing leisurely pursuits, have become time and money demanding recreations (which portrays the evident distinction between traditional leisure and modern recreation) because of people’s extreme diligence in one area.8  With all this recreation to require attention, who really has time to do or appreciate “nothing” at all?  As Rybczynski points out, there is now opposition to the title of “amateur,” despite its etymological meaning of “lover” and the ensuing suggestion of freeing enjoyment of the activity.  Rather, in compliance with the industry environment, “professional” is now the coveted status that is so commercialized in any leisure activity.

However, one cannot complain, in any complete form, about the commercialization of leisure.  Interestingly, there was initially an intricate connection between work and leisure.  In the eighteenth century, leisure was frequently connected to work because “trade guilds often organized their own outings” and workers time off together for the same special events.  As a result, by the nineteenth century, when days off became a regularly offered thing, a leisure-based business had grown up to accommodate that desire for amusement.  It was “not so much the commercialization of leisure as the discovery of leisure thanks to commerce…[T]he modern idea of personal leisure emerged at the same time as the business of leisure.  The first could not have happened without the second.”9

Throughout the promotion of personal leisure, the saloon business remained one of the immediately connected leisure businesses.  As scientific methods and automation began a further decrease in work hours, the fear of people’s irresponsibility with their extra free time became an interesting supporting fact for Prohibition.  “Less work mean more leisure, more leisure led to idleness, and idle hands, as everyone knew, were ripe for Satan’s mischief.”10  This argument was ironic though, as more than one hundred thousand people would lose jobs across America because of Prohibition.11  No one spoke of how these newly unemployed were to keep from squandering their free time.

But, if the time is not otherwise occupied, is it really squandering it to pursue whatever you want in that time?  Historically, the Greek society nearly equivocated educational pursuits to leisure;12 in fact, the Greek word schole can mean both “school” and “leisure.”13  Intellectuals often perceive free time as an opportunity to pursue true leisure in its historical sense of education and bettering one’s self. However, looking at the modern weekend14 as described by Rybczynski, one can clearly see that people have chosen to pursue recreation instead.  Just as there is a selfish factor to pursuing only capital-focused training, rather than broadly-focused education15 (which can sharpen the mind to improve your environment), there is a certain selfishness in pursuing recreation over leisure.  Recreation, often represented by the wholehearted pursuit of one activity, fits hand in hand with training; likewise, the freedoms of leisure correspond with education’s liberty.  Just as a Christian needs to pursue education (which may include training), so he or she should pursue true leisure (which may at times contain recreation).  “Thus, some leisure activities may be better than others but the questions can only be answered at an individual level…One leisure activity is better than another to the extent that an individual has come to love it.”16

In many ways, the perfect example of the dichotomy between godly leisure and busy recreation can be seen in the lives of Jesus’s good friends Mary and Martha, sisters of Lazarus.17  Mary’s motivation for sitting at Jesus’s feet and Martha’s for constant toiling demonstrated not only where each one’s love was, but also the way each was loving.  In a lecture entitled: “Educating for Liberty,” Peter Leithart, Dean of Graduate Studies at New Saint Andrews College, spoke of the necessity of loving “the right things in the right way.”18  Our love can becomes a bondage to the object, but when it is love in the right way towards the right things, “freedom is a byproduct of our loves.”19  So, because “being” and “freedom” are linked by love, provided we are loving the True, Good, and Beautiful,20 true leisure is displayed when we pursue what we love.

So, this leads me to question myself: Is it wrong for me to challenge my roommate’s obsession with movie-watching in her free time?  Though I would dare say that I see a form of enslavement there, I believe it is less important for me to judge her motivations, then to examine my own life.  Have I allowed myself to be caught up in being busy more than just being?  There are clear implications in the topic of leisure and it’s interconnectedness with love and education that should affect my actions and motivations as well as those of any Christian.  True leisure should reflect a sense of love which is displayed in the way we connect with those around us.  Discipleship, community, and fellowship should be a part of the leisure life of a Christian as an outpouring of education and love, not just of busyness.  Such connection to other people is not a burden of work, but, especially for someone in the pursuit of ministry training, a freeing fusion of the different roles of a Christian.  With these things in mind, leisure returns to its original role of freedom to do “something,” “anything,” or “nothing.”21  “Leisure has always been related to freedom and the purpose of education has always been to make men free;”22 and, per Leithart, love brings liberty as well.  Thus, leisure works together with education and love to bring freedom.

Freedom, in this manner, I would propose, should be an intrinsic quality of the education in which the students at Moody Bible Institute-Spokane are participating.  Though the student body is being “trained” in the Bible, there exists a freedom to integrate every new piece of information into each differing segment of life, thus creating a complete education.  Blessedly, students are amateurs, free to love every aspect of this education and its byproducts.  In practical outflow, exercising leisure could look like any number of things, be it, taking a literal “Sabbath” once a week, discipling a fellow believer, going for a run, or just taking a nap.  The actual activity, or lack there of, matters less than the resulting loves.  Loves should be formed by education,23 education should be freeing, and freedom, very often, enables one to just be—that is, it enables leisure.

End Notes

1. Quoted in Rybczynski, Witold. “Waiting for the Weekend.” The Atlantic. The Atlantic Monthly, Aug. 1991. Web. 2 Oct. 2012.

2. Ibid.

3. Pieper’s most well-known book, Leisure: The Basis of Culture, more extensively addresses this entire topic

4. Quoted in Goodale, Thomas L., and Geoffrey Godbey. The Evolution of Leisure: Historical and Philosophical Perspectives. State College, PA: Venture Pub., 1988. Print.

5. Myers, David G. Exploring Psychology. 8th ed. New York, NY: Worth, 2011. Print.

6. Spears, Paul D., and Steven R. Loomis. Education for Human Flourishing: a Christian Perspective. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009. Print.

7. Rybczynski, Witold. “Waiting for the Weekend.” The Atlantic. The Atlantic Monthly, Aug. 1991. Web. 2 Oct. 2012.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid.

11. Brown, L. Ames. “Economics of Prohibition.” The North American Review 203.723 (1916): 256-64. JSTOR. Web. 8 Oct. 2011.

12. Raychaudhuri, Uttiyo, and Diane M. Samdahl. “Leisure Embodied: Examining The Meaning of Leisure From Greek and Vedic Perspectives.” Lin.ca. Lifestyle Information Network, 2005. Web. 8 Oct. 2011.

13. Thayer and Smith. “Greek Lexicon entry for Schole”. “The New Testament Greek Lexicon”. SearchGodsWord.org. Search God’s Word. Web. 8 Oct. 2011.

14. Rybczynski’ article examines the full transition from a weekly “holy day,” that is Sunday, to a weekend which existed primarily for autonomous recreation.  This is the “modern weekend” referenced here.

15. The distinction between education and training referenced here is based on Albert J. Nock’s 1932 essay “The Disadvantages of Being Educated,” in which he relates “training” as learning only one field of study, and “education” as broad and diverse learning.

16. Goodale, Thomas L., and Geoffrey Godbey. The Evolution of Leisure: Historical and Philosophical Perspectives. State College, PA: Venture Pub., 1988. Print.

17. Luke 10:38-42. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge UP, 2009. Print.

18. Leithart, Peter. “Educating for Liberty: Preparing Students for the Demands of Self-Government.” Lecture. Seedbeds of Virtue and Liberty: The Theory and Practice of a Free Society. Allison Mansion at Marian University, Indianapolis. 10 Apr. 2010. Isi.org. Intercollegiate Studies Institute. Web. 9 Oct. 2011.

19. Ibid.

20. Ibid. Also note that this idea is borrowed from Platonic epistemology.

21. Rybczynski, Witold. “Waiting for the Weekend.” The Atlantic. The Atlantic Monthly, Aug. 1991. Web. 2 Oct. 2012.

22. Goodale, Thomas L., and Geoffrey Godbey. The Evolution of Leisure: Historical and Philosophical Perspectives. State College, PA: Venture Pub., 1988. Print.

23. Leithart, Peter. “Educating for Liberty: Preparing Students for the Demands of Self-Government.” Lecture. Seedbeds of Virtue and Liberty: The Theory and Practice of a Free Society. Allison Mansion at Marian University, Indianapolis. 10 Apr. 2010. Isi.org. Intercollegiate Studies Institute. Web. 9 Oct. 2011.


One comment on “On Leisure By Rebecca F. Kauffman

  1. Tim Wellings says:

    Very well done Rebecca! We have to work very hard in this culture to get away from this mentality of “go go go” which works against the healthy meditation of just simply being for a time. I always try and get a schedule going of giving myself just ten minutes a day of mentally stopping, but a few days into it, I forget to do it, and just continue in the constant rush. Why can’t we all just slow down!

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