With the start of the new year, the scent of freshly sharpened pencils and blank slates comes to mind. I want to do this year right. While I did not make any specific New Year’s resolutions, I do have hopes and goals in mind. As I pause to consider what this year holds, and my desire to live it well, a book written by a professor from my alma mater comes to mind.
The book is titled Getting Work Right: Labor and Leisure in a Fragmented World, written by Dr. Michael Naughton, director of the Center for Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas.
An Entrustment and an Example
Naughton’s main thesis is that in order to get work right, we have to get leisure right. In the very first book of the Bible, God both gives man both the responsibility of work and sets the example of rest and leisure.
Before God entrusts us with work, He shows us how to rest.
“God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work he had done in creation” (Genesis 2:3).
Then, a few verses later,
“The Lord God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it” (Genesis 2:15).
Our task now is to rightly order this relationship between work and leisure. As Naughton says, “rightly ordered labor and leisure gives us roots in a world that too often only gives us cut flowers.” This book will help grow the roots for a garden that flourishes.
Defining Our Terms
Before we get into the integration of work and rest, let’s define what we are talking about.
God created man to work. In the words of Pope Saint John Paul II, work is:
“something that corresponds to man’s dignity, that expresses this dignity and increases it . . . through work man not only transforms nature . . . but he also achieves fulfillment.”
Naughton affirms this point, stating that “work is central to the practical life of goal-setting and decision-making . . . from which springs our well-being as creatures who are by nature doers.”
While goals and achievements are important, Naughton does warn against the two opposite extremes of viewing work as purely a job or becoming consumed with one’s career. To view your work as just a job is to look at it solely as a source of income and a means to an end. In doing so, work can feel empty and depleting. However, the other extreme of being consumed by one’s career can result in an identity that is so connected to one’s work that it becomes the only source of self-esteem. While work is good, it is not our ultimate purpose in this world, and continually chasing the temporary high of the next rung on the ladder will leave one equally empty.
In Leisure: The Basis of Culture, a source which Naughton drew heavily upon, author and philosopher Josef Pieper wrote, “leisure is . . . to be found in the soul that receives the reality of the world.” It is to “steep oneself in the whole of creation.” To contemplate. Leisure is to sit in the stillness and be open to what it may want to reveal to you. My favorite quotation by Pieper is his sentence, “When we really let our minds rest contemplatively on a rose in bud, on a child at play, on a divine mystery, we are rested and quickened as though by a dreamless sleep.” We are restored.
The purpose of leisure is not to distract ourselves from the world through television or our phone. This pulls us out of reality, not deeper into it. Naughton views leisure not as amusement or utility, and cautions readers not to fall into either trap:
“Wiktionary defines amuse as ‘to stare stupidly at something,’” he writes. This “amusement” does not fulfill our longing for rest, but rather stirs up restlessness in us as we find our time wasted scrolling through our social media accounts or watching our favorite streaming service. We know our time could be used better and we want our time to be used better.
To view leisure as utility is to see it only as a means to the end of work itself, but not as a good in and of itself. It is like seeing leisure as a necessity in order to get back to the work week refreshed, but then when the work week is over, we find ourselves drained and in desperate need of what we see as a well-deserved break. It’s a vicious cycle with a gloomy future.
Integration Over Balance
So how do we get to rightly ordering our relationship between labor and leisure?
First, we need to make sure we are not putting labor and leisure into two different boxes: labor in our nine-to-five box and leisure in our after-dinnertime or on-the-weekend box. We are called to integrate our active life with our contemplative life, not to place these areas of our life into separate boxes, hoping that if they never touch each other we’ll achieve a “balanced” life.
Our contemplative life is meant to touch all the other facets of our life. Naughton writes, “We were created both to work and to rest, both to be active and to be contemplative. These two dimensions of our lives are meant to inform each other as part of a deeper whole rather than exist as two modes of being that balance each other or effectively cancel each other out.
Integration Through The Sabbath
In the final chapter of the book, Naughton focuses on celebrating the Sabbath as a way to allow our contemplative life to touch our active life. He writes, “The Sabbath—the commandment to both rest and celebrate—is essential to our work and to the order of our lives.” He argues that if we don’t get Sunday right, we won’t get Monday right: “Sunday is the day when production, consumption, and especially technology do not own us; but when we are defined not by our doing or having but by our being made in God’s image; when we remember that life is a gift given, not a task achieved”. In other words, it reminds us who we are and Who we were created for.
When we celebrate Sunday as we are meant to, keeping it holy and taking time for true rest, we put ourselves in a position to rest in the loving embrace of our Father. To receive Him. “The power of Sunday is in the rest it provides, not the work it produces; in receptivity, not in activity; in its celebratory affirmation of the deeply ordered goodness of creation, all of which nurtures our relationship with Christ.” This time with our Maker is never wasted, but enables us to grow in our identity as children of God.
When we submit to the stillness Christ invites us to, we recognize that we become more fully human through what we receive from Him and how we respond to Him, not by what we achieve.