I just saw a post that a friend of mine posted on Facebook. Humorously, he asks “Why is my day off to-do list longer than my work to-do list?” I’m sure many of us are have echoed this sentiment. After a long week of tasks and demands we finally reach the week’s end (whatever day that happens to be) only to dive head long into numerous hours spent in house work, yard work, hobby work, or – if we are honest – the work we have taken home with us.
I like to pretend that I am good at honouring my day off. I have tried to be diligent in my refusal to answer work emails, along with an overall reluctance to make my way to the church in order to ‘pick something up’. I even use the language of ‘taking my Sabbath.’ This may sound great, even spiritual, but the secret is anything but. The fact is, the way I avoid drifting into work demands on my day off is simply to jam my day full of other activity. I structure the hours of my day so that every minute is taken up. After dropping my son off at school I attempt to plan my day in away where I will be able to maximize all the things I want to ‘do’ during the short few hours I have to myself. Sure this may involve a walk down to my nearest coffee shop for coffee, yet this occurs after the planned activities of clearing up the dishes, spending 40 minutes reading; watching a movie on Netflix and fixing some lunch. I then go for coffee all the while knowing that if the walk takes me 30 minutes, I can then spend an hour at coffee (tops) before needing to walk back to the house so that there is just enough time for me to get into my car, do some shopping, and then get home by 4:00. Frankly, I find my day off rather exhausting, and it sounds as if it is exhausting for my friend and for any who recognize the same trends in their own lives. Isn’t the operative word supposed to be ‘off’?
We like to think that we need to jam our days with a long list of frenetic activity. We hear, echoing in our ears, the adage ‘idle hands are the devil’s playthings.’ Thus, we do all that we can to avoid such idleness. Yet in this where is the rest? Where is the sense of peace? Where is the sense of being ‘off’ from the frantic running around that is part of the normal routine of life. What is more, where is the sense of re-creation essential to not only our physical lives, but our spiritual lives as well?
This type of frenetic running around on our day off is not only exhausting, but it drives us to the place of distraction. We are never able to keep our mind or heart in a focused state because we are too busy looking continually to the next activity. Again, this is not only physically taxing, but it is spiritually draining for how can there be any peace and rest in the presence of God? In this place of constant movement which brings with it ever shifting attentions, how can we ever quiet ourselves enough to delight in the presence and love of God? Instead, we are left like Jacob who cries ‘Surely the Lord is in this place, but I was not aware of it’ or like Martha for whom it is said is distracted by many things.
The endless line of distractions that jam up so much of the work week filters into our days of leisure as well. The problem isn’t necessarily in what we are doing, as if to say we should not watch movies or drink coffee on our day’s off. Rather the problem lies in the fact that like our regular work week, we define our down-times by what we choose to ‘do’. What is more, we can’t simply assert that instead of lining the day with movies, coffee, and shopping, we should pack the day full of prayer, bible reading, and other spiritual activities. We would be doing the same thing, yet this time adding on the sense of guilt over not being able to keep focused in prayer or bible reading for the pre-determined length of time? How can there be any communion with God in this?
Rather, in order to enter into the place of rest and re-creation, we must uncover the glory found in the three letter word ‘off.’ It is here where we release ourselves the perennial pressure to perform or accomplish. We put down the demands that we sometimes place on ourselves, and are thus able to enter into the day in complete anticipation of God’s presence and activity. In his book “Streams of Living Water”, Richard Foster suggests that we stop any activity that brings with it a sense of ‘the human itch to get ahead.’ He even advocates to cease from prayer for that day, so that we may be free to ‘sit in the silence, doing nothing, having nothing needing nothing. . . . Waste time for God.”
What would happen if we ripped up those day off to-do lists? What if we unplugged everything, and woke up to a day with no demands, no tasks, and no pre-conceived notions of what needs to be ‘done.’ Could it be that if we actively turn things off, put things down, and stop our frenetic activities, we just may catch a deep vision of God and find ourselves re-created in his image and likeness?