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Searching for that elusive rest

February 18, 2020 by Eric Stillman 0 comments

During January and February, I will be using this space to interact with the ideas put forward in David Zahl’s book Seculosity: How career, parenting, technology, food, politics, and romance became our new religion and what to do about it. Chapter 6 is entitled “The seculosity of leisure.”

As a parent to four children, I have noticed that one thing that has clearly changed over the generations has been play and leisure time. With every generation, it feels as if play has become less free and more structured. Instead of sending your children out to do whatever with their neighborhood friends and expecting them home by supper, now almost every activity is scheduled, with any downtime becoming increasing tethered to an electronic device. When children are finally faced with real downtime without electronics, you can almost guarantee that the first words out of their mouth will be, “I’m bored.”

But children are not the only ones who have experienced a change in play and leisure time. David Zahl, in his book Seculosity, argues that as our culture removes God more and more from our lives, leisure time for adults has taken on increasingly religious undertones, serving as yet another means by which we can feel like we are “enough,” valuable, worth something. For instance, Zahl points to the modern gym and exercise options such as SoulCycle, CrossFit, and hot yoga, which pull together a community to go through their exercise rituals in an attempt to enter “the zone,” that state of endorphin-induced transcendence and transform not just the body but the entire person. This is exercise as salvation, promising to deliver us from our ordinary existence to a higher plane of living.

Another example is the modern obsession with meditation and mindfulness. In its original form, it was a practice designed to help someone live with awareness in the present moment so as to not be overwhelmed by suffering and stress. In our modern-day hands, however, it has become for many people something to be tracked, measured, and performed, yet another thing to feel guilty about if we are not doing it often enough or correctly. As Zahl writes, “What starts out as a respite turns into a ladder.”

Incredibly, even sleep has become something not just to be enjoyed as a natural part of life, but something that we need to get more of so that we can be more productive in our waking hours. Rest is just a prelude to more work, something to stress over if we are not getting enough of it, instead of functioning as a respite from stress.

So what are we to do about this predicament? As Martin Luther put it, “It is impossible to gain peace of conscience by the methods and means of the world. Experience proves this. Various holy orders have been launched for the purpose of securing peace of conscience through religious exercises, but they proved failures because such devices only increase doubt and despair. We find no rest for our weary bones unless we cling to the word of grace.” Apart from the grace of God, we instinctively turn almost everything, even our play and leisure time, into a pursuit of our own “enoughness.” But there is a better way: 

Hebrews 4:9-11 -There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest     

In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, a way to be right with God, to know that we are “enough,” that we are valuable, is provided to us free of charge. In this grace of God, we can find true rest for our soul. And out of that rest, we can simply enjoy play and leisure as a good gift from God and not as another means to our own justification.

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