Most of us took at least some time off from our usual occupations to spend with family and friends and attend liturgies over the Christmas and New Year period.
Our family spent time in the Blue Mountains, at a recreational camp with some other families.
“Enjoy your holiday”, our parents told us. We reminded them that taking a clutch of children for a week of sport and activities with dozens of other kids isn’t exactly the relaxing break they seemed to think Peter and I needed.
It was great though. We were blessed to be in cabins (with air conditioning!) instead of tents, and meals and activities were provided, so this was closer to glamping than camping. But five days of almost constant togetherness with other people can be intense for non-extroverted types like me.
Luckily I managed to hide alone in our room a few times to read or pray and steal the odd lolly from the kids’ not-so-secret stash.
I tend to think of holiday time as an absence of needing to do anything, with plenty of friends, good food and drinks on hand, and preferably no bandages to put on or leeches to peel off little people’s arms and legs.
There were moments like that on camp but overall it didn’t feel like a ‘holiday’. I’d read shortly before going, from Pope Emeritus Benedict, that leisure is ‘a different kind of work’, and that’s what this felt like: working at being together, enjoying each other’s company, making new friends with other families, learning more about our children’s individual preferences and what we enjoy doing together.
I can’t think of a more truly productive way our family could have spent the first week of the year.
It’s easy, when you’re busy raising a family like we are, to focus on working for material needs out of proportion to other things that make up a good human life. But collective human wisdom through arts, philosophy, and culture teaches us, and the Church confirms, that time not engaged in simply ‘getting things done’ is just as important, and even more important, as the time spent in work.
It’s not just about the need to replenish our energy for work, though there is that. It’s about giving meaningful time to engage in personal relationships and to better know ourselves and God. Most of the time I don’t feel like taking time off important housework or income-generating work to go for a walk or watch a movie with the kids, but I’ve learnt that it’s when I most feel trapped by mounting piles of work that I should take a total break.
There is always work to do; it’s one thing than can easily seep out and fill up all of every day if we let it. The Church is wise to oblige us to structure our lives so we have enough rest and free time to tend to our non-material needs, especially keeping Sunday as a day of rest and worship.
Affording ourselves leisure time, properly directed and used, is a beautiful form of service to God and others, and ourselves. It makes us better humans. Prayer and contemplation are impossible without it. It is, as Jesus counselled Martha who bristled at the seeming unproductivity of Mary, the ‘better part’.
Free time can be wasted in of course. The evening slump in front of TV or internet-streamed shows that don’t particularly interest us or we know isn’t right for us and are probably a waste of time. So is letting hours slip by on social media if it leaves us feeling agitated, over-stimulated, and unable to fall peacefully into the sleep that we need in order to live.
I’m often guilty of doing both, but with school and work routines about to begin again I’ll be working to build in some quality recreation time into our busy weeks.