Yes, we all want more leisure time. We feel past the limit at work, or weighed down by personal troubles, or simply trapped. If only we could take time off, get away.
Maybe it's not more leisure time we need, but different leisure time.
This new take on leisure was prompted by reading in the New Testament about a night that Jesus spent in prayer. That sleepless night was sandwiched between two stirring events.
The sixth chapter of Luke describes an on-the-spot healing of a man whose hand was withered. It happened in a synagogue, where some Pharisees who witnessed the spectacle were "filled with madness" at what they saw. Afterward Jesus went into the hills and spent a whole night in prayer.
A number of things might have prompted the all-night session. Did Jesus sense his life was in danger from angry Pharisees and so he was vigorously turning to God for help? Or, were those prayer-filled hours an effort to plan the next momentous step in his ministry, which occurred the following day? (That's the day he chose his closest disciples, the young men he would trust with his instruction, care, correction, and who would be at his side for the remainder of his ministry and beyond.)
Regardless of the actual reason for the night of prayer, who would ever think of such time as anything approaching leisure? For most of us, that means idle time. Kick back, play, do nothing of significance - hardly what Jesus was doing.
But the ancient Greeks saw leisure in a different way. They would not understand how anyone could equate it with idleness. The root of the Greek word for "leisure" is skole. That translates to "school" in English. The name we use for a place of learning means "leisure."
In that sense, leisure was a mentally active and productive time, and an important activity if one was to be firmly grounded in life. It was the calm state of thought necessary for thinking clearly, contemplating reality, hearing what God is saying and being in harmony with all that God creates us to be. It not only includes shutting out the world's distractions and materialism, but also focusing on - affirming - the magnificent life and love that flow unceasingly from God to His creation. This affirmation is not some toilsome, repetitious exercise, but more like a silent celebration of reality. It is to perceive and to praise "the depth, breadth, height, might, majesty, and glory of infinite Love" (Mary Baker Eddy, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," p. 520).
Not your everyday kind of leisure. If you think it sounds a lot more like prayer, you're right. In a stretched-too-thin, stressed-out world, it's this kind of leisure - prayer-filled time rather than play-filled time - that we could all use more of, especially if we feel our lives are on the edge.
No one has to be a victim of the rush or intensity of whatever may be swirling around him or her. We can choose to turn our attention elsewhere, to what comes to us through our spiritual senses, to that which brings refreshment, direction, confidence, and healing. That's why Jesus' night of prayer may have been more energizing and clarifying than anyone would imagine to be possible when going a night without sleep. The results certainly were rewarding for him. And the lesson is bountiful for us.
Maybe you're in need of relief right now. Maybe you're feeling overwhelmed. Maybe you're wondering what is your next big step. Then by all means invest in some spiritually grounded leisure time. You deserve it. You can do so without going anywhere, and you'll love the results. The Psalmist suggests a deceptively simple way to get started: "Be still, and know that I am God" (Ps. 46:10).
• From the Christian Science Sentinel.