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December 11, 2013

The Disappearance of Leisure

Culture Challenge of the Week: 24/7 Work Frenzy

Amazon made headlines recently for its futuristic plans to use drones to deliver packages. Whatever you may think of a sky full of flying delivery machines, Amazon’s innovation is a sign of a bigger trend: the 24/7 business world. Amazon seems bent on changing the business cycle—or at least the delivery cycle—to an ‘always-on’ model. In fact, it has already struck a deal with the U.S. Postal Service to deliver packages on Sundays in some metropolitan locations.

Is this frenzied business activity just a holiday innovation? A way to provide super-service amidst the volume of Christmas shopping? I don’t think so.

The non-stop business day is another sign of our society’s devaluing of the deeper things in life—family and faith. And on the practical side, it has consequences for both productivity and personal happiness.

A recent Wall Street Journal article described the phenomenon of the ‘Sunday Blues’—workers’ anxiety about impending Monday-morning pressure. And the financial industry was hit by several high-profile stress-related deaths in recent months. These sad cases point to the basic, undeniable need for mental and physical rest.

As businesses feed the 24/7 consumer mentality, they put their employees in difficult positions. Businesses need employees, and every person stuck in a shop or delivering a package is a person who’s not at home with the rest of the family. A friend of mine lamented recently that her husband, a branch bank manager, now has to work Sundays—the one day that everyone else in the family was home. Similarly, other families I know have ‘lost’ their family time because their teenagers spend all week in school and then work at the mall on weekends. Extended business hours produces unintended consequences: families find it nearly impossible to carve out any predictable time to spend time together, and individuals have little leisure time to develop their own creativity.

How to Save Your Family: Restore Leisure to Your Life

Since the beginning of the world, the book of Genesis tells us, God ordained a day of rest, a holy day (“holiday”). Even the Creator himself rested. For many, many decades of American life, we observed the ancient rhythm of taking a day to rest each week. To be still. To enjoy the beauty of family and communal worship. And we reaped the benefits as we built personal relationships with those who share our faith, and through the peace that comes with unhurried family gatherings…the Sunday afternoon dinner at Grandmas or brunch with friends and neighbors.

Those were good traditions. They strengthened our families and our friendships and fostered connections between generations. They reminded us of our heritage and allowed us time to regroup and peacefully look to the future. They fostered culture and cultivated personal depth. The Sunday pause bound us closer to the important people in our lives and offered a respite from business and busyness.

It also served as a tangible sign of the dignity of the average worker. Even the lowest person on the pay scale has the same need as ‘the boss’ for time off to spend with family, God, and in personal relaxation.

Bucking the new trend of an obsession with 24/7 commerce and work, at least one business recently decided to encourage its workers to develop a rhythm of leisure. Goldman Sachs has a new rule for its junior analysts: no work (or even entering the office) from 9pm Friday to 9am Sunday. Well aware that their driven-for-success-employees willingly overwork themselves, the company hopes to structure some “work-life balance” into the lives of its employees. The truth is that the company will benefit too.

Resting actually makes us more productive when we return to work. Dr. Matthew Sleeth, author of 24/6: A Prescription for a Healthier, Happier Life, says that taking a day of rest gives us something to look forward to, “a positive mental break” that prevents anxiety and depression. “It’s ingrained in us to go 24/7,” Dr. Sleeth notes, “but people don’t get more done.” In his book, Sleeth discusses the change in his own life, as an emergency room doctor, once he dialed back on work. He also describes the success of Hobby Lobby, a Christian-owned chain of arts and crafts stores. Despite closing on Sundays, Hobby Lobby (and Chik-fil-a) are thriving businesses with well-satisfied employees.

Even, or perhaps especially, in the midst of this crazy holiday season, we need to reclaim leisure, for our families and ourselves. Leisure, by the way, is not simply “doing nothing,” being lazy, or engaging in endless entertainment. Leisure, according to philosopher Joseph Pieper, begins with silence, allows time to reflect on the mysteries and wonder of life, and celebrates the amazing gifts we’ve received from our Creator. Leisure feeds the soul and nourishes joy in life, culture, and God Himself. It’s essential for a truly human life.

Christ himself reminds us as recorded in Mark 2: 27 that "The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath." If you and your family intentionally set aside a day each week to relax, to take care of your basic needs, to concentrate on those around you, and to worship God through resting in His presence, your lives will constantly be transformed and your spirits renewed.

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