Picture a leisure suit. Perhaps this takes one back to America in the 1970s, with brightly colored fabrics, and the occasional plaid pattern. Such an image hardly seems something which would invite a serious consideration. The thought of smarmy Hollywood agents, or thugs running a casino, all with a period piece soundtrack running in the background conjure up thoughts of comedic timing more than fruitful study. But consider for a moment: what is the leisure suit? A brief look at the Merriam-Webster Dictionary states that it is merely, “a suit consisting of a shirt jacket and matching trousers for informal wear.” How did something so simple, so eminently practical, become a fashion faux pas and the derision of so many born post 1985? While such a study might be valuable, perhaps the study of something similar might yield worthy results as well. For the word “leisure” has suffered a fate similar to that of its suit monikered counterpart.
Leisure is viewed as “the unimportant or superfluous” parts of life, the moments that happen in between the valuable or productive ones (Schall, 102). But this was not always the case. The roots of the word connect it back to the Greek skole or school, and its Latin equivalent, otium, became a part of English word “negotiate.” These suggest that this word was not necessarily vocation, or even directly opposite to it, but that it was still an important and vital part of life (103). Leisure, along these lines, is not the superfluous moments, but rather the moments of rest which allow the monumental things to be taken in at their true value. Aristotle went so far as to state that the beginning “of all action is leisure” (Gamble, 60). Leisure is not, then, a kind of escapism or immaturity. It is rather the place of refreshment from which all labor finds its source.
It is a curious thing that the Bible seems to say so little about “leisure.” Even one of the most perplexing usages of the word in the Hebrew (’itti), found in Gen. 33:14, is rendered as “slowly” in more recent translations like the ESV. The word seems to have little value in the prescription of Biblical living. Unless, as considered above, the word is in need of resurrection and restoration. For the Bible speaks extensively about a similar concept: rest. Rest, or sabbath rest, permeates both Testaments, and is mentioned in nearly every Biblical book. A brief survey found that no less than 50 of the 66 books of the Bible deal directly with teachings on the Sabbath or rest (NASB), including each of the Gospels. Taking time to follow in God’s pattern, to rest after laboring hard so that creativity and joy might return when the work recommences, is an important aspect of righteous living (cf. Gen. 1:24-2:3).
What is leisure then? It is more than a casual, pastel two-piece suit might imply. It is the starting point and end goal of all work. Leisure is the way in which every labor becomes a labor of love. To live a life with leisure is not to be lackadaisical, but rather to seize every moment, recognizing when those moments are to be set apart for the rest and refreshment which every human needs.
Gamble, Richard M., ed. The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on What It Means to Be an Educated Human Being. Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2007.
Schall, James V. On The Unseriousness Of Human Affairs: Teaching, Writing, Playing, Believing. Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2012.