The Art of Leisure


My mother used to recite the lines of a poem when we needed to stop and enjoy. It went like this:

“What is this world if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?”

I can see my brother stretching out his legs and putting his hands behind his head. He would say the old proverb,

“How good it is to do nothing, and after doing nothing, to rest.”

Then my mom would tell us about growing up in China, and that the Chinese had a special word for rest, and it had a very different meaning than just goofing off. It was something you did after working hard. It meant something like this–“the art of leisure.” We were to learn the art of resting.

Our family friend Chris had his own little observation, which may not be true from a naturalist’s point of view. He would say that all mammals slow down in summer. They get more active in the fall as they prepare for winter. Then we would all talk about Thoreau living in simplicity, who said he wanted big margins to his life.

My family, or at least some of my family, was big on the “art of leisure.” When we stop for a moment, we recognize the rhythms of life, day and night, summer and winter, high tide and low tide. We resist them at our peril. A phrase I read some decades ago comes back to me, I think from Carl Jung, though I can’t track it down–

“Whatever you repress will return to you, knife in hand, demanding a sacrifice.” If we shut out rest, it will return to us in some other form, like sickness or resentment, demanding a sacrifice.

I’m glad the Bible talks so much about rest. It is the first thing God makes holy in the first pages. Often for me the Bible reminds us of our song when we have forgotten it. Reminding us so that we can remember. That’s what the ten commandments tells us to do with the day of rest–to remember it. How could we forget?

A Punch in the Face


“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” Mike Tyson

I like to make plans and help others do the same. As comforting as it is for me to know how I will make it from point A to point B, it’s equally frustrating when others don’t. It’s easy to feel like my way is right and somehow they are doing it wrong.

Success is often granted to those who complete their plans. It is awarded with a diploma, a medal, a wedding ring, salary with benefits, good health, or for a boxer, a title-belt. I imagine most boxers feel pretty accomplished while training when the environment is controlled. Even unexpected punches are not intending harm. I imagine these athletes feel pretty good about their skills—that is, until they step in the ring and get punched in the face.

For a while in my life, I felt pretty good about my ability to plan for successful outcomes. But then came a series of punches. Ironically it wasn’t the expected punches of personal sickness or death of family that hit hardest. I was left reeling when the plans I made for others, the hopes and dreams I had for them, were dashed. At first I diagnosed their failure, bitterly thinking, “Why couldn’t they stick to the plan?” I frantically tried to take control, make a new plan, re-calibrate—all to no avail. From my perspective things looked dark and were getting darker.

But then came a speck of light in a paradigm shifting thought: Maybe they’ve been punched in the face a little more than me; maybe I need to learn something from them.

A View From the Bottom of the Stairs


“At the top of the stairway stood the LORD, and he said, ‘I am the LORD, the God of your grandfather Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants.’” Genesis 28:13 NLT

Jacob certainly didn’t deserve what God promised. He was a cheating, conniving thief. When I read the chapter before this and see how he played his brother, I think, “Poor Esau!” As a kid I used to spend a lot of time in the basement of my childhood home. There my siblings and I played games. As the baby of the family, I often felt cheated or that they were taking advantage of me. I would run up the stairs and tell my mom how poorly I was treated. I knew what I wanted her to do. Never did I run to my mom thinking she would stand at the top of the stairs, call the offender to the bottom, and say, “I made some cookies for your brother, but now I will give them to you!” We all want the wrong to be made right.

We want people to get what they deserve until we’re the one at the bottom of the stairs.