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.



Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true wisdom. All who obey his commandments will grow in wisdom” (Psalm 111:10).

I sat for a long time at my dining room table with a tangle of cords and chains, metal and rock, silver and gold, as I tried to separate all of my earrings, bracelets and necklaces from the hopeless state that travel had gotten them into. Usually, it is a task that I like—slow tempo, measurable results, and useful effort. But, this time, the snarl was incredibly complicated. Each time I was able to free a chain or a charm, the whole mess would begin to twirl and wind up, capturing everything again in a different way. The earrings would hook themselves onto the tiny links. The bracelet fasteners would be wound around with threads and string. It was maddening!

As I wondered how much time I should invest in this untangling, I felt the gentle encouragement of the Holy Spirit.

“This is how peoples’ lives sometimes feel to me,” a voice in my head said.

I took a moment to pray for help, even though at some points in my life I would have thought it too trivial. As I pulled and prodded, twisted and untwisted, new ideas began to flow. As I relaxed and thought about other things, what seemed like an insurmountable problem began to look more like something that could be conquered.

Here were the insights I gained from my two hours at the table with the jewelry.

  1. Knowledge is important.

    The material properties of my various necklaces, etc., made a difference in how much pressure I could put on them. There were delicate ones that couldn’t really be pulled too strongly. There were some chains that were tough and hearty. And, I had to know some basic techniques of how to get them apart (I use a pin or a needle to help my hands work better).

    But, knowledge alone could not work out the tangles in an effective or efficient way. If knowing the properties was enough, they should have come immediately apart as soon as I began working with them. It took more.

  2. Understanding is vital.

    To solve the problem I had with the tangled jewelry, I had to understand how I could succeed. I needed to understand that the tangles were sometimes actually knots. I had to understand that some the pieces needed to be unlatched, so they wouldn’t all simply form unending circles. I couldn’t move forward without understanding that the chains and ties would wrap around each other when lifted from the surface of the table.

    And, still, I was two hours at the work, trying to “un-weave” the complicated woof and warp of the knot of things.

  3. Wisdom will win.

    Once I began letting God in on my thinking (and my frustration), the whole exercise turned around. I felt the calm hand of Wisdom teaching me how to be peaceful and intentional, even in a tension-producing situation. Wisdom said, “Take it easy. Don’t rush. Let it happen.” One by one, the chains unwound from each other. The earrings slowly came out of the tangle so that I could set them aside. Bracelets shook off the shackles of the other pieces. I could finally put everything away in its place, happy and content.

There is no doubt that we have plenty of knowledge in today’s world. Some that can be trusted and some that cannot.

And, understanding is available to us with some study and some practice.

But, it is wisdom that will give success; wisdom whose source is the Creator.