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Recreation: a time to rest and rebuild

Monday, 7 November 2016  | Ian Hore-Lacy

We have a commandment to rest one day in seven, and it seems that this is primarily re-creative for us, in relation to body, mind and spirit. One day in seven is built into the fabric of creation (Gen 2:2-3), to give us space for worship and recreation - physical, mental and spiritual. We do need it!

The principle of Sabbath rest and reflection is important. It is part of creation and needs to be seen as a proper means of tuning in to our Creator rather than anything legalistic. Sundays for many of us are a convenient occasion to practice Sabbath rest, coupled with community connection and worship, and perhaps family interaction. It's not just the break from physical work, but the respite from being driven that may be most important. Note that rest is not the same as recreation, which may become frenetically active. But for the Christian, recreation should include some kind of Sabbath rest.

This actually requires a surprisingly strong act of will, and it is something that has to be reinforced by habit and supported by social convention in the faith community. It does not feel natural in our busy lives, so requires some firm discipline. Taking a Sabbath rest from work is an expression of our trust in God that this is appropriate. It also means that we can trust him in our work context to ensure that we are not actually needed 24/7. The world, and our part in it, will not stop because we do so on a regular basis.

We also need a substantial portion of time specifically set aside to focus on God, as part of obeying the Greatest Commandment of worship. We also need time for leisure and recreation, both weekly and also less frequently, e.g. annually. Work is a major aspect of our role on Earth. That work - and the study which is an aspect of it or preparation for it - takes many forms apart from the remunerated employment which is a feature of many lives. The point here is that some break from this is necessary and appropriate. Without the Sabbath rest our work is likely to become the main means of defining who and what we are. Beyond simply taking a break and resting, the character of that break has a lot to do with our social relationships and our stewardship of the broader opportunities provided to us.

We also need the day off each week so we do not get unduly tired and run down. If we are to be pleasant and shining God’s light among those who have never thought about God, then it is important that we have adequate rest so that we don't revert to being grumpy and irritable. Overwork can lead to breakdowns and sickness, which are both incapacitating and a bad witness.

Some contrast with our main work is appropriate - for instance, physical endeavour of some kind for the sedentary and intellectual pursuits for the labourer, so as to exercise the whole person, usually daily but also on a weekly cycle. Sunday worship and other fellowship occasions through the week are of course central recreational opportunities for the Christian, in more ways than one. There is much discussion today on "work-life balance", proposed as a counter to any workaholic tendency and elements of the prevailing culture. It is indeed important to have such a balance, and to ensure adequate recreation, but we should not be drawn in to endorsing a minimalist approach to work under that rubric, or using it as a rationalisation for laziness (as often occurs).

Recreation also opens up opportunity for us to be creative for the sake of simply enjoying and indulging our interests, without the slightest connection with the need for output which to some extent drives our work endeavours.

It also should enable us to pause and enjoy beauty - in nature, in music, in theatre, in works of art - wherever, and to give thanks for such, for all true beauty ultimately derives from a creator who made things good. The sublime beauty of good music is both balm to the soul and an encouragement to worship. Incidentally, there is no case to be made for esteeming the works of Christian composers and artists above those of others (e.g. Mozart) on aesthetic grounds, nor being less thankful to God for their output, though there may be special dimensions of appreciation added by knowing that a composer or artist was inspired by his or her faith and love for God. Here, the biblical admonition to esteem what is good, rather than trivial, sleazy or spiritually unhealthy, is clearly relevant.

A holiday is not only about whether we’ve had a good rest or a pleasant experience, but also whether we have had a chance to reflect and reaffirm priorities. A good holiday provides some perspective on busy lives. It helps us become more resilient in a world of often transient and superficial personal aggrandisement, consumerism, and much that is tacky and shallow. We can return with a renewed sense of purpose, energy and enthusiasm.

Pleasure is an aspect of recreation. God intends us to enjoy pleasure. Pleasure is part of his gracious provision for us. Of course seeking pleasure can be as elusive as seeking happiness, and it can also lead us astray in many ways, since we live in a fallen world where indolence, hedonism and various addictions need to be resisted and are antithetical to recreation. However, rejoicing in the pleasure of God’s provision within proper constraints is entirely appropriate and should be celebrated. The pleasure of relationships is foremost, in line with biblical teaching about love among the brethren and more widely. But the pleasure of recreation, food and drink, art, work, play, creativity can all be major, ranging from sensual pleasures to the heartfelt.

Sexual pleasure and the pleasures of eating and drinking are foundational to God’s creation and are also redemptive images in the Bible, with the potential to reveal God’s nature and grace. Having hearts filled with pleasures should motivate and empower godly living and worship.

Social networking on the internet such as Facebook can be a very positive recreation, but also it can be a substitute for real face-to-face relationships. The whole question of internet involvement, extending to electronic games and alternative reality involving avatars, must be approached with some caution and reserve, and open communication with wise peers and accountability partners. Avatars can become a means of indulging lust and other sinful inclinations with less constraint than real life. Electronic games can become as addictive as gambling or porn, so keep any attraction firmly under control.

If recreation is to be re-creation in a meaningful sense for the Christian, in that it is edifying to us and builds us up as people and as Christians, it cannot be merely passive. Spending hours in front of the TV, looking at whatever happens to be on, is not an edifying or re-creational alternative to exercise, socialising or reading, for instance, though limited use of TV as a switch-off from daily pressures may be appropriately recreational for some. However, many things on the TV or movie screen, chosen deliberately, are indeed edifying. Good movies are arguably a wonderful insight into our culture and very appropriate food for thought and conversation for most of us. But both TV and internet surfing used unthinkingly tend to be addictive, time-consuming and brain-deadening rather than re-creative. Arguably they are today's opiate of the masses.

Sport is an important recreation – both watching and playing, but pre-eminently the latter! Team sports especially are an expression of human creativity and of social interaction, which builds friendships and community. More than even workplace relationships, they bring us into wholesome connection with others so that the relationship as well as the physical aspect is good and congruent with a life of worshipping a creator who gave us bodies to rejoice in. Those bodies are to be offered to God as a living sacrifice, along with the renewing of our minds (Rom 12:1-2). The social aspect means that team sport is normally a better way of keeping fit than simply solo gym workouts or jogging.

Many Christians find walking or similar immersion in nature a refreshing opportunity to reflect on the beauty and goodness of God's creation, and to enjoy the natural world. With increasing urbanisation, the contrast between that and the thoroughly artificial context in which we spend most of our time is marked, and thought-provoking. It readily leads us to an increased appreciation of both the beauty of nature and the need to care for God's creation. It may also help us reflect upon the huge benefits of what humans have done with God's abundant provision in creation, in enabling the standard of living which most of us enjoy.

Just as work can become addictive, so can recreational activities such as running, gym, or almost anything else. Moderation and balance are needed, as everywhere in life. But recreation must not be sidelined.

This is based on chapter 6 of Down to Earth Discipleship http://www.downtoearthdiscipleship.com

Ian Hore-Lacy is a founding Zadok board member (1978-98), author of Responsible Dominion - a Christian approach to sustainable development, and now Senior Research Analyst with World Nuclear Association. He is co-author of Down to Earth Discipleship, a pastoral ‘book’ on the web.

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