Otium Sanctum (Holy Leisure)

I want to live, and help other people live a better life through practicing biblical principles. A better life is a balanced life. One of the most neglected principles, especially in American culture, is the balancing of work and leisure. For generations, we have identified with long work hours and an aversion to rest. Working late hours and neglecting vacation are badges of honor. I’m hoping to change that.

A better life is a balanced life.

Again, a better life is a balanced life. In Ephesians 4:1, Paul writes, “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.” What does this verse have to do with a balanced life? In the original language, the word translated “worthy” has two meanings. One meaning is that of “matching.”For example, our beliefs and actions should never clash or conflict. The second meaning is one I would like to highlight further. It is the idea of “equal weight.” If you can picture a set of balanced scales, you would have a good idea of the connotation for the word Paul used that is rendered “worthy” in our English Bibles. In other words, a worthy life is balanced. (Or what I like to call a better life.)

God commands us to both work and rest (Gen 1:26-28; Exo 20:8-11). When we focus too much of our time and energy on working, our spiritual, mental, and physical health suffers. We need seasons, as Eugene Peterson quipped in Working the Angles, to “pray and play.” Without this counterbalance, we can become like Jack Nicholson’s character in The Shining, because we know from experience, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

What we need is otium sanctum (lat. “holy leisure”). Richard J Foster explains holy leisure in Celebration of Discipline. He writes, “It refers to a sense of balance in the life, an ability to be at peace through the activities of the day, an ability to rest and take time to enjoy beauty, and ability to pace ourselves” (pg. 27). Through otium sanctum, we surrender to the fact we are human beings created to glorify God and enjoy Him, instead of being trapped on the hamster wheel of human doing.

In essence, holy leisure is not wasting time, it is the active pursuit of enjoying every moment God grants.

What comprises holy leisure? It can be any number of activities. You can take a walk around your neighborhood taking time to notice the plants and flowers. You can fish from a creek bank. Read a book. Or you could even take a nap on your porch swing. In essence, holy leisure is not wasting time, it is the active pursuit of enjoying every moment God grants.


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A better life is a balanced life.

In essence, holy leisure is not wasting time, it is the active pursuit of enjoying every moment God grants.

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For God’s sake (and Yours) Stop!

As the sun sinks below the pines, I sit under the wash of my back porch’s ceiling fan. Every billow brings with it a sense of satisfaction. It’s Sunday evening and a scratched-through to-do-list reminds me of the day’s accomplishments. Sunday School. Morning Worship. Counseling. Meetings. All done. A few things left undone, but I’ve shifted them to Tuesday’s list. But for now, I rest in the fact my sabbath has come.

A few months ago, I decided Monday would be my sabbath. I placed it at the beginning of the week, because of my tendency to overwork. Any later, and tasks would spill over and keep me from resting. Since then, I’ve noticed I’m happier and healthier.

“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy”

Exodus 20:8

God tells us, “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exo 20:8). They have waged debates on the actual day of sabbath. Is it Saturday or Sunday? I’m not here to settle any argument. However, I am advocating for a six to one ratio for work and rest. You were not made to work all the time. You need rest.

For years, I worked seven days a week and I justified it by telling myself I was doing the Lord’s work. However, even the Lord backed away from his labor to set the example for us to follow.  We need a weekly rhythm of rest, so we can reset our physical and spiritual batteries. If not, we will grow weary, and not enjoy life.

We need a weekly rhythm of rest, so we can reset our physical and spiritual batteries.

Are you irritable? One evening during a busy season, I was whining to my wife, “I’m tired of people. I’m tired of church. I’m tired of meetings. I’m tired…” It hit me that in all the statements, my mouth was revealing what my heart already knew. I was tired. In that moment, I realized I was experiencing burnout. I knew I needed rest, but I didn’t know how to get it. By overcommitting, my schedule had bloated to an unimaginable load. It was time for drastic measures. I had to stop.

Stopping is easier said than done. How do you stop when other people expect you to always go? It takes determination, tough conversations, and ruthless evaluations of time and commitments, but it can be done. You can stop. It’s time to stop. Stop and you can live a better life. Trust me. No, better yet, trust God. Isn’t that the real reason you keep pressing? It will all fall apart if you stop, right? No, it won’t. You and I are not that important. The truth is when we refuse to rest, it’s because we don’t trust God.

You can stop. It’s time to stop. Stop and you can live a better life.

Anne Lamott commented on this important truth. She wrote, “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.” Unplugging from your work will revolutionize your life. It did mine. Of course, there are hectic days still filled with activity, but by taking time to reset gives me the strength to accomplish God’s will for any day.

You can stop. It’s time to stop. Stop and you can live a better life.