A friend of mine confessed that when he was at leisure and not being productive he felt guilty. He echoed what I often experience. Why is this? Paul Tournier (1898-1986), addressed this problem in his admirable classic, LEARN TO GROW OLD. His thesis is that we have been taught in our culture the superior importance of work as a duty, and that leisure is not to be valued. What confers dignity upon us is the fulfillment of our duty – our work, our productivity, our function in society, our professional occupation. When we retire we often lose our place and purpose, our importance and value as human beings. The Protestant work ethic is defined in terms of frugality, temperance, self-denial and thrift. Enjoyment is suspect. Idleness is the mother of all vices. No one wants to be called lazy. The teaching of Proverbs 6:6-11 is basic to all successful men and women.
This is why retirement is so hard for men and women with a high sense of professional duty. They are so devoted to their work that they have hardly dared to indulge in any leisure activities during their working lives. The time they have taken off is indulged in furtively and guiltily, as if it is time stolen from work. If they have not indulged in leisure activities during their working life, they are usually at a loss when they retire. Many fall into depression and boredom. Some even take their own lives because they find that it is not worth living.
They read only for information about their work, usually in newspapers or magazines, or about sports. They rarely read through a book. They associate reading with intellectuals or academics, or romantic or thriller escapists. But reading is a window on the world, on its extreme diversity and its inexhaustible riches, opening up character development and the search for the meaning of life. If you have enjoyed reading there is a special pleasure in re-reading old books one has read in the past. Like reading, all leisure activity is a kind of initiation into new aspects of life. And if that initiation does not take place beforehand, we will find that when old age is come many of the riches of life are foreign to us, misunderstood and unattractive.
Although I have been accused of being a workaholic, and I haven’t retired from my lifelong vocation, I have taken sabbaticals, vacations and weekly days off. I have supported my wife in her interests, my children and grandchildren, and I have tried to keep in touch with old friends. Love motivates us to reach out unselfishly to serve others, especially those closest to you. This does not end with old age. While one may retire from fulltime work, one never retires from loving one another, and that is especially true if you have been granted a loving spouse as I have.
Nevertheless it behooves us to enjoy the leisure God gives us. For me, that is to continue to learn, to read, to teach or take classes, to play tennis, to walk on the beach, to pray, to write, to be a good steward of my time and property. “I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live” (Ecclesiastes 3:12).