From the earliest ages people have valued leisure time as a relief from work and business. Indeed the Greeks spoke of leisure time and not leisure time, promoting the importance of what could be done during leisure. For the Greeks the time of leisure was to be spent in the most important pursuit of understanding, in serious discussion and in the contemplation of beauty and the divine. It is interesting that the Greek word for leisure is scholei, which became our own word school. We might think that school is the opposite of leisure, but for the Greeks, and then for the Romans, the proper purpose of life, of effort and work, was to provide time for the pursuit of personal growth, of the experience of truth and beauty, and of seeking after God.
Until recently the little time that people had away from business and the world of work would be spent in serious pursuits. Time was too precious to be wasted. Those who valued such leisure as was available would spend much of it in reading, study, religious activities and in other forms of self improvement such as visiting museums or even venturing into the countryside.
This seems to me to be entirely consistent with our Orthodox Faith, which sets before us the goal of unceasing prayer and the inward and continuous standing before the presence of God in the heart. Such a goal requires a serious attitude towards life and the preservation of leisure as a means of interior growth.
Yet in the 21st century we have become people with almost too much free time. While once it was the very rich who had the most leisure, now it is within the reach of almost all. But we do not use it in the manner of the ancient Greeks, not in the manner of most of our ancestors in the Orthodox Faith. Far from using such hours as God gives to the best advantage and for the sake of spiritual and personal growth, we waste it on distractions.
Distractions keep our attention for a moment but they do not provide the opportunity for growth, or for the consideration of eternal truths, of beauty and virtue, of life and love. Indeed they prevent us contemplating these necessary things and make us less than human. Our phones and tablets are filled with Apps designed to distract us. Facebook and other forms of social media are created in such a way to keep our attention always moving from one thing to another. The hundreds of TV channels, the programmes which jump from one image to another every 4 seconds, the unceasing music playing in the background in every public place. All of these distract us and serve to hinder that reflection on things that matter which are the essential content and purpose of leisure as God has given it to us.
Of course there is a necessary place for the determined and deliberate activities which also usefully occupy our time. It is good to play a sport, spend time with family and friends, walk in the park. But if we are honest we will consider each day and regret the time that is spent on trivial distractions and will count it time which has been lost for ever, stolen from us.
We need not become miserable and obsessive about this. But we should value the time God has given us more than were do. How much time was spent on Facebook today? How much time was spent aimlessly surfing the internet? How much time was spent playing games on your smartphone or tablet? How much time was spent watching trivial TV programmes.We should become more alert and watchful over ourselves. At what point, for instance, does our connection to Facebook move from being a means of keeping in touch and responding to the needs of others, to merely keeping occupied, keeping ourselves distracted from the serious things in life?
It would be a useful exercise to honestly record the time engaged in such activities each day over this new week. They need not cease altogether. But your life is valuable and the time God has given you is precious. There is also a refreshment and renewal in spending time with purpose and especially in spending more time with God and in seeking God.
This is the day that the Lord has made. What use will were make of it fit his glory and our salvation?