I wrote a few months ago about leisure in retirement, suggesting that one benefit of leisure is to remind us that the value of human life isn’t measured solely by the yardstick of productivity. In this post, I will compare leisure with something else that involves cessation from work, namely the Biblical concept of Sabbath rest.
The term “Sabbath” comes from the creation account in the Hebrew Scriptures. The Hebrew term “sabbat” means to cease, quit, or stop; thus, it refers to a pause in activity. Genesis describes God working for six days, creating the heavens and the earth. He then rested the seventh day, establishing the Sabbath as a time of rest. In the Mosaic law, the Israelites are commanded to cease work one day out of seven. Eugene Peterson describes the purpose of this time of rest as follows:
“Sabbath is a deliberate act of interference, an interruption of our work each week, a decree of no-work so that we are able to notice, to attend, to listen, to assimilate this comprehensive and majestic work of God, to orient our work in the work of God.” Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, p. 110
So Sabbath, unlike leisure, alternates with work. The time is set apart, or holy, in that it is a disruption of our normal routine. The retiree who plans an uninterrupted life of leisure isn’t alternating leisure with anything else. Unlike the Sabbath rest, a life of pure leisure isn’t an in-breaking of another mode of being in the world.
Besides leisure and Sabbath being different in that the first is uninterrupted and the second alternates with work, the purpose of leisure and Sabbath are different. The Sabbath is, as Peterson indicates, a time to reflect on something much bigger than one’s own work, namely the work of God. Leisure doesn’t point us to something larger than ourselves, to the work of the Creator. Retirement leisure instead reminds us of the decades of work for which we are now being rewarded. Such a life of uninterrupted inactivity can easily be lived with a sense of entitlement rather than a sense of gratitude for God’s gracious provision, his creation work having enabled our work to be fruitful.
What would it be like to focus one’s retirement neither on activity or leisure but on Sabbath rest? Such a retirement might have the following characteristics:
- a balance between times of active engagement (be that work, volunteering, informal helping, or some other activity) and times of reflection
- both when active and when at rest, greater awareness of spirit–both the divine Spirit and our own spiritual needs and longings
- gratitude–the recognition that life and all that it entails is a gift
Elderhood gradually becomes less a time of doing and more a time of being. Perhaps, should we live long enough that our doing diminishes to almost nothing, the ideal state of being in which to live would be Sabbath rest.