The Freedom of the Children of God

Barbeques are fired up, ice cream trucks jingling, and fireworks blasting. Summer is here! I remember the joys of childhood summers with my best friend across the street. We’d swim, bike, play dress-up, all amidst reckless laughter and necessary breaks for watermelon and freeze pops.

Summer’s spirit entices children, “Come play!” I witnessed this during a recent game of Duck Duck Goose with children from our Visitation Mission. Most of the children perched eagerly begging to be ducked, but a few sat downcast. Their souls burdened with situations beyond their years left them leery to enter into the adventure. Yet, nothing is impossible with God! With some encouragement, these little souls brightened up and joined the romping. Short attentions turned to a magnolia heavy with blossoms and rain. The decision was unanimous: create a cascade of falling petals and showers. They tugged and then stood in awe as the petals fell steadily like snow, sticking on clothing and hair, creating a delicate pink carpet on the grass. It was an image of the freedom of God’s children, delighted with the simple, united receiving God’s creation as gift to His children.

Fast-forward to adulthood: a challenging economy, stress at work, often little quality time with those we love, and seemingly no time for prayer. This rushed society promising happiness and freedom often leaves us feeling simply worn out. What happened to those childhood days? Do we relegate those moments to the past and merely survive our daily frenetic situations? No! The Lord desires our full flourishing and engaging in leisure and rest is necessary to this purpose. In his encyclical, On the Lord’s Day, Saint John Paul II writes, “Rest is something ‘sacred’, because it is man’s way of withdrawing from the sometimes excessively demanding cycle of earthly tasks in order to renew his awareness that everything is the work of God.”

Like those children needing coaxing, we too must relearn how to be childlike and how to live leisure. Jesus beckons, “Unless you become like little children you cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (Mt. 18:3). Our hearts long to be smitten by the grandeur of God’s creation, to be led to beauty and to stay there, away from the cares that strip away joy and saturate with anxiety. Jesus takes us to this place, saying, “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). This is not a fleeing from reality, nor a condemnation of the heroism of parents working long hours to provide for families.  Rather, to live an attitude of leisure is to surrender our worries into our Father’s hands and take time to receive His gifts. It is to see the reality of His presence amidst the chaos and the reality of our destiny to be united with Him in heaven. It is cultivating a spirit of gratitude, staking everything on his promise, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Lk. 12:32).

These summer days where free time is hopefully more frequent can be an occasion to learn to live holy leisure. Philosopher Josef Pieper in Leisure: The Basis of Culture, describes what it is to adopt this spirit:

Leisure…is not the inevitable result of spare time… [It] implies an attitude of non-activity… means not being ‘busy’, but letting things happen… a receptive attitude …the capacity for steeping oneself in the whole of creation.

Living leisure is confidence in our identity as children of God, making time each day to let the Lord love us in prayer and to frequent the sacraments. Being in the state of grace predisposes us to leisure, for as Pieper writes, “Leisure is only possible when a man is at one with himself” and Christ is the one who reveals us to ourselves. In knowing ourselves as beloved of the Father, we can live the true freedom of heart that leisure seeks.

One way to practice leisure is living Sunday as the Lord’s Day. This orders our week and imitates God, Who rested on the seventh day, delighting in His creation. Sunday is to be lived in an authentically human way, for as Saint John Paul II writes, “In order that rest may not degenerate into emptiness or boredom, it must offer spiritual enrichment, greater freedom, opportunities for contemplation and fraternal communion.”  So take a stroll in the park, read some good literature, practice an instrument, paint that landscape, play some pick-up basketball, simply enjoy time with a family member… the possibilities are endless! Leisure activities are done in simple joy, intent merely to let a person be and not controlling the endeavor we engage.

No earthly leisure can ever fully satisfy us. Our hearts long for the infinite “play” of heaven, where our whole being will be filled with sight of the Beloved, the perfect leisure that will never end. Let us live even today in hope of the freedom that union with the Trinity will afford and receive in gratitude God’s gifts to us so one day we may receive Him in full.