Leisure and Jesus’ Rest: Making the Connection

Dr. Bertha Cato

The University of Florida


Upcoming reflection of the above topic, I am sure that many of you responded with a "furrow of the brow," and thought what an improbable paradigm. Perhaps, you may have responded with a question, "who has any of that?." Or, you may have taken the high road and reflected on the valuable properties of leisure: freedom, escape, contemplation, fun, recreation the like. Some may have reflected on leisure as one of the more valuable emotional states a person may achieve other than spirituality. After further reflections, you may have realized that leisure is the catalyst behind the world’s largest industry - tourism, which has a gross output of $3.4 trillion and produces an incredible 10.2 percent of the world gross national product (Naisbitt, 1995). The state of Florida benefits from tourism, recognizing it is the state’s largest revenue producer. By November of 1997, the state of Florida generated 37 billion dollars in tourism dollars. Therefore, it is the author’s contention that leisure is a valuable commodity and so is Jesus’ rest!

This author postulates a parallel between two seemingly unrelated variables: Leisure and Jesus’ rest. Afterwards, she offers a paradigm for integration. In the establishment of this position, the author shares two experiences in which Jesus has used this idea of leisure personally to teach her fundamental truths regarding His rest.

Jesus’ Rest Defined:

Exercising authority of God’s word or the power given one to believe, trust and depend upon Him. As a result, one must let go, trust God and avoid lending to self-understand (Cato, 1998).

The first way the Lord taught me this fundamental principle was through my career choice, a nontraditional area - Parks, Recreation and Tourism. Because of this professional area’s unconventional nature, I have had to approach my career goals using an interdisciplinary research approach. I have had to draw from literature in public administration (my minor areas of study), education, allied health and criminal justice. I have had to collaborate with individuals in these areas to expand research and grant opportunities. The accomplishment of such goals has not been easy! I have had to rely and trust the spirit’s leading. To state it another way, I had to make the connection with Jesus’ rest.

The second way he taught me this fundamental principle was through specific use of my leisure time. If I may, I need to deviate a little and provide some perspectives on this topic of leisure so that we will all be on the same cognitive wave length. From a quantitative perspective, leisure means unobligated time or time free from the obligations of work. From a qualitative standpoint, leisure is an emotional state characterized by feelings of exhilaration, pleasure, mastery, freedom and so forth.

As you may recall from history, the Greeks took the question of leisure very seriously. They perceived leisure as a state of freedom from the necessity of labor; leisure was used to cultivate the mind; it was contemplation, which was the best way for truth finding. For the Greeks leisure was the basis of the free man’s whole life (de Grazier, 1962).

Finally, as defined by Psychologist Csikszentmihalyi (1990) leisure is a state when skills and challenge meet, when the actor becomes absorbed in the experience to the extent that the externalities of time and environment seem to disappear. The actor is wholly into the experience for least a brief period. Csikszentmihali labels this absorption experience as "flow" (1990). For example, when one plays tennis, usually the body is very agile, knees are bent, there is excellent hand-eye coordination, good top speed. One performs at their best skill level. They are in the flow.

Rest and leisure are rare commodities in today’s modern, technological, excellence driven society. Powerful social forces that attempt to turn each of us into human whirlwinds running in fast forward are challenging many. In observation of my colleagues, friends and the public, I see people who seem to have neither leisure nor rest. In contrast, my observations include: Americans who are stressed-out and overworked. I see Americans aggressively striving to save time vis- a’-vis modern technological devices, whether in the home or at work. I observe Americans engaged in what we in the field of Leisure Studies field call "time-deepening." "Time-deepening" is described as doing more in less time, different things simultaneous and measuring time in smaller and more precise amounts (Goodale and Witt, 1991). I recently delivered a paper at an international conference, where presenters were allowed 13 minutes to speak, not 30, not even 15, but 13 minutes. Americans are constantly attempting to do two things at once: Drive and have breakfast or lunch, apply make up or shave and drive, exercise and read. I think you get my message concerning the "time deepening idea."

In my observations, I also observe a restless and hurried people. People who are victims of this time famine and are also caught up in what economists call time-discounting, which is preferring the present to the future. Many Americans are caught in the "I want it now syndrome."

Juliet Schor, a Harvard University Professor, in her book, The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure, noted that since the late 1960s, the average American has added 160 work hours a year to his/her schedule. Via a national study, she found that 40% of Americans now work more than 45 hours a week on the average, with a large share regularly putting in 70 - to - 80 hour workweeks. Eight percent of the respondents noted "they suffer stress when work conflicts with family needs." Twenty percent said job pressures have caused them to neglect important family needs and that their marriages have suffered. So it seems to be a work, work cycle (1991).

The question that I often find myself pondering is why are so many Americans allowing stress and the demands of the work world to usurp the real pleasures of life - leisure and Jesus’ rest. As one looks at this trend, one would ask, where is Jesus, his rest and/or leisure? Matthew 11:28 & 29 in The King James’ Version of the Bible, denotes Jesus' appeal to disciples to: "Come unto me all who labor and are heavily burden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your soul." Yet in another scripture I observe Jesus commanding his disciples to: "Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place and rest a while: For there were many coming and going and they had no leisure so much as to eat" (Mark 6:31).

As learned academicians we often get caught up in this work-work cycle and pursuit of excellence syndrome. Not only do we burn the candle at both ends, we break it into two parts and burn four ends instead of two.

I must admit; this has been indicative of my life. I too have a victim of "work- work cycle" and pursuit of excellence syndrome. I have often over extended myself in attempting to avoid perishing from a lack of publications. I have struggled to justify publication outlets and challenged a tenure decision. I have often traveled to undesirable international and national destinations just to claim another presentation byline on my vitae. I have neglected family, health and spiritual growth to enhance work productivity.

I too am a product of this western- academic culture. I suppose it began from my humble beginnings, growing up in rural, segregated Louisiana. (I might add that I grew up during the 60's, which was a time when parents and people of position had credibility and young people took them at their word.) It was taught to me very early in life that education was a correlate of success and economic prosperity. Immediately, I developed a value orientation that comprised those behaviors that promised success; I studied hard in high school, went to college, received promising internships, volunteered and was involved in campus activities and organizations, etc. These strategies worked well for a while, but I think it was graduate school when I learned that making A's in course requirements did not necessarily yield an A for the course. Later, it was realized that these realities persisted as I climbed the academic ladder. As I matured, it became obvious that refereed publications and good student teaching ratings did not necessarily guarantee granting of a positive tenure decision or promotion, not for me anyway. These experiences taught me that works of the flesh lead to disappointments and frustrations. That like in the salvation phenomenon, works play a small role. These experiences gave impetus for the formulation of the paradigm I am proposing today: Leisure and Jesus' rest.

I had to stop, refocus and make the connection with these scriptures:

"Not by might nor by power, but by my strength said the Lord Almighty".
(Zachariah 4:6)
"For in him we live, and have our being." (Act 17:28)
"It is God who works in you to will and act according to his good purpose." (Philippians 2:13)
"In all things, God works for the good of those who love him and who
are called according to his purpose". (Roman 8:28)

Additionally, I had to recall whose I am and what it means to have His spirit in me, and working for me. I had to understand what it means to be clothed in His armor, and what Jesus meant when He told Martha "I Am the Way".

Finally, I had to recall the questions raised in Galatians 3:2-4, which ask "Received ye the spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? Have ye suffered so many things in vain?"

I had to recall the Greeks’ philosophy and develop a lifestyle of prayer and contemplation. The Lord revealed many revelations during these times. I learned to trust Jesus for provisions, opportunities and successes. Above all, I learned to lean not to my own understanding. It was during this time that Jesus audibly reminded me that "He was the Lord my God." It was also during these times of contemplation, I accepted the reality that the success paradigm I had been taught early in my life was no longer effective. I am not suggesting relishing ones total personal responsibilities in the success/productivity model. That would be tantamount to accepting Jesus’ sacrifice for righteousness through grace and continuing to live in sin so that grace may abound (smile).

This rationale becomes the premise for the author’s paradigm of Jesus’ rest as the ultimate strategy for existing and achieving. Leisure becomes the catalyst to achieve such an ideal state or position. Usually, it is during free time that one plans and contemplates an action plan. de Grazier, a noted philosopher, advocates:

" The life of leisure leads to greater sensitivity not to truth alone, but also to
beauty, to the wonder of man and nature, to its contemplation and its recreation
in word or song, clay, color, or stone. To clear the way to truth, to be serenely
objective (de Grazier, 1962).


Given these truths and my experiences, I offer Jesus' rest as a fool proof paradigm for success. I offer this perspective as a strategy to avoid the time-deepening syndrome and the work-work cycle. It is a strategy, similar to the Greeks’ philosophy. It is laced with peace, contentment and productivity that count. It is the author’s view that leisure, Jesus' rest and success go together. After all, it is in leisure that one finds truth, peace and becomes the person Christ would have him/her to be. I did! My challenge today is to avoid resorting to a selfish-work mode of operating, or trusting and leaning on my own understanding. My challenge is continuing to draw near to Christ so that he may draw near to me. As I have noted, it is in Him that I move and have my being and success!

Dr. Bertha M. Cato is an Associate Professor in the Recreation, Parks and Tourism Department at the University of Florida. She has taught in higher education and conducted research for 24 years. She consults in Leisure and Jesus’ Rest: Making the Connection, Managing Stress, and Spiritual Development.


Cato. B. (1997). Leisure and Jesus’ Rest: Making the Connection. Presentation to University of Florida Christian Faculty Club, University of Florida.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper.

De Grazia, S. 1962. Of Time Work, and Leisure. Doubleday & Company, Inc. Garden City, New York.

Goodale, T. & Witt, P. (1991). Recreation and Leisure: Issues in an Era of Change. Venture Publishing, Inc. State College, PA.

Naisbitt, J. (1994). Global Paradox. Avon Books. New York.