“Sacred Idleness”

By , January 21, 2016

“Work is not always required . . . there is such a thing as sacred idleness, the cultivation of which is now fearfully neglected.” —George MacDonald

I ended the essay, Core Values: Hard Work with an anecdote about my sister urging us to dial back our rate of work on the homestead. She advocated establishing a “Sabbath,” an enforced day of rest, to prevent us from working constantly.

While we recognized the wisdom of this practice, we found it difficult to implement.

Unlike many modern homesteads, we have no livestock. That frees us from the responsibility of feeding and caring for animals every day of the year (other than Spice, the world’s most spoiled homestead cat). Even so, we do have daily chores that cannot be neglected. Luckily, most of these take very little time. A day of rest would not be disrupted by most of these tasks.

However, the nature of work has changed for us. Because of the freedom we experience in our daily work compared to the ordinary, society-approved type of work, we tend to think of work as recreation. This makes it more difficult to plan time away from it for rest and recreation.

We find our work occupying, in the true sense of the term “occupation.” The work of the homestead interests us, inspires us. True, some of it is dull to the point of drudgery. Most of it, though, comforts us with its rhythms, activity, and familiarity.

We, like many people believe that work—good, honest, satisfying work—can be a form of meditation. Some of the homestead’s activities, especially gardening, seem to hold therapeutic value for us. Michelle confesses to putting off gardening until she completes less enjoyable tasks. It serves as her reward for tending to those other obligations. We may feel physically tired after the homestead’s work day, but we don’t feel weary, as we used to feel at the end of a conventional work day. Work that’s fulfilling doesn’t generate the feeling that we need to take a break from it.

To further complicate matters, I have long struggled against my own work ethic. I feel very strongly that I must work hard to justify this existence. I adhere enough to the old stereotype of the man being the family breadwinner to drive hard at work. Idleness all too often feels like failure to me; if I’m not careful, I find myself working too hard to justify—if only to myself—my circumstances. As time passes, I’m learning to temper this. I must and do continue to work hard, but I’m learning to disassociate it from any lingering guilt over not being the primary earner in the household.

On the whole, balanced against the work of the homestead, we do manage to rest and recreate, even to be idle. Sometimes, we combine work and rest successfully (see A Good Day’s Work/A Good Day’s Goof Off). Sometimes, we manage to simply play (see Go Fly a Kite ). On the best days, we let the work and play develop naturally, without worrying about what we’re doing with our time (see Stupid Fun).

We’ve given up on the idea of setting aside a specific day each week to rest and recreate. Our life offers too many surprises for that sort of planning (see Spontaneity in Reserve). Instead, we do what needs to be done, whether that be hard work or extended idleness. All the essentials, the tasks and the recuperation, eventually balance out.

2 Responses to ““Sacred Idleness””

  1. LInn Hartman says:

    It has been a while since communicated with you-I still keep up with you and your brothers blog on a regular basis – read but but don’t comment- as far as the work ethic is concerned the longer I am retired play things get in the way of work things- to my main comment – I recently received a nice booklet from the Alaskan tourist agency – beautiful country – you recently commented on going to visit your brother in the Pribilof Islands – low and behold there they were on the map – guess I was never really sure where they were located – to each his own but what draws a person to live out there or the other offshore islands – when I was in the navy we had a base in our group on Adak- it was not the duty station of choice – just curious

  2. Mark Zeiger says:

    Hi Linn, good to hear from you again.

    Dave and his wife are on Baranof Island, in the middle of Southeast Alaska, not the Pribilofs!

    I used to have a friend who lived on one of the Pribilofs. I’d love to go visit there someday, but it’s way outside our or Dave’s experience at this point in our lives!

    Adak must have been a tough assignment. The weather there sounds incredible.

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