Pursuing the Weekend by Thomas May

I was attending a work retreat recently and there was a panel discussion on teachers. One of the questions asked was “How do you (the panelists) not live for the weekend?” With a knowing smile, each panelist talked about their strategies to appreciate the week.

Obviously, living in the present moment is fundamental to having a meaningful life. The danger seems to be that we will always be in a “The grass is greener on the other side” attitude and miss both the sanctity of the work we are doing for Christ, as well as lose the ability to be satisfied because we are habitually waiting for the next best thing. Once a good thing, like the weekend arrives, we not only enjoy it briefly, we also feel disappointed in returning to our work life, and so psych ourselves into not appreciating the challenges and victories of our jobs. Maybe we even lose sight of the joy of the weekend because we are always thinking about how it could have been better, or about how the next weekend will be even better than this one.

But in recently discussing with my colleagues their excitement for an upcoming weeklong vacation, all of them admitted to living for that break. I don’t remember one (in the modest few I polled) who said they were not looking at that break as much needed and a way to escape the difficulties of work life. It has me wondering whether there is some legitimacy to living for the weekend. I think everyone admits that there is a necessity to rest, and relax and take time to rally our spirits for the upcoming week. The retreat I attended even included a lot of free time as a sort of tacit acknowledgement that we needed to take a moment to withdraw ourselves from our busy lives and do what we needed to do to recharge.

I’m also reminded of Josef Pieper’s book Leisure the Basis of Culture in which Pieper argues that work is not for its own sake. We work so that we can survive and flourish, and we make money in order to live, not so that we can work more. To Pieper, the weekend is not merely a time of resting, but what he calls “Leisure” a time to live in the best way possible without being caught up in the “World of Work”. In fact, he argues that contemplation, thinking of the greatest things, is really the best activity we could be doing, and we are simply working as a means to attaining opportunities for practicing philosophy.

This strikes me as true. I’m almost offended by the idea of the “Worker’s Paradise” of the Soviets. No one wants to work everyday unless their work really has a value beyond simply earning money, either pleasure or purpose or divine charity. In a way, the weekend is what we should be living for because it is when we can take time to pursue things of value beyond material goods, like relationships, philosophy, and Sunday Mass.

But as a teacher, I am also struck by the fact that I am trying to develop students’ souls. I’m passing on knowledge to them that generations of humans have known and have thought worth knowing. Sometimes I’m preparing them to be better workers, but sometimes I’m teaching them how to read a book more carefully, or how to write. And when I teach catechism, I’m literally sharing with them the highest gift I have, my knowledge of God in this life. In a way, I am practicing contemplation even in my working life because I am not absorbed with the material goods of the world, but with great ideas and worthwhile truths. Things that will endure beyond my time here could stay with my students for their entire lives. Maybe they’ll remember the four levels of happiness, and the Trinity, even if they forget the school lunch they ate that day, or the bathrooms that were so diligently cleaned time and time again, or me teaching them.

This is not to disrespect mundane workers, and not to say that divine charity doesn’t turn even the most miserable or valueless task into something greater than can be imagined. I’m trying to say that there is a natural worthiness in the work I’m doing, and that it’s easier on a natural level to realize it’s value.  So, when I think about it, living for the weekend is a kind of good if one is finding real value (i.e. opportunity for contemplation) in that weekend. But if every day is an opportunity for contemplation, for knowledge and learning, for thinking about and coming to love God, if, when I teach, I am also learning or at least knowing, then maybe the week isn’t so bad after all. 

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