God wants us to take all our vacation, AND to find pleasure in the midst of toil. Pleasure is built into the design of human beings. That’s the message I glean from the wisdom book of Ecclesiastes.
That is not the takeaway I expected from any book in the Bible. Christianity may be more commonly associated with dour endurance of life than exuberant delight in it, as diligent as certain persuasions of Christians have been at defining what we should not do. But we cannot let what is, stand in the way of what could be!
Wisdom literature in the Bible (largely found in Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and parts of Job) imparts more than information; it is less descriptive of what is, and more aspirational: urging us to become who God calls us to be. For example, “There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God; for apart from him who can eat and who can have enjoyment?” (Eccles. 2:24-26). In one way, this is a description of life as it seems to be: nothing better is to be expected than eating, drinking, and searching for enjoyment in the midst of toil. But also: these things are from the hand of God! God gives us daily bread and also enjoyment, as gifts for our growth and well-being.
We are designed to enjoy creation and each other, and delight in what our bodies can do. We are designed to be thankful, but when we are frazzled or oblivious, we are far from thankful. In short, we need time out of our routines to remind us how to enjoy every part of life.
But let us not pursue enjoyment at the expense of others having abundant life too. The insidious trick of consumerism is that by trying to get things for ourselves better, faster or cheaper, we might seek our own relaxation or adventure or pleasure at the expense of others. Everybody needs time to rest, laugh, and be someone other than the worker they are every day, especially those who are over-worked. The fight for earned sick and safe time recently prevailed at the legislative level in the city where I live, but not without considerable resistance (even given the self-interest of not being infected by sick workers). Guaranteed vacation time is only a dream.
How then, could all children of God aspire to time for pleasure? How will we help our neighbors to keep from brooding over the days of their lives, and instead stay occupied with the joy of their hearts (Eccles. 5:20)? What might we do? We who can take vacation, should take it all, for God wants us to be people who enjoy life. Know what it is like to have respite, things provided for you, worries lifted even for a short time. Then strive to create that respite in the lives of our siblings who cannot stop working for fear of losing much-needed jobs or caring for relatives that requires constant supervision.
To take pleasure in our toil is not an oppressive command, but a wise inspiration. We can let the refreshment of fresh air and sunlight into workplaces. We can discipline ourselves to be in good humor in our interactions with those who provide customer service. And we can make ourselves advocates and allies for a better quality of life for those who work, especially at the minimum wage.