The slogan “Work hard, play hard” has been in iconic standard for corporate culture for years. It initially meant to be as involved in your daily work as you are in your extra-curricular activities, but was rapidly transformed into a great excuse for irrational and destructive behavior in the after hours like alcohol abuse, recreational drugs, heavy partying etc. More so the idea has infiltrated from the initial corporate environment to our homes rendering even our everyday life into a two dimensional universe of work and play; everything we do falls into one of these two buckets.
The Holy Grail of a happy life becomes therefore finding the balance between carrier and leisure. A plethora of self-help books exploit this philosophy trying to attain the magic formula that will ensure the perfect harmony of our work and play habits.
A consequence this modus vivendi is that the complex experience of life is virtually reduced to a lot of work hours with as much entertainment one can fit in between. Career and social life become the only important things in life.
A father from Mount Athos told me once that people have no time for God because they are too busy with playing frivolous games. This is a very uncomfortable truth today in a society where entertainers of any kind represent one of the highest paid segments of the population. It comes to reiterate a very superficial attitude toward the real purpose of our limited time on earth.
This comment however does not indicate that the Church refuses the right of relaxation to her faithful, on the contrary. The following story from the life of St. Anthony the Great reflects the very wise and moderate attitude that Church has on this matter:
A hunter in the desert saw Abba Anthony enjoying himself with the brethren and he was shocked. Wanting to show him that it was necessary sometimes to meet the needs of the brethren, the old man said to him, “Put an arrow in your bow and shoot it.” So, he did. The old man said, “Shoot another,” and he did so. Then the old man said, “Shoot yet again,” and the hunter replied “If I bend my bow so much I will break it.” Then the old man said to him, “It is the same with the work of God. If we stretch the brethren beyond measure they will soon break. Sometimes it is necessary to come down to meet their needs.” When he heard these words the hunter was pierced by compunction and, greatly edified by the old man, he went away. As for the brethren, they went home strengthened.
Some may however, interpret this story as a license to “work hard, play hard”, but the storyline should be read in context. The people involved in it are monks, most probably hermits, living a very austere life of isolation, self-restraint, manual labor and prayer. The short relaxation moment that the hunter observed was just a brief break from a day of dedication to the most important goal of their lives: salvation of their souls.
What the “work and play” adopters are missing and the monks have got right is the fundamental truth that life goes beyond this world and therefore our focus should not be spent into living a perfectly enjoyable and comfortable earthly life but into assuring a worthy entrance into the Kingdom of Heavens. Without this goal in mind it all starts and ends here. Is this really how one should spend its life? In a short-lived cycle of obtaining the means of survival and spending them fast on ephemeral entertainment? Aren’t we supposed to build something in our lives other than drowning in huge amounts of alcohol, filling our bellies at the latest restaurants, memorizing the latest sport scores and watching the latest Hollywood movies?
But when to meditate about all this if we fill all our time with work or play?
Seems to me that we need to change this motto into something more in the lines of “work and pray”: work for our salvation and pray that God will fulfill with His grace our limited and incomplete works and finish what we started.