Recreation that Genuinely Refreshes
WE WORSHIP the gods with cheerfulness, with feasts, songs and games, but you [Christians] worship a crucified man who cannot be pleased by those who have all this enjoyment, who despises joy and condemns pleasures.” So spoke an enemy of second-century Christianity.* But what a misjudgment! Those early disciples did find genuine joy in life.
Their leader, Jesus Christ, the son of “the happy God,” is spoken of as being “overjoyed,” and as “the happy . . . Potentate” who, on earth, prayed that his followers may “have [his] joy in themselves to the full.”—1 Tim. 1:11; 6:15; Luke 10:21; John 17:13.
Their joy was not based on the temporary gaiety of a feast or a game. They knew well the ancient proverb (Pr 14:13): “Even in laughter the heart may be in pain; and grief is what rejoicing ends up in.” Their greatest delight was following the principles of Christianity. This joy reached their hearts. They now had a treasured relationship with Almighty God, and the companionship of their fellow Christians. They also had the heartwarming experience of helping others to learn the truth and of being able to rear children that would be a source of delight to them.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR “LEISURE TIME”
Caring for their Scriptural responsibilities and sharing the Christian message with others, while most important, would not take all their waking hours. Their Master, by his own example, showed the propriety of having some time for rest and refreshment. After a full day of witnessing, Jesus said to his disciples: “‘Come, you yourselves, privately into a lonely place and rest up a bit.’ For there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure time even to eat a meal.”—Mark 6:31.
The same Greek verb for “rest up” (in the middle voice of the verb) is rendered, at Philemon 20, as “refresh” (in the active voice of the verb). So “leisure time” may be used to provide a change of pace from the regular routine or to find refreshment for continuing with one’s customary work. These early Christians, while primarily active and zealous in proclaiming the Kingdom message, found time occasionally for a change of pace that genuinely refreshed.
No doubt they visited with one another and shared meals together. In addition, various forms of proper recreation were available that these disciples or their children may have enjoyed. Young men and others are referred to as playing musical instruments in pre-Christian times. (1 Sam. 16:18; 1 Ki. 1:40; Lam. 5:14; compare Luke 15:25.) Children are spoken of as playing games and dancing. (Matt. 11:16, 17) In contrast with whatever “bodily training” there was then available as being beneficial “for a little,” godly devotion expressed in deeds was “beneficial for all things, as it holds promise of the life now and that which is to come.” Whatever Christians did was kept in balance, not reflecting the wild abandon of those who were not Christians. It never overshadowed their “godly devotion,” the real fountainhead of their joy.—1 Tim. 4:8.
WHAT SOME FAMILIES ARE NOW DOING
Today Christian families also enjoy refreshing times together. They find real joy and companionship in doing things with one another—primarily, in making God’s kingdom known to others. And yet, there are other things that they do together, such as sharing in various forms of recreation. What kinds? Well, one father who successfully raised a large family spoke of a variety of upbuilding activities, and then added: “The most successful forms of recreation seem to be those that use the child’s energies and offer a challenge.”
A Christian father with four teen-agers lived in an area apparently void of recreational opportunities. He was asked if he had a problem finding meaningful recreation for his family. He answered: “Providing recreation has never been difficult. The only obstacle to overcome is to see opportunities for it and find contentment with what one has. Enjoying simple things, such as swimming, hiking, entertaining guests and the sort, seem to be the most satisfying. We have learned that to refresh ourselves need not be the function of expensive recreational facilities or lavish equipment, but, rather, the taking advantage of what is open to all.”
Many find that while engaging in the work of sharing Bible knowledge with others opportunities open up for recreation. This father of four wrote:
“Much of our recreational activities revolve around our theocratic activities and as long as we persist in these much recreation comes as a by-product. Witnessing in our rural territory often provides the opportunity to bring along a picnic lunch. On many occasions we have concluded a day of witnessing by enjoying ourselves someplace in the forest or at a campground.”
Quite naturally each family’s circumstances are different. No doubt there are a variety of things that people as a family find relaxing. Yet another father of four said: “It isn’t the kind of recreation that keeps the youth content and happy, it is the atmosphere and association connected with it. The relationship with the family members is what makes the time spent a happy one.” Another Christian added: “The thing that made it [recreation] all so special was that we did it as a family.”
THE VALUE OF PARENTAL INTEREST
So parents would have to be conscious of their youngsters’ need for some meaningful activities to fill part of their leisure time. One mother, whose husband was not a believer, said: “You’ve got to create an atmosphere in the home that the children will not want to get away from, and if they temporarily leave, they’ll want to come back.” One father and mother who were successful in rearing their children were asked what their “secret” was. They replied: “We always tried to make life in the home with us more interesting than with the children’s peers.”
To make life at home “more interesting” for one’s children requires a heartfelt concern on the part of parents. One mother pointedly said: “Chasing after toddlers works and stimulates the body, but teen-agers stimulate and work the mind.” Yes, a concerned heart, coupled with mental effort, is needed by parents.
To make such an effort is easier said than done. “Being the parents of seven children, we found that it was a struggle to feed, provide clothing and shelter for them,” wrote one father, who added, “therefore, our recreation was limited, although we would arrange some time for recreation.” Oftentimes, there is just a single parent in the home who must carry the whole load.
It is understandably difficult after a hard day’s work to come home and then start thinking about how to provide some recreation for the family. Those parents that manage to care for all their Scriptural responsibilities and still provide some meaningful recreation for the family are to be truly commended! Difficult though it is, one mother, whose seven children all became dedicated Christians, said: “The joys surpass all the sacrifices and hard work.”
Do children respond? A father was faced with the challenge of raising three teenage daughters without the help of a wife. All three girls became devoted Christians. Later one of the daughters said:
“We did things together. Sometimes when we couldn’t afford any amusements we just walked, sometimes for blocks and blocks through the streets of the city. Dad was not afraid to let us know that he was human. If we had nowhere to go and it was raining, he would say, ‘Let’s go out and walk in the rain.’ And we would just go out and walk in the rain; we had nowhere to go but it was so nice just to be with him. He took the time to be with us.”
Certainly not everyone views walking in the rain as recreation, but the point is that it is not so much what is done but that something is done as a family to provide a “change of pace” to bring genuine refreshment.
A SPIRITUAL “FAMILY”
Those who become Christians enjoy precious association within another family, the congregation, which is truly comparable to a family complete with ‘brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers and children.’ (Mark 10:28-30) For this reason it would seem only natural that members of the congregation would enjoy not only witnessing together in groups, but also spending further time in upbuilding association with one another.
Such social gatherings can be refreshing and also add to the warmth of the congregation. One Christian youth was asked what had been the most enjoyable gathering she remembered attending. Without hesitating she replied:
“It was when a few families in the congregation, parents and children, got together. After sharing a few snacks, nothing elaborate, we all sat around and talked. One of the brothers began to ask some of us how we became Jehovah’s Witnesses or to relate an experience from our work of teaching others. Soon different ones told their story of becoming a Christian and the problems that they overcame. No one dominated the conversation, but many contributed. We were all encouraged by the experiences. It was an unforgettable time.”
By the application of Bible principles, and if elders, ministerial servants or other mature ones who attend use their influence for good, such an occasion will be a source of genuine refreshment and not one that leaves a bad taste in the mouths of many because the conduct degenerated. Never should it be forgotten that our main commission is to be witnesses for Jehovah’s name and kingdom. Even in the relaxed atmosphere of a Christian social gathering our conduct should bring glory to our Holy Father. As a second-century Christian writer said: “Nowhere is the Christian anything but a Christian.”—Isa. 5:12; 43:10-12; 1 Cor. 10:31.
THE RELATIVE VALUE OF RECREATION
Healthful recreation can provide some pleasant diversion. It can refresh us so that we can press ahead with our normal work. Yet it is not the big thing in life. One well-balanced young sister, who is a full-time proclaimer of the “good news” in Europe, said:
“Entertainment was not the thing emphasized at home. To be honest, field service was the big thing in our home. Food, clothing, shelter, spiritual things, the meetings, were the important things. Yet when we had time we would enjoy some entertainment, perhaps going visiting other families in the congregation.
“Many times I’ve seen young ones going to various places for amusement and I would think, ‘Oh, well, I would just love to do that.’ But, really, not constantly engaging in recreation never hurt me. It has never been to my disadvantage. I’m not worse off than all the other young people in my age group.”
If entertainment were permitted to become a major part of our lives, it would hurt us spiritually and perhaps even in a physical way. Note the clear warning from Proverbs 21:17, which says: “He that is loving merriment will be an individual in want; he that is loving wine and oil will not gain riches.”
It was customary at social gatherings or feasts at that time for wine to be drunk and oil and other fragrant substances to be poured out on the head and clothes. (Prov. 27:9; Amos 6:6) Persons who loved such festivities would soon find that other activities in their lives suffered, to their detriment. A host of sad experiences has shown that, when purely recreational festivities are done on a regular basis, they have a tendency to gravitate toward worldliness. So real caution must be exercised.
Never forget that in various places in the world, many Christians do not have the availability of much of what is called “entertainment” by those in more industrialized nations. Yet they manage and, in fact, in many ways seem to be happier and more contented than those with such a wide variety of recreation. One elder who had observed carefully the international situation wrote: “Many persons feel that the stress put on entertainment and the decline in morals have gone hand in hand.” Each Christian, then, must guard against such a danger and put the “stress” on his participation in the worship of our heavenly Father.
We must also face the fact that with an urgent commission to proclaim God’s kingdom in these “last days,” neither we as Christians nor our children will ever be able to spend more than a minimum of time on entertainment. It is obvious, too, that Christians will never be able to do all the things that the world calls “entertainment.” So recreation must be kept in its proper place. This necessitates our constantly maintaining a spiritual, not fleshly, outlook and our working to instill such a view in the hearts of our children.
So may every Christian keep a balanced view of recreation. May we build our lives around the things that bring real joy and satisfaction to the heart, as we occasionally enjoy some upbuilding recreation. Above all, may we find our greatest happiness in living clean Christian lives and in zealously proclaiming to others the grand hope of the Kingdom that will soon help all mankind to live balanced, worthwhile lives, to the eternal praise of our God, Jehovah.
Spoken by a judge to the professed Christian Epipodius. The judge was interrogating him and attempting to make him compromise. This reportedly took place in France during the 17th year of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. (177 C.E.)