By Conor M. Kelly
How are you using your free time? Do you have enough of it? Too much? Are you mainly using it to veg out? Or are you devoting time to growing closer to God and other people and promoting the common good? These are some of the questions that animate the scholarly work of our latest AMDG podcast guest, Dr. Conor M. Kelly. An assistant professor of theology at Marquette University, Conor is the author of the recent book “The Fullness of Free Time: A Theological Account of Leisure and Recreation in the Moral Life.”
In his podcast conversation with host Mike Jordan Laskey, Conor talks about practicing a “leisure examen,” inspired by the Ignatian Daily Examen prayer tradition. Instead of prayerfully reviewing a single day, however, Conor proposes the leisure examen as a weekly practice to check in on how you have been spending your free time. Feel free to try it yourself with this simple guide Conor put together. And don’t miss his appearance on AMDG, which you can find wherever you listen to podcasts.
As God’s rest on the Seventh Day (Genesis 2:3) reveals, there is genuine spiritual good to be found in free time. The challenge, of course, is that the demands of work, the responsibilities of family life and the general busyness of modern existence regularly limit our access to free time and impinge upon our enjoyment of it. Nevertheless, developing an appreciation of free time can be a rich spiritual practice. This “leisure examen,” loosely based on the Examen found in St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises, provides the resources for an evaluation of our free time so that we can approach this sphere of life with greater intentionality and thereby realize more of its fullest potential.
The leisure examen has three steps to help us review our recent free time activities and to determine what habits we would like to develop further. Consider using the leisure examen as a weekly spiritual exercise to promote a richer appreciation of free time.
Step 1: Give Thanks and Ask for Insight
Give thanks to God for the gift of free time and think about the benefits you gained from your free time in the past week. Express gratitude directly to God for these gifts.
Next, ask God to guide the review of your free time. Express your desire to appreciate the goodness of leisure and recreation more fully and ask the Holy Spirit to help you distinguish the habits you should keep from the ones you should discontinue.
Step 2: Review Your Free Time
Look back at the past week and assess your free time by asking the following questions, paying particular attention to the feelings of consolation and desolation you have as you review your choices:
- How have I balanced free time and my ordinary obligations in the last week?
- Has my pursuit of free time come at the expense of my duties?
- Have my responsibilities come at the expense of my free time?
- Has recourse to passive forms of recreation (e.g., watching TV, scrolling newsfeeds) been my primary or exclusive experience of free time in the past week?
- Have active forms of leisure (e.g., exercise, genuine conversations) been a prominent feature of my experience of free time in the past week?
- How have I honored my relationships during my free time?
- Have I been able to make time for God, time for self and time for others?
- Have I been fully present to my relationships in my shared free time or have I been distracted by worries, technology or other interruptions?
- Are there relationships I have neglected in my free time?
- To whom do I owe more shared time and intentional presence?
Step 3: Resolve to Pursue the Fullness of Free Time
After completing your review, consider how you can appreciate free time and strengthen your relationships going forward. Do you need to reprioritize one or more of your relationships during your free time in the coming week? Do you need a different balance between work and leisure in the next seven days? Resolve, with the help of God, to take one concrete action in the next week to experience the relational flourishing with God or other people you desire during your free time.
Finally, as you finish the leisure examen, take a moment to thank God for the gift of free time and ask for the strength to work toward a world where all people have adequate time and space for leisure.