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The Myth of Free Time

When I was a child, I played like a child. 

When I was in my middle school years I started to notice something about Christmas. The gifts I asked for each year were quite different from the year before. One year I might ask for an action figure of some sort and then year after year the toys got more complex, more screens were involved, and toys from Christmases past seemed quite juvenile in comparison. Fast forward to modern day where my grandparents-in-law quite seriously ask for Christmas lists and I found myself asking for textbooks so I didn't have to buy them or various things for Theodore. 

Now, the point isn't yay Skyler. Rather, I want to draw attention to the fact that as we grow older our taste and availability for certain recreational luxuries tends to go down. Though it doesn’t go completely extinct. I still enjoy a trip to King’s Island. I still enjoy the occasional time I get on my PlayStation. But my relationship to these leisure’s has changed over the years. As Marshall and Lilly from How I Met Your Mother said, “As we mature, the relationship matures with us.” Due this expectation, we have an innate awareness of the oddity of a man who would rather spend all his days playing a video game in his parents’ basement than working hard.

Though the parents’ basement factor may not be as pervasive with young men today, the obsessive relationship to video games is certainly a common theme. Day after day the lights go out, many others are in bed, and the young man dons his headphones and rests his fingers in the WASD position on his keyboard. This is even a common ritual for many Christian men. Do not hear me say video games are bad or even that this evening play is bad in and of itself. But the daily diet of this routine does real damage to a man.

But where does this sort of routine begin for someone? How does it come about? I want to suggest that amongst the causes for such a problem in a man is the myth of free time. After all, nightly gamers will often say that this period of time is their free time. But I would suggest that such a concept is both foreign to the Bible and supremely unhelpful for living. I will address these two angles in turn.

Free Time and the Bible

Usually the term ‘free time’ is used by someone is wants to know what hobbies someone enjoys. “What do you do in your free time?” Everyone has hobbies and things they enjoy after all. I myself like to go on walks, listen to music, and write (as I am doing right now). But to say that one enjoys certain things does not necessarily entail the existence of free time.

All things belong to the Lord. The earth and all of its riches belong to him (Ps 24). All of time was created by him and for him (Col 1:15-17) and the clock owes its ticking to his sovereign decree. That must be presupposed before we can understand our relationship to time. Our relationship to time is not one of ownership and control but one of management. We know this intuitively. Time never seems to operate how we would choose. Waiting at the DMV seems to last an eternity whereas a fun night with friends appears so fleeting. So clearly our relationship to time is not at all like the Lord’s relationship to time.

The Bible does particularly bring us to view our relationship to time as that of managers. It is granted to us (Ps 39:4-5) and we must manage it well. It is something we must make the best use of (Eph 5:15-16). We make the best use of it when we know we only have so much of it this side of eternity (Ps 90:12). Thus, a limited amount of time is granted to us and we much make the most of it. None of it just hangs in the air without a purpose — none of it is ‘free time’. All of it can and must be used with intention (contrast this with the sluggard of Prov 26:14)

The Bible certainly does have a category for rest. The seventh day is a day reserved for an absence of labor and an excess of rest. But even rest is not ‘free time’ as the Bible presents it. It is a day for the worship of the Lord. Sunday is not an empty plate to dump all of our fun things onto. It is also not an all-you-can-sleep day. This, the Westminster Shorter says, is “profaning the day by idleness”. It is a day meant for the particular worshipping and thus supreme glorifying and enjoying of God himself. It is not free time.

The Unhelpfulness of Free Time

All of this lays the ground work for seeing that free time is a certainly unhelpful term in the course of our Christian living. Now, some people may use the term and actually have very healthy relationships to various recreational activities. However, I suspect many (particularly young men) use that term as a justifier for their hours and hours spent on video games. I knew many such people even in Bible college. Guys who would stay up past midnight playing video games on a Saturday night and be left stumbling for an excuse as to why they neglected Sunday worship.

But leaving behind the extremes for a moment, let’s think about how the term gets in the way in other areas. Bible reading, prayer, time spent with a spouse or child, serving a neighbor. All of these things are various Christian duties. Yet many will say they have no time for such things yet have a category known as ‘free time’. We have no right to go to bed with energy. We should go to bed tired. Tired not because our brains have been spent on screens but because we have worked heartily to the glory of God.

No Free Time — Labor by Grace

As I have written this post I have condemned myself on various fronts. I have many times claimed (if only to myself) that I had no time for prayer or Bible reading on a given day and yet my screen time cried out against me. We need a savior who labored hard for God’s glory and for our good (John 5:16, 5:36). We need to die to our old idle selves which lay up treasures on earth and put on our new selves which lay up treasures in heaven. For where our treasure is there our heart resides. If nothing else, our time is indicative of our treasure (Matt 6:19-21). If you treasure video games above everything, time will tell on you. If you treasure sleep above everything, time will tell on you. If you treasure career success above everything, time will tell on you. But if you treasure the Lord above everything (Ps 27:4), time will tell on you. May we daily take up this fight by the strength of the Lord to die to our old idle selves and put on the Lord Jesus Christ.


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