This summer I have been focusing on reimagining work instead of escaping work.
I started the summer completing one of the heaviest projects of my life, my dissertation. PhD in hand, I spent a good few weeks reflecting on how to “come out of the tunnel” after an intense academic year. It felt like walking into a sunny afternoon after nine hours in a dark library. I spent plenty of time on long walks and lying in my hammock looking at treetops.
This was all very restful, but I also discovered that some of my most refreshing hours came not from what normally counts as “rest.” I’ve been reading some real academic doozies—Anthony Gideens’ The Consequences of Modernity, Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, and Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation. These are not by most standards “light reading.” And yet if I’m tuned in to my emotional and spiritual state, I discover that the mornings I spend tucked on a couch digesting these academic classics have been some of my favorite hours of summer. Why? Because they’re sandbox time.
I’ve been tackling these books with a notebook at my side not to summarize every point of evidence for my next article citation, but to toss around ideas. I let my mind roam in playful, creative, judgment-free thinking. These mornings feel more like hiking in the Rocky Mountains than like what I typically have considered “work.”
As I reimagine work, the picture I’m aiming for looks a lot like the “play” that Jurgan Moltmann describes in Theology of Play. Moltmann reminds us that freedom is at the core of our theology. That means we thrive when we “play” with a spirit of adventure to reconcile the un-reconciled, dwell in love and joy, and create without goal-achieving obsession. In this picture of work and play, rest becomes not just something you do when you stop working—when you “vacate” work or “vacation,” as Moltmann points out. Instead play—and also work—are infused with the kind of mental freedom we normally associate with rest. Sure, I need long hikes and hammock time, but I also need thoughtful writing and conversations that offer a sandbox to play freely with new facets of truth.
Reimagined work is life-giving, invigorating, playful and in its own way restful. This is more than an idea to grasp, it’s a lifelong practice. It affects how I approach my “work” as a mom—hanging laundry, building garage shelves, and making kids’ lunches. It affects how I want my students to experience the classes I teach. I want them to have the freedom to experiment with new ideas and skills, make mistakes, and encourage each other. My hope is that this reimagined work becomes a central characteristic of my academic career—that my work is marked by the creative freedom of the Creator and infused with a restfulness that is truly rest.
Image courtesy of ponce photography at Pixabay.com