Recently, I had the pleasure of completing a year-and-a-half long labor of love: a fully illustrated version of one of my favorite books, Richard Sibbes’ The Bruised Reed. It was a hobby project. One question I’ve been getting a lot since the book went live is: “Where on earth did you get the time?” I want to explore where I got the time. Specifically, I want to make a case for the cultivating of hobbies as a way of remembering where we’re headed. A hobby as work that is fully restful. As fully restful work, hobbies give us a glimpse of work in Heaven, where we are headed in Christ.
Before we get started, we need a better view of heaven. For many, heaven remains the big white puffy thing in the sky. It's where we sport goose wings, and smiling in a prozac induced stupor, pluck three-stringed harps, snoring ourselves gently to sleep. This is the third death: eternal boredom. Let’s rid ourselves of this conception of the afterlife
If we start with Jesus, we get a very different notion of heaven. His resurrected body is a preview for ours (1 Corinthians 15:20-21). Far from floating along trailing fairy dust, these heavenly bodies will eat breakfast (John 21:12-13; Luke 24:30), go for long walks (Luke 24:13-35), and be made up of real flesh and bone (John 20:26-29). So forget a future as Casper the ghost. Our resurrected bodies will be altered, but they will be human.
In addition, the prophecies concerning the New Heavens and New Earth describe a very earthy place. Isaiah 33 and 35 tell us our destination is the earth brought to flourishing. The majesty of these prophecies are lost if they’re speaking of something akin to an alien planet — neat, but nothing like what we’ve known so far. No, biblical prophecy speaks of a New Earth, where everything we know and love is redeemed.
One of those things redeemed appears to be work. Isaiah 65 says of Zion, “the wealth of the nations shall come to you, a multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense,” (vv. 5-6). The list goes on, and the best of what the nations have to offer are present: livestock (v. 7), transportation (v. 9), wealth (vv. 9, 11). Note that these things would have no meaning whatsoever in anything in psuedo-reality. All this implies work but changed work. Redeemed, restful work. Foreigners build up the walls of Zion (v. 10); the building materials of all the land are upgraded, and the people themselves will no longer work under oppression (v. 17).
In other words, in the very earthy New Heavens and New Earth, the curse is lifted, and the precious gift of work, creation, and cultivation is returned to humanity cleansed of it’s trappings of sin and decay.
The implications are staggering. It means we haven’t begun to see the potential of what human dominion can look like. Just because you know how to use your your limited edition Chemex to brew single-origin, hand-ground beans in unbleached filters doesn’t mean you’ve ever tasted real coffee. We’ve only begun to ply the trade. Give it a hundred thousand years or so, and see what the coffee tastes like then.
It means our failures and frustrations with daily life now may one day have an outlet. In Chicago, I can be frustrated when train breaks down, even as I dream about Zion, where the El will always run on time. It means we have to get rid of our strange vocational concepts like genius and prodigy. Calling the work of a fallen human genius is like calling the drawings of a three-year-old genius. Who can say what genius really looks like when human life is cut so dreadfully short?
Not that the redemption of work is the central point of the greater story of redemption. But if the redemption of work is part of what Jesus has done (and based on the above, I believe a strong case can be made), it’s also something that Scripture asks — demands — that we dream about.
HOBBIES AS RESTFUL WORK
This is where hobbies come in. A hobby, by nature, is work you do restfully. It’s not cleaning out the septic tank. It’s not playing space invaders with your inbox, answering one, or even as twenty more invade. It is restful work. A hobby is work that has zero conflict with joy and peace. As such, the hobby offers us a glimpse of work fully redeemed.
Hobbies give us a taste of work in eternity. When do you work on a hobby? Not on Monday morning. Not on Hump-day. You work on a hobby on Saturday. You do it on your day off. You do it when your time is free. That’s the beauty. We can pick hobbies up, and put them down, and maybe even take a nap in between.
The rest of our work is crammed into seemingly impossible schedules. We till the cursed earth in a panic to survive. If we don’t answer the email, then our bosses will notice, and if it happens too many times, then he’ll take away the emails for good, and our food and shelter along with it. (When managers talk about a “sense of urgency,” this is what they mean). We work at hobbies in a fundamentally different frame of mind. When we work at hobbies, it’s as if we have all the time in the world. And our work in Heaven will be the same.
Hobbies give us a taste of work as pleasure. Why work at anything in our time off? We work at hobbies because something in us knows that, though work is broken, it is a good thing. Work is not our enemy, and the eternal hammock sweet redemption. Rather, work is what were are made for; work that is not toil is blessed.
So we humans build little model planes, and paint pictures, and bone up on our golf games, and knit those ever-needed Christmas sweaters. We do these things because we want to, not because we have to.
What better description for what happens when hearts of stone are made hearts of flesh? All our have to’s become want to’s. All our duties become desires. Work is no exception to this glorious facet of the gospel. In eternity, no one will be forcing us to punch the clock. Hobbies give us a small glimpse of that glorious day.
Finally, hobbies give us a taste of work that thrives. The world out there is complicated beyond recognition. Systems break. Markets collapse. In spite of the motto, "We build to last," we are awestruck if something survives more than a decade. Thieves break in. Moths and rust destroy. Built-in obsolescence seems the order of the day.
Hobbies offer a different kind of work altogether. Hobbies typically offer us closed systems. "Place Axle A in Hole B. Apply glue. Let Dry." Hobbies let us work on things where actual progress is possible, where we may build relatively free from the complexities of work after Adam. Not perfectly free, of course, but more free. And work in eternity will be free from decay and frustration altogether.
WHAT ABOUT ENTERTAINMENT?
The sad truth is, when most people ask where I got the time to illustrate my favorite book, they usually aren’t taking seriously the possibility that someone might sacrifice entertainment time. A few thoughts here.
Media vs. Hobbies. Challenging the American’s right to television is about as safe as giving a pill to the wrong end of a horse, but here it goes. I think we spend too much time with our televisions. I’m not aiming for no T.V., just less. We live in an age where some pretty decent stories are told through what was once an unsophisticated medium — I get that (though if we think we can just turn our brains off while watching, we’d better think again). What I don’t like about television is that it reinforces what most of us want to believe already: that work is bad. Work is not bad. Work is good. We need help seeing this. Spending 28 hours per week in front of a T.V. screen doesn’t help at all.
Video Games vs. Hobbies. I’m fairly certain that video games will become a top-level moral issue for the church in the coming years. The way things are going, video games will far outrun T.V. in terms of addiction and temptation to sexual promiscuity. Already in many countries, games allow main characters to realize every fantasy they’ve ever had: orgies, rape, incest, murder.
We must ask not only how video games can lead us to sin, but also why they are appealing in the first place. I haven’t seriously played since the 8-bit glory days of yore, yet I think the answer to the latter question is still the same: video games offer un-cursed progress. That is the appeal. When I found a heart-container in the Legend of Zelda, nothing could take that away. The game had a save feature. There is much more to be explored here (perhaps in a future article). For now, I’ll simply state that I think video games should be taken with much moderation, as they are more entertainment than work. For proof, I offer nothing more than the sweat stains on the gamer’s couch.
Other Games vs. Hobbies. I’m a fan of board games (Eurogames to be precise). Games bring people together. They too are closed systems, and often restful for the mind. Families playing games can have great fun (also great sorrow, should a sibling acquire Boardwalk and Park Place). I’m all for putting games somewhere in the Sabbath routine. Yet again, hobbies fulfill a longing in the human heart that no game will satisfy. Games exercise our desire to rule, but not our desire to build. Games exercise our powers of decision, but they do not allow us to image creator God.
A SHINING VISION
Hobbies can help us cultivate a shining vision of future glory. I have about a half-dozen serious hobbies going at the moment.
Rather than merely playing, my son Ezra (5) and I are developing a video game using MIT’s programming language, Scratch. This Christmas, I gave my family the first chapter of an illustrated children’s book about rats in the city called The Owl’s Eyes. It will probably be a five-year project. I also have a card game in the works. The first version of this I’ve made on paper. The second will be real illustrations on actual playing cards. If I live long enough, I want to turn it into a heritage toy, and create the entire thing from hand-carved wood tiles. And, if it does well financially, my Bruised Reed project will become a whole line of books called Illustrated Puritans (with future illustrating accomplished by an army of friends).
I say all this not to boast in myself, but to boast in the Lord. Jesus has saved the whole world. Everything you and I love rightly will be redeemed. The wonders of what is coming we cannot currently comprehend. Yet we get glimpses, small and precious glimpses. They are graces come down from the author of grace.
Every Saturday the Youngren family wakes up to pancakes, then sits down in the living room, assembling tools of trade. Markers, felt, and many-colored papers line the table. Phones are off. Laptops closed. Everyone’s in pajamas. The conversation rises and swells with excitement.
This is the Sabbath. We know what we are about. The Youngren family is getting to work.
It makes our tired hearts glad.
Aaron Youngren pastors The Line and is a husband and father in the heart of the Windy City. He writes at Unbound and is the author of the Two Cities book series. Former lives have involved writing for theater and managing a global team at Amazon.com. Aaron make pancakes.
Further Reading: Gospel Amnesia by Luma Simms