Yesterday I claimed that I hadn’t finished lolling around, and Lostarts asked how I could tell.

Of course, I was joking. Or at least being rather sardonic. And so, I assume, was she. But it got me to thinking. I read not long ago that the average young American woman spends 90% of her weekend resting. I asked around among the young American single women I know, and they agreed. I always do that — as though the personal experiences of three or four people I know are needed to confirm statistical data.

Last night at the dinner table, #1 son was speaking out against statistical data. His AP Psych class has been looking at how inadequate they are as an image of reality. He was particularly speaking about the claims that a) kids who eat dinner with their families are less likely to use drugs and b) kids who watch a lot of TV are more likely to be obese. In both cases, he pointed out, there are uncontrolled variables. Families that eat together are likely to be different from other families in other ways, he says. Obese kids might not be able to enjoy sports, so they just watch TV instead.

At this point, #2 son assured us that he watches TV all the time. I was surprised at this. He is always out with his friends, he walks and bikes all over town, he is continually covered with wounds — when is he finding time for this TV watching? But he said that usually when he is at his friends’ houses, they watch TV or DVDs or play video games. He would like to do more active things, he says, but his friends don’t want to.

#1 son agrees, saying that when he wants to do active things, he seeks out his active friends, but they don’t do much else together. He has just returned from a weekend of rock climbing at Horseshoe Canyon Ranch with friends. He is proposing that we go there as a family some weekend, which sounds fun to me. It does not, however, support the boys’ claim that they and most of their friends are generally idle.

The boys go to the gym together three times a week for an hour or more of weight-lifting. They have demanding school schedules, busy social lives, and chores at home. They play basketball and go running, and #1 son plays soccer pretty frequently. He also plays music, and #2 son still draws fairly often. I don’t think of them as guys who spend all their time lolling around. But, to hear them tell it, they loll around at school, and then they loll around at home or at their friends’ homes.

And I do think that I spend quite a bit of time lolling around, although I also work full time, look after my home and family, hit the gym regularly, sing in a couple of groups, take a couple of classes, make a lot of stuff, and am active in my church and community. I can imagine that an observer might not think that I loll around much, just as I don’t think that my boys do. But we think we do. This may mean that we loll around just enough: so much that we do not feel overworked, but not so much that we feel lazy.

So how much time is the right amount for lolling around? How can you tell when you have lolled sufficiently? After all, Parkinson’s Law says that “Work expands to fill the time available” and Mrs. Parkinson’s corollary says that “Housework expands to fill the time available, plus half an hour.” Obviously, we can’t just wait until there is no more work to do and relax then.

So, perhaps naturally since it was Sunday, I began thinking about the Sabbath. The idea of the sabbath is simple: we work for six days, and the seventh day of the week is for rest, worship, and enjoyment of creation. This idea fits fairly naturally into our lives, since traditionally most of us work or go to school five days of the week, use the sixth day for errands and chores, and go to our place of worship if we have one on the remaining day of the week.

But a lot of us work six or seven days a week. I have been lately. So has my husband. Many students go to school five days and work on the weekend. The labor movement famously insisted on “Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, eight hours for what we will,” but it is a rare job that actually lasts only eight hours a day. And few of us manage eight hours of sleep a night. Right now, my husband and I are getting up at 4:00 a.m. for his current work schedule (I am thankful that he was not having these extra hours while I was working insane hours this summer), and you can be sure that we are not going to sleep at 8:00 at night. The average American work week is now 49 hours, and we sleep just under 7 hours a night. Our household tasks are relegated to the weekend, and many of us have kids’ sports and other activities to squeeze in. In Hamburger-a-go-go-land, shopping has become the number two pastime, right behind watching TV, and household shopping takes up many weekend hours for most of us. Many of us are working extra hours in order to support the hours of shopping.

Again, this hardly supports the image of America as a nation of slackers which we encounter so frequently. Leaving aside the question of whether TV and shopping are actually a good use of time (they aren’t — I just couldn’t leave it aside — sorry), it is clear that Americans aren’t spending many hours in contemplation. Our lives are not, as Sighkey pointed out a while back, very Zen-like. The Sabbath is no longer a part of our lives, even though most of us do go to church or temple, or at least have a church to which we regularly do not go.

Yet the environmental impact of a sabbath day, especially a shared sabbath day, would be enormous. Environmentalists have recently been proposing this, and have come up with some impressive numbers to back up their claim that this would be a good idea. I wanted to find a good link for you to the recent calculations, but all the ones I found this morning were PDF files. Still, we can imagine this. Imagine the effect if all of us determined not to work or shop one day a week. The savings in fossil fuels would be enormous. If we all observed Jewish customs and did not use cars or lights on that day, it would be even more enormous. Here, by the way, is a useful link that I encountered in my search. I was also interested to find, among the religious links I browsed through, a claim that being observant of the Sabbath would naturally lead to greater consciousness about the use of resources throughout the week. I don’t know whether that is true or not, but I find it an intriguing notion.

We would probably all be more rested and productive as well. Since there is always work to do, taking a day of rest as a discipline may be the only way many of us will do it at all. Yesterday, as I was lolling around, having already taught my Sunday School class and sung in the choir and done laundry and gone to the pharmacy and put three batches of meatballs in the freezer and dinner in the crockpot and baked bread and cookies and cleaned the kitchen, I found myself jumping up to do more things. Defrost the big freezer. Sort through the boys’ outgrown clothes for the church rummage sale. Organize the stored luggage. And all this even though I was reading a rousing good book and being chivvied by #1 son to hurry up with knitting his hat.

It is hard to loll around very much. Yet even the sort of modified Sabbath observance that I manage allows me to rest, to spend time with my family, to give service, to have spiritual renewal, to pay attention to the beauty around me.

Taking a Sabbath could be a very good idea. Here you can find a thought-provoking and informative essay on the Sabbath from a Judeo-Christian perspective. It points out that we are pretty conceited when we think that the universe couldn’t manage without our work one day a week. It may be that all of us would benefit from a sabbath, whether it included worship or not. Knowing that the day of rest was approaching would remove that feeling of being on a hamster wheel. It would encourage us to be more efficient and thoughtful in our use of time the rest of the week, since we would no longer be thinking “Oh, I’ll get that done this weekend.” It would free up time in our lives to do the most important things, rather than just the urgent things. The answer to Lostarts’s question might be that we are finished lolling around when we feel refreshed and renewed for the week ahead.