Is it selfish to spend time on a hobby instead of praying?

Does living a God centered life mean that you do nothing other than pray? Or can you have a hobby? Could it be God centered if you offer whatever your hobby is to God? How do you know when you are overdoing something or another? I know it sounds like an odd question, but the problem I am trying to figure out is if my hobby (which is writing) is glorifying God, or if I am simply being selfish and should do something else with my spare time.

Yours is not an odd question by any means. In fact, it touches on a topic that people seldom consider in terms of their spiritual lives. First, it is good to recall what leading a God-centered life means. Briefly, it means doing everything for the glory of God. This includes but is not limited to prayer. People in all walks of life, from hermits to busy moms to military personnel, can give glory to God throughout the day. Recall that John the Baptist even had words of advice for tax collectors and soldiers who wanted to lead better lives: “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed” and “Be content with your wages” (Luke 3:13,14). What leading a God-centered life doesn’t mean is: having to be in a chapel all day. We weren’t built for that, and God expects us to do a variety of activities. “There is an appointed time for everything,” we read in Ecclesiastes 3. “A time to plant, and a time to uproot … a time to be silent, and a time to speak.” Even Jesus himself, a great model of prayer, made time for celebrating and relaxing with his disciples. He attended the wedding at Cana, for instance, and elsewhere exhorted his followers, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while” (Mark 6:31).

But what are we to make of Our Lord’s bidding to “pray always”? Certainly there should be time set aside for formal prayer, such as meditation, the rosary and Mass. Spontaneous prayer, such as in the form of petitions and acts of thanksgiving, should further punctuate our day. But “praying always” also means living continuously in the presence of God, of having an awareness of his being there in my life. It doesn’t mean that we are thinking of him consciously 24/7 — that would be psychologically impossible — but it does mean that everything in our life is shaped by an awareness of our state as creatures who owe obedience and love to the Almighty. Such a love prompts us to do things in a way that expresses our dignity as human beings made in the image of God. St. Paul reminds us that this can include just about any activity. “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Now to your specific question. Is it OK to have a hobby? In principle, yes. Hobbies can enrich us as well as others. They can help us to relax and maintain our psychological health. They might allow us to develop our God-given talents, which in turn can bring joy to others. The key to all of this is balance. And this is where the rest of your question comes in. Hobbies shouldn’t disrupt our ability to fulfill our duties at home or at work. Nor should they be excessively expensive or time-consuming. Here, it isn’t easy to come up with a hard and fast rule about what “excessively expensive” means. A sportsman who loves fishing, for instance, might decide that the expense of a $50,000 boat is justified if the craft provides lots of chances for family time together. Regarding the time investment in a hobby, we should be attentive if loved ones start saying things like “You seem so busy lately” or “We don’t see you much anymore.” That might a good moment to pause and reconsider your priorities. Also, beware of that notion of “spare time.” Time is a precious gift of God — and not to be squandered.

Regarding your specific hobby: It is certainly laudable for you to offer up your writing to God. Writing can shape and move hearts and minds in a profound way. You would do well to take this matter to prayer. A good question to ask is: Why am I writing? Who is my audience? Can I help others through this hobby? Writing can be stimulating, but it can slip into narcissism if not well directed. Beware, too, of what economists call “opportunity cost,” the value of the next best choice that you give up when making a decision. That is, could you be pursuing something better than writing? Your knack for writing might pale in comparison with your skills as a CCD [Religious Education] teacher. So if your parish has 83 students begging for a CCD teacher, you might want to reconsider your priorities. One last word: People shouldn’t feel bad if they don’t have a hobby. Sometimes a daily 15-minute walk can be as relaxing as any hobby. If walk you will, do it, like everything else, for the glory of God.

Yours in Christ, Father Edward McIlmail, LC

Father McIlmail is a theology instructor at Mater Ecclesiae College in Greenville, RI.

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