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  • J. J. Fischer

When you can’t let go of the weekend

We’ve all experienced it.

For me, it begins with a sense of lingering dread. That feeling when you’ve been enjoying yourself at a picnic with friends in the sun and you suddenly get a phone call with unpleasant news. A shadow steals over the sun, snatches away your joy. The world feels a bit less bright, a little less real. You think, “The weekend is over already? It feels like it was Friday night just a minute ago.”

But now it’s Sunday afternoon, and gray clouds are crawling over your headspace, and the long week is yawning ahead of you, crippling you with dread. “Just get to the next weekend,” you think. And you stack all your hopes and dreams (and tasks) onto the next Friday night, only to be disappointed when Sunday night rolls around yet again.

I used to get this feeling all the time. The weekend was always far too short. Even if it was a particularly long one (like Easter) or a public holiday, it always felt like it was over before it began. Now that I work for myself as an author and editor, I don’t get this feeling as much, because I’m more excited than apprehensive at the thought of spending my week surrounded by books. But the same feeling still manifests in other ways.

Back then, I used to cling to the idea of a Saturday all to myself, only to get to that Saturday and find it wasn’t nearly as satisfying as I’d anticipated, even if I devoted it entirely to my own happiness. When Sunday rolled around, I would feel depressed and drained again. How did it go by so fast? No matter how much I tried to hold on to that moment, it was always gone before I knew it. Holidays and special occasions (birthdays, Christmases) were the same.

Why do we feel this pre-week, post-weekend dread? Our working hours are less than they’ve ever been. Thanks to the tireless efforts of many campaigners, we now have a five-day working week—and some countries and companies are even trialling a four-day week, touting the benefits of a smaller number of work days for mental health and productivity.

This seems to be supported by the data, and of course I applaud the idea. Longer weekends generally mean more time with significant others, with children, with friends, and for self-care and serving others.

But for those of us who already enjoy a significant amount of leisure time (just think of all those hours we spend doom-scrolling on Facebook or passively waiting for the next episode to play on Netflix), I’m going to make a prediction: that no matter how much we work, we’re still going to struggle to let go of the weekend.

Why? In myself, I’ve discovered a tendency to idolise nostalgia. That feeling that what’s around the corner (or what happened in the past) is so much more capable of bringing about my own personal happiness than the circumstances in front of me right now. Today I feel tired and drained, but on the weekend…oh! Everything will be different then.

It might not be the weekend. It might be a holiday I've been anticipating or a material possession I've been saving for or even a craving for a particular food.

We don’t necessarily consciously do this, of course. And I imagine that the more realistic or cynical among us are those who have better learned the truth that the expectation or anticipation is almost always sweeter than the reality. But I suspect that even the most cynical person looks back to a time in their past (or perhaps a moment in their future) that was (or will be) better, more satisfying, more likely to bring about personal happiness. Perhaps it’s a person (like a future spouse), an activity (like a highly anticipated sports game) or a thing (like a new TV)—the object doesn’t matter. It’s the significance we give to it, that shiny or rosy quality, that makes it an object of great importance or even reverence. We desire it because, as Mr Collins says when proposing to Lizzy in Pride and Prejudice: "I am convinced that it will add very greatly to my happiness."

Nostalgia is the reason why holidays always feel so much more exciting when you’re planning them with the travel agent or looking back at past photos (forgetting all the boring bits or the things that went wrong). It’s the reason why you associate greater satisfaction with parts of your childhood, or special occasions, or certain meals, or even particular people or relationships (consider the term, “first love”).

Nostalgia drives the obsession to capture experiences through photos and videos or to visit new places (hence the description of overseas holidays as catching the "travel bug"). It might be our future that we think we're planning, but usually that future is an attempt to recreate the glory of the past.

So why isn’t any of it ultimately satisfying? Why do we always want more?

In his essay The Weight of Glory, C. S. Lewis explores the concept of nostalgia, or as he terms it, “Sehnsucht”—a German word for longing, particularly for something which is unattainable or unable to be pinpointed. He describes this as “a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience.” Often, humans mistake this desire for a simple appreciation of beauty. But Lewis goes on to say, using the English Romantic poet William Wordsworth as an example:

Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify [this desire] with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering.

In other words, the experience of nostalgia is not an objective recollection of the past, but is itself a created thing. If I recollect a delicious meal from my childhood, I imbue that memory with numerous ideas or concepts that belong to other moments in my life (“It’s so much tastier than anything I’ve had since”), to my present (“There’s no chance I could ever make that meal myself”; or “I miss the person who used to make it for me”) and even to my future (“I will never taste something like that ever again”). The past is never viewed on its own terms, without reference to anything else. It's always imbued with the longing(s) of the present.

This kind of present-focused bias is, of course, a recipe for heartbreak. Lewis continues:

The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”

This longing for the impossible is a clue to why we find the experience of unmet desires (a holiday out of our reach; or perhaps a weekend that ends too quickly) so acutely unsatisfying. They are unsatisfying, ultimately, because they’re only a shadow of the things that we really desire: eternity, perfection, wholeness, complete and undisrupted union with our Creator.

This Sehnsucht, this longing, though deeply unsettling and uncomfortable, is not something to be resisted or avoided, however. In fact, the Bible tells us explicitly that it will be part of every Christian's life. In the book of Hebrews, in the passage on the heroes of the faith, we are told:

All these people died in faith, without having received the things they were promised. However, they saw them and welcomed them from afar. And they acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.
Now those who say such things show that they are seeking a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country, a heavenly one. (Hebrews 11:13-16a)

Our Sehnsucht will not remain unsatisfied forever. Hebrews continues: “Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (11:16b) Our longing is exactly what puts us into closer fellowship with who we're longing for: the Author of our very souls.

If you are longing for a weekend that never ends, chances are you’re really bemoaning the unsatisfying nature of work (Genesis 3:17-19) or relationships (Genesis 3:16). You’re craving a world that isn’t dominated by unrewarding slog or long commutes or bodily aches and pains or low returns for your investment.

You’re craving Eden. You’re craving Heaven. And nothing on this earth is ever going to live up to the standard of perfection that’s still imprinted on your heart from the time that humanity spent in the Garden.

If this is you, and Sehnsucht is affecting not just your weekends but your holidays, your evenings, and indeed any moment of your day, take yourself back to the Word and spend some time reading God’s promises to you. Thank Him for the inheritance he’s preparing for you that won’t fade and won’t leave you craving something more or better or different (1 Peter 1:3-4).

I guarantee you that this habit is going to make you homesick, but in the very best way. It will make you more acutely aware of your heavenly destination, the shining Celestial City of Pilgrim's Progress. It will bring into focus the one object of worship that can never break your heart (God/Jesus). I have found that, rather paradoxically, the more space I carve out for that reality, the more peace and joy I have in this one. Looking long and intently at Heaven has a curious way of influencing how we look at things here on Earth.

A point of clarification

Now, by all means, if you are spending at least half of your weekend in complete misery or as a nervous wreck, it may be that a different problem is afoot. As a psychologist, I’ve seen many people for whom that kind of depression and anxiety was symptomatic not of a craving for nostalgia but plain old burnout and overwork.

If this is you, consider making some changes to your work situation. If your financial situation allows it, consider reducing your days or talking with your boss about changing up your role. Even the smallest alterations to your workload can make a difference. Or, you may need to take more drastic measures, like changing jobs altogether. This is a difficult choice, but a much better alternative than the long-term effects of chronic stress and burnout (I know from personal experience!).

A cause for deeper reflection

Even if burnout is a primary cause for your anticipatory dread, remember that Sehnsucht is always at play in the human race. Recognise your longing for certain moments or people or things in your past (or future). Take a moment to delve deep into that feeling. What are you really craving? Is it a sense of acceptance, or unconditional love, or peace, or overwhelming and enduring satisfaction? How might you be projecting present realities onto past/future ones? How might you be expecting Heaven here on earth?

Whatever you are craving, recognise that stubborn human tendency to cling, to preserve, to hoard experiences and objects and people as receptacles of our happiness.

What have you begun to worship as a source of joy or contentment or security?

In what ways is it breaking your heart?

And finally, how can you relocate that heart worship to the One who never disappoints, never fails to deliver or fulfill or satisfy, and promises that He is the same yesterday, today, and forever? (Hebrews 13:8)

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