One things I learnt early on in our time away was that resting is a discipline and skill to be learnt.
We live in a culture where busyness and hurry is seen as our badge of honour, where we compete with each other on how tired we feel and where the god of productivity becomes our new taskmaster.
In 1960’s labor experts predicted that advancements in technology would make us more productive, we would only need to work three day weeks because we’d get so much done quicker and more efficiently. Instead technology has actually had the opposite affect, we’ve ended up working more hours than ever before. And so with the rise of the personal computer, email, the internet and smart phones we’ve given birth a to an ‘always switched on’ work ethic. The net result may mean we are doing more and getting more done, but it’s also having a dramatic affect on our heath, leading to things like depression, stress and even burn out.
The journey of a disciple of Jesus in the 21st century is often a journey of counter-formation... in our pursuit of Christ we are to be formed by a new set of habits, to live by the rhythm of a different Kingdom and to worship at the feet of a new taskmaster.
As one author puts it, ‘If we want to live a wholehearted life, we have to become intentional about cultivating sleep and play, and about letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self worth’ or as Dallas Willard writes: ‘The most important factor for spiritual growth - is to ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life’.
So how do we step into the discipline of Rest?
By learning to switch off
An important lesson for me to learn over our time away was the process of switching off and disengaging from the noise. For me that meant turning off my emails, not feeling the compulsion to respond to text messages there and then and giving my attention to other things, the things I enjoy and the things that help me to feel replenished. As I’ve come back to work post sabbatical I realised I need to maintain some similar standards; on my days off it needs to be email off and phone left at home. It means activating this wonder feature called ‘Do Not Disturb’ past a certain time of day and learning to unplug from a always switched on world.
By learning new rhythms
Mike Breen says ‘We need a biblical framework for a rhythm of life that allows us to be fruitful in balance with being at rest’. The opening chapters of the book Genesis make it clear that God didn’t intend for humans to be overworked and stressed. God created humans on the sixth day, giving them work to do in a garden. But on the seventh day, which the first day on the job for those first humans, it started with a day of rest. Though humans are created to work, God intended rest to receive a priority in our lives. God created humans for work, but it started with a day of rest. We are called to work from a place of rest, not rest from our work!
One reason we should rest is because rest is productive. This is often difficult to accept, after all, those of us with long to-do lists get restless when even going to bed early - it feels counterintuitive for most of us. But the reality is we cannot function at our highest capacities without adequate rest. And most of us severely underestimate how much sleep we really need. We get more accomplished when we are physically, mentally, and spiritually well-rested than we do when avoiding rest altogether.
Imagine a pendulum swinging in rhythm–back and forth, to and fro. The shape created by this swinging pendulum is a Semi-Circle. At one end of the pendulum’s arc is fruitfulness. At the other end is abiding. We can’t have one without the other. We abide in Christ, then go forth to bear fruit. We bear fruit; then we are pruned back and enter a time of abiding. Rest, work, work, rest. It is a rhythm we see in nature as well. - Mike Breen
This semi-circle idea teaches us that we need to live out of the overflow of our relationship with God. When we rest from our activities; daily, weekly, monthly, and seasonally and we devote that time to prayer, the study of Scripture and rest, our work will then flow from these moments.
As Mike Breen goes on to say ‘This will involve at least one day for rest and others for work. Our weekly routines should make way for special family members, church and the neighbours God calls us to love as ourselves’.
Maybe you could break your day down into different portions; eight hours of sleep, eight hours of work, four hours engaging, and four hours disengaging. These guidelines are helpful, but they can’t be seen as a strict rule. Many of us work differently patterns and depending on what that looks like, then each of us will need to discern what would best offer a really healthy work-rest balance. So think through your schedule and your habits and start to set some boundaries.
By learning intentional rest
Now intentionality has the potential of becoming the next buzzword, but so often we have a tendency of spend a lot of time in pointless pursuits and fail to spend time resting. How we rest requires just as much discipline as how we work. And we need to be honest with ourselves about the things that are draining and should be more limited. Speaking as someone who often skips sleep to do things, I know it is easy to convince ourselves that what we are doing is restful when it is actually draining.
Intentional rest mean finding activities that “fill you up” spiritually, mentally, physically, and emotionally, then learning to schedule those activities and ensuring you practice them. Be intentional about your being, so that when you are truly rested, you can be productive in your doing.
So let me leave you with he words of Jesus:
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. -