I remember vividly what my daily schedule looked like in graduate school. My graduate program was two full, long years, and at the same time I had begun my first year of ministry as a campus staff member for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. My days looked a lot like this:
7:10 AM – run to Kinko’s to print something really important for work.
7:31 AM – Triple shot espresso (I am not a morning person!).
8:07 AM – Set up and run a discussion board board leading and training college students to engage the campus in conversations about Jesus. Have 3 spiritual conversations with atheist students.
12:10 PM – Eat 2 cupcakes for lunch (forgot to plan ahead!).
12:20 PM – 4:00 PM – Class for 4 hours.
4:30 – 6:30 PM – Clinicals (a part of my graduate program).
6:30-7:30 PM – Phone date (gotta give at least an hour to maintain relationships!).
7:30 PM – Broccoli for dinner (a little healthier this time!).
7:30 – 10:30 PM – Lead our weekly ministry large group.
10:30 PM -12:30 AM – Best friend comes over to study and fill out invitations for upcoming Halloween party.
At this point of my night on this particular day, I remember thinking, “why in the world do I have a headache?” This day, though, was followed by at least 3 more days like just like it, running from one thing to the next, until I crashed that weekend and slept for almost two straight days, and at the end of it all, I thought, ‘awesome.’
But hey, I’m an achiever. It makes me feel good to get things done, go after new pursuits, accomplish big things. That’s how God made me, with a never-ending fire to dream, go, live, try, lead.
The problem comes when the God that I follow, the Creator of the universe, sets up a system that includes and demands space for regular rest. What a waste of time, right? I can sleep when I’m dead! In college, I began to wrestle with this tension, at a time when I had started taking seriously my own growth as a disciple of Jesus, and one thing that trusted mentors kept telling me was that I needed to take a regular Sabbath every week, a day to rest and not do any work. I hated that idea. For me, a day of no accomplishment felt like a day wasted. My identity was so tied up in my various forms of work that taking that day off actually felt harder, more uncomfortable, than jumping back into the daily grind. For me, the grind was easier.
Our culture seems to feel the same way that I did. How often, when you ask a friend or coworker, “how is your week going?” do you hear, “it’s going great! I’ve finished work on time every day this week, spent quiet evenings home with my family, and gotten nine hours of sleep every night!”? No, instead, we hear, “busy” (followed by a long sigh), “I’m exhausted,” or, “I can’t wait until Friday” (also followed by a sigh).
According to a study by CNN health, the percentage of Americans that get 6 or fewer hours of sleep per night is steadily increasing, while the percentage that get 8 or more hours steadily declines. Though we are praised for our busy-ness and applauded for our hard work, deep down many of us long deeply for a life that is more than just work.
Bronnie Ware, an Australian nurse who spent several years working in palliative care, caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives, recently published a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying about the wisdom she has gathered talking with her patients. Guess what the second most common regret was?
I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
Maybe I should have stepped off the daily treadmill more often, maybe I should have sat down, and really looked… looked at God, looked at myself, looked at my family.
Maybe the world really wouldn’t have fallen apart if I had done that, if I hadn’t spent those extra hours doing paperwork at the office, worrying about the laundry that didn’t get done, or catching up on the 73 emails I didn’t get to during the week. Just maybe.
In the beginning of the Creation story in Genesis 1 and 2, we find a God who busies himself making things out of nothing for an entire week. And then, amazingly, we find this:
By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done (Genesis 2:2-3).
But God wasn’t really 100% done, was he? He does more after this and continues to work to this day. He had just “finished the work that he had been doing.” And this is God that we’re talking about here. Did he really need to take a nap or sleep in to feel better for the next shift of working? Probably not. If God himself is not above rest, is it not arrogant for us to think that we’re personally too important to take a day off?
So why does God rest, then, if he doesn’t need it?
Perhaps he was setting up a system, built within the very threads of Creation, that would make humans more than just workhorses, more than machines. Maybe, out of great love, he was modeling rest, so that, from the least to the greatest of us, we would find our identities in how he sees us, not in how many widgets we can make in one hour. In any society, children produce and accomplish very little of value, and yet Jesus, who was grounded in the heart of the Jewish Sabbath, says, “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Children are valued for who they are, not what they accomplish, and so it should be with you.
Not only does God model rest, he “blesses” the seventh day and calls it “holy.” During the previous days of the week he has called many things good, but this is the first day to be called holy and the first day to be blessed.
Is it possible that days of rest are even more important than days of work, even if your work is sharing the gospel, or feeding the hungry, or preaching?
This past year my husband, Theo, and I had the opportunity to lead our church Bible Study in Lectio Devina, an ancient practice in which we read a Scripture passage aloud several times, asking God what he might want to say to us, both individually and corporately, through that passage. The passage was the feeding of the five thousand in Mark. As we began to go through the experience, we realized that God was speaking the same message to everyone in the group through Jesus’ advice to the disciples: “Come away by yourselves and rest for awhile.” Even though this wasn’t the main point of the passage, God was speaking strongly, trying to get through by any means possible. This was an intergenerational group of engineers, vets, nurses, and parents, and they were all exhausted and struggling with anxiety, insomnia, lack of space for God, and sickness as a result of not resting regularly.
How should we respond, then, in a world of stress, exhaustion, and busy-ness?
If I weren’t a follower of Jesus, I would most certainly overwork, make more money, accomplish big things, ignore any personal problems I had by working more, and overall just be my own god.
That would be the easier choice, but if we are followers of Jesus, we are called to be different.
We are called to pursue worthy endeavors with all of our hearts, yes, but we are also called to rest, regularly, before all of the work has been done, and just “be.” For me, this has meant taking some time off every day, pursuing a schedule that allows for a full night of sleep, and taking a weekly Sabbath. On that “blessed” day, I turn off my phone, forget about social media, and just let myself “be,” with God, with myself, and with my husband. Maybe that’s the rest that you need for your soul; maybe it is something different, but may we all experience deeper fullness of God’s kingdom by pursuing regular, holy, and blessed rest.