By David Hegg
In the West we are preoccupied with doing, with attaining, with accomplishment. We work longer hours to meet the demands of longer lists while not so secretly longing for something better. And when the time comes when we have a whole day that is unscheduled, devoid of lists and tasks and obligations, we find that we just don’t know what to do, and especially, how to rest. We feel guilty too often and bored too soon, and then we just give up and make a list of things to occupy ourselves until we can get back to work.
Over the past several years I have had the opportunity to travel to Africa and Asia. On several occasions, I had the chance to spend long periods of time with some locals whose pace of life was, to my western mind, quite slow. And just about the time that I started feeling sorry for them, they declared just how sorry they were for me.
They wondered how we managed in the States given that we are always in a hurry, and never seem to be at ease. They were quite sad to hear we didn’t have all our meals together as families, talking and laughing and eating. When I told them the latest statistic that over 40% of all meals in the U.S. are eaten in the car, they were shocked.
They went on to say how sorry they were that our love affair with cars meant we never got to walk anywhere. For them, walking was all about spending time in relationship. As they walked, they talked, and they expressed to me that by walking they were granted the gift of slow time as they journeyed on their daily routes. I remember one man telling me, “You may have watches, but here we have time.”
What is really at stake is the loss of a beautiful thing called rest. And while we mistakenly define rest as lying down and doing nothing, actually rest can come in many forms as long as they refresh and reinvigorate the body, mind and soul. A long walk can be a time of mental rest even as a good workout can be a time of emotional reinvigoration. But for most of us, rest is a luxury that we’d love to have but we simply don’t have the time. And that’s the problem.
In the ancient world of the Bible, the first appearance of rest is found when God Himself, after creating all things, rested on the seventh day. There is something important to be found here, and the Jews were commanded by God to recognize it. Rest is necessary to enjoyment of life, as well as to its very vitality. The Jews were commanded to rest on what came to be known as the Sabbath. While the Sabbath became a topic of great controversy over the centuries, it remains true that the principle behind it is important today. Simply put, it is wise to put a little Sabbath into every day. And in this busy western world that is addicted to activity and accomplishment, we’ll probably have to add rest to our schedule and highlight it on our to-do lists.
But I want to go further and suggest that some ways of resting are much more beneficial than others. If you have a sedentary job, then physical exercise can be a great way to rest your mind and invigorate your body. And if you are mentally strained at work or at home during the day, then activities such as listening to music, reading great literature, cooking a meal with your spouse, or tending the roses can be restful and refreshing. And don’t forget that personal interaction with those you love, talking, listening, laughing and snuggling can be about the best rest for the heart you’ll ever find.
Be careful with things that seem to be restful but actually continue to drain you. These include television, social media interaction, and phone conversations. While these can be fun, studies have found that they can overload an already tired brain and the end result is anything but restful for the whole person.
In a society that puts a premium on achievement, we are seeing the price of this pace amounts to stressed-out people who are on all kinds of meds, and usually overweight. All our busy-ness and productivity is killing us slowly. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Get to your appointment calendar first and schedule some rest. But you better hurry, because Monday is just around the corner and the performance treadmill will be waiting for you.
David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and a Santa Clarita resident.“Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.