We live in a culture that does not celebrate rest. Don’t get me wrong, most people feel like it’s important and we enjoy it when it comes. But we don’t celebrate working at a sustainable pace. In fact, our culture doesn’t even encourage it. Don’t believe me? When was the last time someone at your work received employee of the month for leaving every day on time and using all their allotted vacation? I can’t think of one either—and I am responsible for selecting employee of the month at Palm Valley Church!
According to Psychology Today’s article, The Tell-Tale Signs of Burnout … Do You Have Them?,burnout is the physical and emotional exhaustion that is the result of working at an unsustainable pace over time. Symptoms include chronic fatigue, insomnia, increased illness, loss of appetite, anxiety, anger, tension, irritability, pessimism, detachment, apathy, hopelessness, lack of productivity and performance, isolation, loss of enjoyment, depression, forgetfulness, impaired concentration and physical symptoms like chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath.
So, what does a sustainable pace look like? How can we avoid burnout in a culture that celebrates and rewards people who work themselves to exhaustion? It starts with a weekly rhythm.
“There are daily and weekly rhythms designed into us as human beings. Living within these rhythms brings health. Fighting against them breaks us down physically and emotionally over time.”
God set out a rhythm for work and rest in the very opening statements of the Bible. He didn’t start with a command or rule. He started with an example to follow.
Genesis 2:1-3 “So the creation of the heavens and the earth and everything in them was completed. 2 On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work. 3 And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation.”
God did not rest because he was tired or worn out from His work. Creating the last herd of elephants on day six of creation did not push Him over the edge. God rested for one reason—to set the example and expectation of rest as a weekly rhythm. Because this example is set out in the Bible, it is often mistaken as a spiritual practice. Some believe that the seven-day cycle of work and rest is a religious construct and does not apply to everyone.
From Subversive Sabbathby AJ Swoboda, “The seven-day work week is not something that can, or should, be tinkered with, although some have tried to. In 1793, France, in an effort to increase human productivity, de-Christianized the calendar by modifying the seven-day week to a ten-day week. New clocks were invented to reflect the revised week. The experiment radically failed: suicide rates skyrocketed, peopled burned out, and production decreased. Why? It turns out humans were not made to work nine days and rest only one in a week. We were made to work six days and rest one. The seven-day rhythm is sacred. The seven-day work week is not the result of human ingenuity; rather, it is a reflection of God’s brilliance.”
Not only is this Sabbath day of rest an example to follow, it is also a gift to be enjoyed. Jesus, when questioned about His healing activities on the Sabbath, makes the clarification that the day of rest was made for man, not man for the day of rest. It is a gift from God to be enjoyed.
So how do we establish this rhythm of rest?
Pick a time
We have to be intentional about setting time aside for rest. Ideally, this is a consistent 24-hour block of time. However, there are so many factors that play into this; changing work schedules, multiple jobs, conflicting schedules with spouses, single parents, the list could go on and on. The point I am trying to make is that there are many reasons not to rest. Work hard to carve out some time. You might start with several blocks of time in your week; two 12-hour or three 8-hour blocks. Start there for now.
Prepare for it
Work hard to make sure you are ready to rest. When I go on vacation, it seems like my longest, busiest work day is the day before I leave. I am tying up loose ends, making sure I have coverage for all my responsibilities, and wrapping up projects. I do this so that when I leave for my vacation I can really unplug and not worry about work. What would it look like to prepare this well for your day of rest each week?
I don’t mean put it into practice. I mean practice doing different things on your days of rest and find what gives you the most refreshment. Start with some simple questions:
What fills me? What activities make me fill energized and rested? Fill you day with these things.
What drains me? What activities drain my energy and leave me feeling depleted? Try to avoid these activities on your day of rest.
There is no set list. What fills one person might be a drain for another. The point is to leave this day or period of time refreshed, energized and ready to re-engage with work.
Want to know more, check out my message on the Rhythm of Rest here.