Of Busyness and Rest


We were on an extended- family picnic at a quiet beach north of Sydney, on a fabulous sunny Sunday. However, I was expecting a call from a journalist in Melbourne who wanted information for an article, so I wasn’t fully relaxed. While the others were playing a game on the beach, I was loitering around the car park, the only location with good reception. The journalist called and we spoke for about half an hour before I returned to the family, who by this time had made inroads into the kind of gourmet picnic lunches typical of the cooks in our clan. I was pretty happy with how the interview went—I don’t get calls that often from journalists interested in my work!—and altogether, it was a good day.

Modern communications are a wonderful thing. I could speak to someone in Melbourne while sunning myself near Gosford on a family outing. With the same mobile phone, I can text friends, find out why my wife is late for our rendezvous in the shopping centre, play games until she arrives, check my shares on the net and keep track of my appointments. And mine is a rather ordinary mobile phone compared to some.

t is just one of the devices I own to make my life easier. Think of all the labour-saving devices in the home: refrigerator, oven and stove, dishwasher, air conditioner, vacuum cleaner, lawn mower, hedge trimmer— the list goes on. And then there is the device on which I am writing this article: the computer. The greatest timewasting, labour-saving device known to humanity.

And here’s the rub: for all the gadgets we own to make life easier, life isn’t.

We are as busy as we ever were. In fact, we often feel busier. Once upon a time, I had to stop working over the weekend: my workplace was locked up and I had no access to the things I had to do. These days, of course, I need never stop. I can stay in touch with the world’s financial markets 24/7, and a laptop, the internet and the phone mean I can take work with me everywhere I go, even as I travel.

The very machines designed to make my work easier have made it possible— and often necessary—for me to work longer than ever. Even the humble light bulb has changed the way we live. No longer governed by the rhythm of the sun, we are able to stay awake until all hours of the night. Many people do not get enough sleep because they have so much to do—or to watch on TV.

If you have travelled to parts of the globe where they are not blessed with modern technology, you may have seen that while they have to work hard to survive, there is often also a sense of a slower pace of life— of having time to breathe. I remember driving through a rural village in Romania a few years ago and being frustrated at having to crawl through the pedestrians, who were out socialising on the road after work. Roads are for cars—get off the road! I thought.

But when we parked our car and joined the walkers, suddenly the whole atmosphere changed. The place was relaxed, neighbours greeted each other and conversations were held on benches conveniently placed outside the gate of almost every home. Another car that tried to drive past now became the nuisance, disrupting the peaceful and sociable mood.

Humans need rest, regularly and in good quantity. We were not designed to be constantly busy. If you hold an elastic band constantly fully stretched, it will not last as long as one that is stretched, then periodically relaxed. We are something like an elastic band in this respect. Space and time are needed to refresh the soul, revive the spirit and renew our most precious relationships.

Amazingly, an ancient text addresses this modern need. The traditional Hebrew “10 rules for good living,” often called the Ten Commandments, have been the basis of healthy societies for generations. Of its 10 laws, nine are generally practised. Throughout the ages all over the world, nations have recognised the need for laws to protect human life and property, to honour parents and the family, to have boundaries on marriage and sex, and to respect spiritual powers. Different societies have placed the boundaries in different places, according to their particular gods and social customs, but the principles behind most of the Ten Commandments are almost universally observed.

Only the fourth is an exception to this: the commandment to rest one day in seven. An examination of the Bible’s statements about the Jewish Sabbath— or rest day—reveal the basic principles behind it.

umans need to stop regularly and remember they are not the centre of the universe. We need to acknowledge a Power higher than ourselves, and we also need to take time to nurture the things that are most precious to us.

Few people, on discovering that they have a terminal disease and have just months to live, wish that they had worked harder or spent more time at the office. Generally, such a crisis provokes an examination of what is really of value and, at such times, family, friends and God come to the fore. The Sabbath is God’s way of asking us to keep these things in mind on a regular basis, amid the ordinariness and busyness of our lives—not just at the crisis moments when it may be too late.

Imagine an old book that anticipates the craziness of modern life and says, “Here is the answer. Take one day out, every week. Don’t merely slow down; actually stop all those things that keep you busy. On that day, replace your usual activities with time for your own soul. Have some solitude to reflect on how you are. Spend time with your spirit and connect to the Spirit who runs the universe. Meet together with people who share your passion for living fully in touch with God. Take time to spend with your family and friends, free of the have to and must go of modern life.” It is not the most obvious of rules needed for a society to function well but in hindsight, it is one of God’s most brilliant inventions for our wellbeing.

Most of us have trouble stopping long enough for healthy rest. But here, God orders us to take a break, to regroup, refocus and refresh. On his authority, we can lay aside the things that demand to be done now and pay attention to the important, rather than the merely urgent.

Is this rule of value to you? Do you need regular time to take stock of what is truly important to you? Do you occasionally think, It would be good to have more time with family, with friends, with God, with my own soul? God, who knows us better than we know ourselves, asks us to take a break, and spend it with Him and those we value around us.

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