Sunday afternoons were a sacrosanct time when I was growing up in Argentina. Everything seemed to quiet and slow down between 2:00 and 5:00 pm, during siesta. Even shops would shut. All you could hear was the sound of the cicadas as the whole neighbourhood took a nap. Young and old, rich and poor were unified by this wonderful tradition. At least, I now think it is wonderful; as a child, I felt sleeping was a complete waste of time!
Many of us still think that. On one hand, we feel exhausted and desperate for rest. On the other, our half-hearted attempts at carving out time for relaxation prove we think we have better things to do with our time.
I believe our love-hate relationship with rest is based on three misconceptions: that time is money, that busy equals important and that speed can protect us from pain. But, if we are willing to shift our perspective, we will find the delight that rest was always meant to bring us.
1. Time is not money
If time is money, we should treat it like an all-you-can-eat restaurant. With sickening gluttony we should keep pouring activities onto our overflowing plates. When our stomachs ache, instead of stopping, we should unbutton our trousers to make room for dessert. If time is money, the more we manage to pack into a 24-hour period—no matter how much it nauseates our souls—the better returns we get from our investment.
But what if time is not money, but life? Think about it: You cannot save time; you can waste it, but you can never save it. You will spend each of the 86,400 seconds of today, today—no matter how fast you go. As Zen minimalist author Leo Babauta points out, “Life is better when we don’t try to do everything. Learn to enjoy the slice of life you experience, and life turns out to be wonderful.” All we need is one slice of life, not the whole buffet.
Time is far more expensive than money. It is the raw material of our existence; it is limited, precious and fleeting. Once you run out of time, no money will help. Choose wisely how you use your days. Babauta again: “Doing a huge number of things doesn’t mean you’re getting anything meaningful done.” Instead of quantity, aim at quality; aim at having time for what you really love.
2. The tyranny of productivity
A couple of months ago I got the flu. I called work and said I could not make it in, and then spent the whole day sleeping. I’ll be honest with you, even though I was feeling awful, I was actually happy: I could finally rest without feeling guilty!
There is pride in being busy; it makes us feel useful and important. But there is a big risk too. When our sense of self-worth is too tied to being productive, we feel guilty if we rest. As author and enthusiastic rest advocate Alex Soojung-Kim Pang points out, “If your work is your self, when you cease to work, you cease to exist.” Without the fig leaves of work, we feel naked and exposed.
In his book, In Praise of Slowness, Canadian journalist Carl Honoré insightfully notes, “When people moan, ‘Oh, I’m so busy, I’m run off my feet, my life is a blur, I haven’t got time for anything,’ what they often mean is, ‘Look at me: I am hugely important, exciting and energetic.’” In that sense, resting is an act of humility. It is saying, “I am finite, I cannot do all things. I am not God.” Resting makes us see the difference between “doing” and “being”. It forces us to hop off the treadmill, and remember who we are.
3. Numbing with speed
On a deeper level, I believe we fear rest for the same reasons we fear silence. If we decelerate, our anxieties and worries may be able to catch up with us. So, we travel at full speed, with the music blasting, to silence the still, small voice inside asking about meaning. We get busy to numb our loneliness, our vulnerability.
However, as American researcher Brené Brown shrewdly points out, “We cannot selectively numb emotions; when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.” Speed will make us feel less pain, but it will also make us feel less joy. Less love. Less everything.
Resting is an act of emotional bravery. It an act of war against consumerism and triviality. Peace and quiet do take some getting used to. Silence can be deafening at first; but it beckons us to a deeper sense of meaning, a clearer sense of purpose and an awakened sense of pleasure. The price is high, but the reward is great!
Sabbath as antidote
I realise that our postmodern world is weary of universal claims. But please allow me to shed some light on the fourth commandment, given to Moses as part of the 10 Commandments: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” (Exodus 20:8). Here, God is basically saying, “Remember to rest.” Work six days, but take the seventh day to rest. Why? Because if we forget to rest as part of our Sabbath observance, we’ll overwork and numb ourselves to the tender nuances around us. We’ll forget that our identity does not come from doing, but from being. If we forget to rest after the sixth day, we won’t have time to love, to laugh with our children and to wander in nature.
So, as Wayne Muller, the author of Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest, points out, God says, “Please don’t. It is a waste of a tremendous gift that I have given you. If you knew the value of your life, you would not waste a single breath. So, I give you this commandment: Remember to rest.” The fact that it is a commandment, rather than a lifestyle suggestion, is an act of mercy. Much like a mother who insists when her exhausted toddler refuses to nap, God knows that providing time devoted to active recovery and rest after the hard work of the week is best for us. It is not a capricious rule of a mean-minded god, wanting to diminish our productivity; it is the rule of a Loving Father who cares for our needs.
God’s gift of the Sabbath is one that persists to this day. The Sabbath Commandment is responsible for the Jewish Sabbath (or Shabbat), but it is also something which the early church maintained. Some denominations of Christianity such as Seventh Day Adventists also recognise the importance of a Christian Sabbath and continue this practice of Sabbath keeping; resting on the Lord’s day to honour God’s creation.
Jesus said that the Sabbath was made for man (Mark 2:23–28). It is a holy day that dissolves the artificial urgency of our routines and the constant bombardment of media. It is the antidote to workaholism. Sabbath restores a sense of natural rhythms: inhale and exhale, give and take, work and rest. But it is much more than that: Sabbath restores our true identity. It is a revolutionary invitation to—unhurriedly and contentedly—simply be. To be sons and daughters of God (1 John 3:1). Sabbath affirms that our identity and value are settled. Sabbath asserts that God the Father delights in us. “To keep a Sabbath is to give time and space on our calendar to the grace of God,” says author and Sabbath enthusiast AJ Swoboda. We do not need to earn our value or our rest, we receive them from our loving Father as gifts.
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Vanesa Pizzuto is a freelance journalist and radio broadcaster living in London, UK.