Thirty-five minutes into the leadership team meeting, the notification popped up on my laptop. It read: “8 a.m. tomorrow: Robert, take the day off.”
Fourteen years ago, I would have dismissed this reminder, sending it to the trash where my hopes of rest and recuperation piled up.
But it wasn’t long before I hit a wall of exhaustion, and it wasn’t pretty. I pastor a church where we strive to help people. I was 45 years old with a wife of 25 years and three kids. I was working very long hours, seven days a week, and was responsible for a team of more than 350 employees.
Somewhere along the line, I had made it my mission to say "Yes," by all means, and "Yes" again to far too many things. These "Yeses" were for noble and worthy causes and opportunities, but they came at a cost, and one day it all came to a head. Out of love, my family and colleagues intervened with one word on my behalf: "NO." The plan was for me to press pause for six weeks by taking a sabbatical to recuperate.
This was significantly disorienting at first. I had conditioned myself to go, go, go. And now I found myself saying no, no, no. It was in this unfamiliar space that I found one of the richest treasures: rest.
Today, I truly believe our lack of respect for rest is the great silent epidemic of our time and one we must take seriously. I believe our society has what I call "Sabbath Deficiency Syndrome."
I come from a Christian worldview, so my perspective of rest is affirmed in the Bible — actually in the Ten Commandments. In fact, taking a day off each week is the Fourth Commandment, to be exact. You may be familiar with Charlton Heston’s portrayal of Moses in the iconic movie, "The Ten Commandments," which has become a broadcast-staple during the Easter season.
Even through Hollywood’s portrayal, we learned God’s commands are life principles to live by. “Thou shalt not kill” and “thou shalt not steal” — no problem! But why does it seem we added another “thou shalt not” before the command to rest?
God explicitly told us that we are to take one dedicated day of rest each week. A sabbath, He called it. A sabbath is a period of rest. For some that may be time with their church community. For others, it may be time on the golf course. For me, it means turn off my phone. Step away from social media. For everyone, it means do not work.
I wrote a book some time ago about budgeting for your financial health and how you should be deliberate with managing your money. It’s the difference between knowing where your money goes and wondering where your money went. The same principle is applied to this idea of rest: budgeting rest — planning it into your schedule — is the only way you will make sure it happens each week. One day a week, whatever works best according to your calendar and existing obligations. Put it on your calendar and plan it in your weekly schedule, but don’t dismiss it!
I once heard it said, “You can’t outpace God.” Yet we try each and every day. Our jam-packed calendars and failure to plan lead us toward soul-deep rest exhaustion.
According to the Bible (Genesis 2), God himself rested after creating the universe. It was so good to relax that He later went on to include rest in the Ten Commandments — His top 10 principles to live by.
My own experience informed me that rest was not an afterthought or only for other people, but rather it’s essential for survival. My body — my life — was operating out of survival mode until I woke up to one of God’s kindest gifts He offers to each of us — sabbath rest.
At the end of my planned six-week sabbatical, I still felt drained. I wasn’t feeling any sense of the restoration and renewal I’d expected to feel at that point. Alarmed, I added two weeks of unused vacation time to my sabbatical to extend it to eight full weeks.
Then one morning in the middle of that two-week extension, I awakened, and everything was different. Suddenly I felt a wave of relief roll through me. I’m back! Out loud, I proclaimed with surprise and delight, “Hey! I’m refreshed!” I felt like the person I was before I started the church five years earlier.
That’s when I realized, the first 52 days made up for 52 Sabbath days I had ignored that year. Finally, on the 53rd day, I felt rested and refreshed.
After my time away, my soul was refreshed in a deeper way than I had ever experienced. It then became clear that my sabbatical had come to a close and a new understanding — a new behavior — of rest had become a habit, a new way of life.
We're bombarded with opportunities (some very good ones) and tasks, information, obligations, stimulations and aggravations. And it’s taking an enormous toll on our well-being. The message “thou shalt not rest” has become a path that leads to chronic, and sometimes devastating, busy-ness and even illness.
Did you know the stress load of the average American has been rapidly increasing since the late 1970s? According to one expert on balancing work and life, “Stress is a factor in five out of the six leading causes of death — heart disease, cancer, stroke, lower respiratory disease, and accidents of the average.” This neglect of the Sabbath has created a remarkable rest deficiency — now syndrome.
I once heard it said, “You can’t outpace God.” Yet we try each and every day. Our jam-packed calendars and failure to plan lead us toward soul-deep rest exhaustion. We live in a self-care world, chasing quick fixes to take the busy away. Yet the most sustainable “fix” is to deliberately take the busy away — for one day a week — without compromise.
Don’t take my word for it. Try it out for yourself. But I must caution you, the side effects include growing healthier, happier, mentally sharper, and kinder.
I believe this silent epidemic is the underbelly fueling our heated cultural landscape today, and interestingly, it’s one we can almost all agree on. Let this be our clue, our guidepost — our one day — toward a more sustainable life.
The Fourth Commandment in my Bible, the one I study and preach from daily, turned out to hold the answer to my deficiency all along. Right there in plain sight. My overburdened mind and under-rested soul finally landed in the sustainable answer. My hope is that yours falls there too.