This blog post is not about style. You won’t read about neckties and pocket squares today. Relax. I’m not going to talk to you about etiquette, morals, and ethics, either. Relax. This blog post is about rest. If you can’t relax you have a problem.
(IF YOU REALLY NEED TO READ ABOUT STYLE THEN CHECK THIS POST OUT)
Anyway, even God Himself rested on the Seventh day. You are supposed to rest, it’s a commandment, not a suggestion.
“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.” Exodus 20: 8-11
Come on, we all need some rest. The balance between work and rest is crucial. These days, however, relax has become a chimera for the vast majority of Westerners. With the ever-increasing speed of everyday’s hustle and bustle and the mounting importance of work, taking some time off and jumping off the treadmill it’s becoming more and more difficult.
The devil is really cunning. He takes a good thing and turns it into a bad thing. You think you’re smarter than him, but you aren’t. Work is a good thing, if not excellent. But the moment you turn work into an idol, it becomes a horrible thing. Western society has done that. We all worship something, David Foster Wallace used to say.
If you are taking part in this rat race, whether you like it or not, you are also worshipping something. You’re either after a career, a spouse, some more money, a better social status, or you might be worshipping your sons and daughters, your marriage itself… who knows?
I, myself, have a tendency to worship aesthetics. That is quite a bad thing. It’s the lust of the eye. When we get entangled in our day-to-day routine, it’s easy to lose sight of what is really important in the grand scheme of things. This is why we all need to take some time off, every once in a while. The irony is, we tend to get so much caught up in our small problems, that even the simple decision to finally take some time off is torturing. Have you ever noticed? You must actually exercise a great amount of willpower to be able to unplug and plan some vacations.
Not only: even if you actually manage to take some time off, it’s hard to fully focus on doing nothing, once you are on vacation. Your mind tends to roam around the same old problems, you worry about things that you can’t control at the moment. How am I supposed to my solve client’s problem with the Facebook page while I’m trying to hold on for dear life on that klettersteig? Why do I worry about the electricity bill (which actually never arrived) that I’m supposed to pay at the end of the month if there’s nothing I can do about it right now?
The fact of the matter is: relaxing has become so hard nowadays, that you might want to take a vacation from your vacation once you have done vacationing.
Why do you think God commanded us to take one day off every six days of work? Because He knew already. Relaxing isn’t as easy as you might think. Or, do you think you’re smarter than God?
That’s why He has created the discipline of Sabbath rest.
Here’s the point: being able to fully rest requires plenty of discipline.
In his famous sermon about Sabbath rest, Tim Keller asked three fundamental questions:
Why do we need it?
Because modern Western society is the most workaholic culture that has ever existed.
In this culture, you cannot just stop working, it doesn’t work that way. You need to practice the art of relaxation. Hence the rise of Eastern religious practices such as Yoga.
Also, Western society, though the richest society ever existed, contains an eternal element of insecurity: even jobs are insecure nowadays. That causes stress.
Hence the rise of hustlers such as Gary Vaynerchuck, whom I admire and pity at the same time.
Another thing: in modern Western Society you can work everywhere: which means you actually work everywhere!
The modern plague of smartphones is a blessing and a curse.
The Wi-Fi and Internet culture are its evil cousins.
In modern Western society, you are defined by your net worth, by how lucrative you are. Ergo you are what you produce.
Which means that, if you don’t produce, you are nobody.
Keller quotes a 2003 NYT article by JUDITH SHULEVITZ in which the author talks about the “eternal inner murmur of self-reproach”. I suggest you read it. The need to prove yourself, ironically, goes beyond your ability to understand that you’ll never be able to prove yourself to the point of being satisfied (it’s never enough).
In modern Western society, the amount of sleep you get isn’t sufficient: you need depth of sleep to actually recover from the stress and fatigue, it’s what they call the REM phase. Slipping into REM sleep, however, is easier said than done.
So, the next question is: where do we get Sabbath rest?
Well, there is this guy, Jesus of Nazareth, who once said:
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11: 28-30)
He also claimed to be “the Lord of the Sabbath” which is like saying “I’m the Lord of Rest”. In other terms, Jesus is saying that He is the one who can give you “the deep rest of the soul” you need. It’s a family thing: every time He accomplished something, His Father used to say “that’s good” (the creation account in Genesis, anyone?) It means that, in order to really rest, you must be completely satisfied with what you have done today.
There’s more to us than our work, says Keller: contrary to what the hustlers keep repeating times and times again in blog posts, articles, and memes, we are not what we accomplish. We are much more than that.
How do we do it? You must understand that vacations won’t save you from the eternal inner murmur of self-reproach. It means that, if you don’t rest, you are a slave to what you are doing. You are not God: if you take a day off, the world is going to move on anyway, even without you.
In his sermon, Keller also points out that, in order to actually rest, there are a couple of things you must do, believe it or not.
1) Avocational activities: do something you don’t usually do.
2) Contemplate the beauty of creation.
3) Be accountable for Sabbath time. Find somebody who’s able to stop you from working 24/7, 365.
4) Incorporate a productivity threshold in your work. Set fewer goals, leave something out.
5) Sacrifice career goals, if necessary. That is, in favor of more important things.
6) Don’t be selfish: engage your community, get some other people who work with you and brainstorm, how can we stop overworking?
This list is probably not definitive. But I don’t care. It’s refreshing. I’m supposed to end this blog post with some sort of punchline that, in theory, should recap what I’ve already written at the beginning. Yet, doing such a thing would be tantamount to jeopardize my point. So, I won’t do it.