Recently, I traveled to Colorado, from NC, for a family vacation. It was a wonderful trip, filled with hikes as well as explorations of ghost towns and 800 year-old settlements. There were also moments of stillness, which I believe are important, for any vacation. A vacation that contains non-stop activity can you leave you coming back to your ordinary life more drained then when you left. The high you felt when you were rushing to and from new sights can quickly become a fatigued low when you’re back to school or work.
When I returned from Colorado, I had only the night to get unpacked and prepared for work the next day. Having spent the whole day traveling, I was worn out and my stomach was not pleased with me. Over the next couple of days, jet lag from the time zone switch and my tight schedule hit me hard. By the end of the week, I was feeling like I was coming down with something. My body ached, my throat was bothering me, and everything felt like it was taking 20x the normal amount of effort. I mentioned to my co-worker, who is originally from India, that I thought I was getting sick. He said, “you just need to take some rest.” This is not the first time I’ve heard this advice, and the way a native Indian says it is quite interesting. Those from India always say that you need to “take rest.” In the US, we usually tell someone to “get rest.” I believe there is an important distinction in the two different ways of expressing roughly the same sentiment. The Indian way is more aggressive. It’s spoken as though, if you have a need of rest, you will need to grab it out of the jaws of life’s string of constant activities. In other words, put down your phone, clear your calendar, put on some ambient music and let yourself relax and recharge.
In our contemporary way of looking at things, we get rest when we are afforded it by a break in the other things we have to accomplish. We are merely here to receive it, when our calendar deigns to gift it to us. In other words, it’s somewhat out of our control. This has not always been our understanding of how rest is achieved, though. In Judeo-Christian traditions, observing the Sabbath was an imperative. There is a recognition that the world, and your own ambitions, will push you as they will, without regard for your self-care. It can be difficult to be mindful of that. However, in the Sabbath tradition, you are reminded to be a good steward of the resources God has provided to you. The Sabbath itself is a tool to help you with a healthy management of your life and work. Presbyterian pastor and author, Tim Keller (@timkellernyc), writes about the gift of Sabbath in helping us to be good stewards of our resources, in this piece.
Leadership is stewardship — the cultivation of the resources God has entrusted to us for his glory. The Sabbath gives us both theological and practical help in managing one of our primary resources — our time.
I know a pretty hard-charging executive, who is Jewish, and takes the Sabbath commandments very seriously. He can be found working just about any other time, but from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, in his words, he “goes dark.” You can’t contact him about work because, “it’s God’s day.” Some may marvel that, at the level he is working, where total dedication to work can seem like a requirement, this doesn’t limit his career mobility. On the contrary, I’ve seen his career trajectory go steadily upward. He’s now a CEO of a mid-size company that creates software for managing hotel chains. No one questions his dedication or his work ethic.
The tradition of Sabbath observance is grounded in human need. In the Christian tradition, we understand this from the the words of Jesus himself, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27) The Sabbath was created not to obligate humans to a ritual, but as a gift to beings created to need rest. Just as someone with thirst needs drink, those who labor must have a respite from their work.
Earlier this month, shortly before he passed, Oliver Sacks wrote about Sabbath rest. In this piece, Sacks writes of his cousin, Robert John Aumann, who won a Nobel Prize for his work in economics. Aumann is an observant Jew who told Sacks that, had the Nobel Prize ceremony compelled him to travel to Stockholm on a Saturday, he would not have gone and would have refused the prize. Sacks writes about how, in a 2004 interview, Aumann spoke about his beliefs on the subject.
“The observance of the Sabbath is extremely beautiful,” he said, “and is impossible without being religious. It is not even a question of improving society — it is about improving one’s own quality of life.”
Sacks himself left the observance of the traditional Judaism he was raised in, with its emphasis on keeping the fourth commandment to rest on the seventh day of the week. He found himself wondering, late in his life, about the importance of that day of rest and the final rest that was coming.
And now, weak, short of breath, my once-firm muscles melted away by cancer, I find my thoughts, increasingly, not on the supernatural or spiritual, but on what is meant by living a good and worthwhile life — achieving a sense of peace within oneself. I find my thoughts drifting to the Sabbath, the day of rest, the seventh day of the week, and perhaps the seventh day of one’s life as well, when one can feel that one’s work is done, and one may, in good conscience, rest.
Your work is a gift, so work hard, keeping in mind that you have much that God has set before you to do. Also remember that, when you need rest after your labor, you may need to take it.