“He that can take rest is greater than he that can take cities.” —Benjamin Franklin
Ask any physician and they will tell you rest is essential for physical health. When the body is deprived of sleep, it is unable to rebuild and recharge itself adequately. Your body requires rest.
Ask any athlete and they will tell you rest is essential for physical training. Rest is needed for muscles to repair themselves and prevent injury. This is true whether you run marathons, pitch baseballs, or climb rocks. Your muscles require rest.
Ask many of yesterday’s philosophers and they will tell you rest is essential for the mind. Leonardo da Vinci said, “Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgment will be surer.” And Ovid, the Roman poet, said, “Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop.” Your mind requires rest.
Ask most religious leaders and they will tell you rest is essential for the soul. Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Baha’i, and Wiccan (among others) teach the importance of setting aside a period of time for rest. Your soul requires rest.
Ask many corporate leaders and they will tell you that rest is essential for productivity. Forbes magazine recently wrote, “You can only work so hard and do so much in a day. Everybody needs to rest and recharge.” Your productivity requires rest.
Physicians, athletes, philosophers, poets, religious leaders, and corporate leaders all tell us the same thing: take time to rest. It is absolutely essential for a balanced, healthy life.
Yet, when you ask people in today’s frenzied culture if they intentionally set aside time for rest, most will tell you they are too busy. Even fewer would say they set aside any concentrated time (12-24 hours) for rest. There are just too many things to get done, too many demands, too many responsibilities, too many bills, and too much urgency. Nobody can afford to waste time resting in today’s results-oriented world.
Unfortunately, this hectic pace is causing damage to our quality of life. We are destroying every sense of our being (body, mind, and soul). There is a reason we run faster and work harder, but only fall further behind. Our lives have become too full and too out of balance. Somewhere along the way, we lost the essential practice of concentrated rest.
But we would be wise to reclaim the practice of resting one day each week. Consider the benefits of concentrated rest for your body, mind, and soul:
Healthier body. We each get one life and one body to live it in. Therefore, we eat healthy, we exercise, and we watch our bad habits. But then we allow our schedules to fill up from morning to evening. Rest is as essential to our physical health as the water we drink and the air we breathe.
Less stress. Stress is the perception that the situations we are facing are greater than the resources we have to deal with them—resources such as time, energy, ability, and help from others. Concentrated rest confronts stress in two ways. First, it reduces the demands of the situation. We have no demands on us as long as we have the ability to mentally let go of unfinished tasks. Secondly, rest reduces stress by increasing our resources, particularly energy.
Deeper relationships. A day set aside each week for rest allows relationships with people to deepen and be strengthened. When we aren’t rushing off to work or soccer practice, we are able to enjoy each other’s company and a healthy conversation. And long talks prove to be far more effective in building community than short ones on the ride to the mall.
Opportunity for reflection. Sometimes it is hard to see the forest through the trees. It is even more difficult to see the forest when we are running through the trees. Concentrated rest allows us to take a step back, to evaluate our lives, to identify our values, and determine if our life is being lived for them.
Balance. Taking one day of your week and dedicating it to rest will force you to have an identity outside of your occupation. It will foster relationships outside of your fellow employees. It will foster activities and hobbies outside work. It will give life and identity outside of your Monday-Friday occupation. Rather than defining your life by what you do, you can begin to define it by who you are.
Increased production. Just like resting physical muscles allows them opportunity to rejuvenate which leads to greater physical success, providing our minds with rest provides it opportunity to refocus and rejuvenate. More work is not better work. Smarter work is better work.
Reserve for life’s emergencies. Crisis hits everyone. Nobody who is alive is immune from the trials of life. By starting the discipline today of concentrated rest, you will build up reserves for when the unexpected emergencies of life strike and rest is no longer an option.
Properly developing a discipline of concentrated rest requires both inward and outward changes. Consider these steps to reclaiming the lost practice of weekly rest in your life.
1. Find contentment in your current life. Much of the reason we are unable to find adequate rest is because we are under the constant impression that our lives can and should be better than they are today. This constant drive to improve our standing through the acquisition of money, power, or skills robs us of contentment and joy. Ultimately, rest is an extension of our contentment and security. Without them, simplicity and rest is difficult, if not impossible. Stop focusing on what you don’t have and start enjoying the things you do. (tweet that)
2. Plan your rest. Rest will come only from intentional planning and planning rest will come only if it is truly desired. Put it on your calendar. Learn to say no to any tasks that attempt to take precedent. Plan out your day of rest by choosing creative activities that are refreshing and encourage relationships. Understand that true rest is different than just not working. As the Cat in the Hat wisely said, “It is fun to have fun but you have to know how.” Avoid housework. Plan meals in advance to help alleviate cooking responsibilities. And by all means, turn off your television and email.
3. Take responsibility for your life. You are not a victim of your time demands. You are the creator and acceptor of them. Refuse to complain or make excuses. Change your habits instead. Remember, you are only as busy as you choose to be. Leave “if only” excuses to the kids. If needed, alert your employer about your desire for rest and tell them you will be unavailable on that particular day.
4. Embrace simplicity. Embrace a lifestyle that focuses on your values, not your possessions. It is difficult to find rest when the housework is never finished, the yard needs to be mowed, or the garage needs to be organized.
5. Include your family. It is much easier to practice the discipline of concentrated rest if your family is practicing it too. The fact that this gets more difficult as your kids get older should motivate you to start as soon as possible.
6. Live within your income. A debtor is a slave to his creditor. It is difficult to find rest for your mind when you are deep in debt. The constant distress of your responsibility to another may preclude you from truly enjoying a day off. It is possible; it’s just more difficult. Don’t overspend your income, live within it.
7. Realize the shallow nature of a results-oriented culture. If you live in a results-oriented culture where productivity alone is championed, rest is countercultural. And thus, the saying goes, “If you rest, you rust.” Rest may even be seen as a sign of weakness by others. Unfortunately, that view of humanity’s role in this world is shallow. It is true that many of the benefits from concentrated rest are not tangible; but then again, only a fool believes all good things can be counted.
Rabbi Elijah of Vilna once said, “What we create becomes meaningful to us only once we stop creating it and start to think about why we did so.” The implication is clear. We could live lives that produce countless widgets, but we won’t start truly living until we stop producing and start enjoying.
Capture the lost practice of taking rest and start living again.
I used to be one of those individuals who jam-packed their days with stuff, people, appointments, and relationships. I was always running from place to place trying to fulfill all the obligations I had signed up for. Usually, I had overdone it, and I had to let slide my family, friends, and health. Eventually, my body said no more, and collapsed in a heap where my shoulder and back spasmed with extreme pain every time I tried to move. This was a warning sign from my body to stop!
I had to rest for a week in bed without any movement whatsoever. I couldn’t even read a book as any kind of movement caused painful spasms in my back. I laid in bed, sleeping sometimes, but mostly looking out of the window at the snow falling. It was the wake-up call I needed. I culled down all my activities and I started spending the weekend relaxing! What a concept!
I totally agree with you about the results-oriented culture that we live in and rest is considered a fool’s errand. If you wish to be successful, they say, you cannot rest. But as you have proven (and others around us), you can rest, relax, and be a successful person in your life. Thanks for the post!
Yes! But how?
I have 3 kids and work full time. I am not one to over schedule my kids at all. but rest? My weekend is full of preparing for new week.
Great question! My suggestion would be to break it down–if you can’t create space in a whole day for rest and “nothing planned”, can you find an hour? Can you create space in 15 minutes a few times a week? Even just an opportunity to take a quick walk or to stand up and stretch can offer reprieve. This is something I’m working on in my home, too. Be well!
Christy King says
I try to find a couple of hours each day to do nothing. Usually my husband and I just sit and talk for about an hour. Later after dinner and chores, I knit for an hour or so.
To me, this is both easier and more relaxing than rushing all week to have one whole day to take off.
joshua becker says
I agree with the comment above about finding time during your time. And without knowing any of your life details, my first thought was, “Is working part-time a possibility?” It may not be for financial reasons, but if it is, I’d consider making the financial sacrifice. Your three kids need you at your best.
I was a stay at home mom for 5 yrs. I’m a teacher. So part time isn’t really an option. I will keep trying! A,walk or run is always my goal. Thanks for the response. I love all of the articles here!!
Timely post. I think so many relationship issues could be cleared up if we took time as families to decompress without distraction one day a week. Ever since we “took back our Sunday” in our house, the rewards have been great. Cell phones go in a basket and all gadgets are put to bed. I’ve never felt so close to my kids…it’s my favorite day in the week.
What a great read and inspiration to stop giving in to the irrational demands that society places on us. We always seem to blame some external force, like “society” for the chaotic lives we lead, but who are these other people that make up this society? It’s us, we are society, we are the world we created. So step one as I see it, and as confusing as this may all seem, stop places so many demands on yourself and learn how to enjoy life again and society will change…it will learn to enjoy like again too.
Robyn @Living the Simple Life Now says
This is so true! If we’re going to embrace simplicity, we have to make our lives simpler. Sounds easy, but so many people miss it. Slowing down and even stopping is crucial.
I think we need to even do this for a period of time (through meditation, etc) even daily to gain strength and perspective.
Your entire blog is a beautiful reminder of how easy and enjoyable life could be if only we let it be so, and this post is no exception. In my country, people complain so much about working (although we are the country with the most holidays in Europe… Yes, I’m french!) but no one really rests. Complaining for the sake of it. My patience is completely done with this “I work so hard! I’m so tired and sick! But I’ll sleep when I’m dead!” behaviour. Are we waiting for someone to take care of us? Are we expecting people to say, “You deserve a day off, you work so hard!” ? Can’t our need for rest be the only judge?
joshua becker says
It is so important to remember we are in charge of our own lives. And our decisions are not imposed upon us.
One of my favourite articles!
Rest is so important and deserves to be mentioned more often.
Andrew Kopke says
Adding this post to my all time favorites list! You captured the importance of rest so well and I loved your thoughts on stress. We take Sundays off but it takes a lot of disciple and commitment and definitely wouldn’t be possible if my wife and I weren’t on the same page about it.
joshua becker says
A supportive family who understands and encourages the idea of rest is very helpful.
Kush Sharma says
“Nobody can afford to waste time resting in today’s results-oriented world”
This is true, but the only thing worth asking people with this crazy habit is – What results are they working towards? Will those results result in an even faster life? Will they EVER relax?
I think a major part of this issue results purely from the pressure of the society and those around us. Any one seen relaxing is quickly deemed to be lazy. This trend has only risen as years have gone by. This fear of being attached with laziness has subconsciously crept into the mind for good and has made us feel we always need to work. And the kind of work people are choosing is based on fulfilling desires which have been imposed too. So you can see that it’s a subtle vicious cycle.
I feel there is nothing wrong with working as long as it’s work that comes from within. Such work will relax you the more deeper you go into it.
And the only way to get around what others think is to totally ignore it. This can be very difficult at first, but soon you get used to it. And once you do, there will never be any looking back because you will be naturally relaxed.
joshua becker says
I think work is very important. I also think rest is important so our work can be accomplished even better. I agree with your thoughts about the fear of being considered lazy. But I also think we often put that distinction on ourselves, that we consider ourselves lazy for taking some time off.
Thank you for this thoughtful post, Joshua. So much of what you write is common sense yet so many people have lost sight of this wisdom.
joshua becker says
A very well thought out in dealing with the way the modern world operates on a 24/7 basis,we all need to read this and slow down appreciate life all we have not want we want