In a weekly discipleship group I’m in we’ve been talking about work/rest balance lately.
We’ve talked specifically about the somewhat radical concept that God has designed us to work from our rest rather than rest from our work. I know, that hardly seems to make any sense. Work from our rest? But if you look at Genesis 1 and 2 you’ll find that God created man and woman on the sixth day, and the very first thing they did was take a day off together. Instead of working until they were at capacity and only resting when necessary, they first rested to prepare for the work that was ahead of them. Rest wasn’t a necessary evil or unrealistic fantasy, it was a non-negotiable part of God’s design.
We’ve been using the shape in this image “the work/rest semicircle” to guide our conversations, and it’s been really helpful.
All of this talk about rest has caused me to look at both the quality and quantity of rest in my own life. I’ve learned a lot through this process, but my biggest takeaway by a mile is this simple truth:
Rest isn’t random.
Or, here’s another way to say it: Just because something is unproductive doesn’t mean it’s restful. Just because I can’t check off a box on my to-do list after a half hour doesn’t mean that half hour was life-giving, refreshing, or rejuvenating.
And what I’ve realized- maybe this is obvious- is that sometimes the reason I don’t feel rested is because I spend time that is available for rest on activities that can best be described as random.
Because the truth is that work has a cumulative value. If I work, and continue to work, that will eventually accomplish something (I know, I’m wading into deep waters, try to stay with me). Similarly, if I rest that will eventually accomplish something. I might not beproductive, but the time will have purpose. I’ll be more prepared for work, I’ll feel refreshed, I’ll be energized and more confident. Random, however, has no cumulative value. Random is just, well, random. Time spent randomly leaves me with nothing more than time spent. And often as a result I don’t feel rested, even though I was unproductive.
So during these last few weeks I’ve tried to be extra conscious about how I spend the precious moments of free time that I have. These moments are typically in the evening after everyone else in my family has gone to bed (I’m an involuntary night owl). During these moments when I’m filling discretionary time I ask myself a simple question: Is this rest, or random?
Put differently, is this rejuvenating, or it is just wasting time? Is this soul-enriching or soul-draining? Will I feel refreshed when I’m finished with this, or will I feel the regret of misspent time?
And I believe these questions are so critical for a few reasons:
1) Our time is limited- You can overspend, overeat, and oversleep, but you can’t overlive. Time is the most valuable resource we have, and the knowledge of how limited it is can give us the wisdom we need to spend our time well.
2) I fill the VAST majority of my time with activities that I care about deeply- I care a lot about my job, I care a lot about my kids, and I care a lot about my wife (not listed in order of priority…in fact, listed in reverse order). When I’m giving attention any one of those areas I want to be at my best. It’s not enough for me to simply fill time in these arenas of life, I want to be fully present, operating (as best as I can) at maximum effectiveness. This means I have to rest well, because the quality of my work is often limited by the quality of my rest.
3) God made us for rest- Perhaps this one is obvious, but its easy for me to forget. So often I feel like I’m made to produce, or I’m made to do things I can measure or show someone. The truth is while God created us for fruitfulness, rest is a critical component of creating this fruitfulness.
So in the course of observing my own behavior and asking these questions, I’ve started categorizing different activities as “rest” or “random”. You might place activities in different categories than I would, but I think its important to know our own wiring and know how different leisure time activities impact us. Here are a few common activities that I’d put in each category:
1) Reading a (mostly) fun book– I put the word “mostly” in there because I read almost nothing that is purely for fun. I read almost exclusively nonfiction, and I’m constantly looking for nuggets of wisdom I can use at work or in life. That being said, I find that sort of reading fun. And, more than that, I feel great after 20 or 30 minutes spent reading. It helps me connect with God, makes me thankful to live at a time when so many great books are so readily available, and it usually stimulates my thinking (or makes me think I need to find a new book).
2) Exercise- I’ve only recently started exercising again after nearly a year and a half of only occasional physical activity (thank you, knee injury). While it’s true that I hate exercising with the energy of a thousand burning suns while I’m actually doing it, it does great things for my psyche. Even as I type this, I’m looking forward to working out later today. It’s an opportunity to clear my mind and take care of my body. While I generally don’t feel awesome immediately after working out, I find that during the hours that follow I feel a level of refreshment that just can’t come from sitting on the couch.
3) Good conversation time with people- This one is tricky because I’m in a season of life where social time can be hard to come by. When I can find it, however, I love it. I get charged up talking with people I respect about things that matter. Far from wanting to get away from work when I’m not at work, I love talking about ministry, I love talking about books, I love talking about ideas. I also love talking about more trivial stuff that sports or (to a lesser degree) current events.
4) Sleep- This one probably doesn’t require much explanation. I’m not very good at sleeping (remember, involuntary night owl), but I’ve allowed myself to go to bed earlier a few days these last few weeks, and that’s good.
1) Random Internet surfing- I don’t mean to brag, but I’m really good at getting on my computer to “check something real quick” and then burning a solid hour reading articles like “27 Ways to (Some Random Thing I Don’t Care About)”. The best part is, once I’m done I usually feel like someone has punched my brain in the face. Burning time on the Internet is so obnoxiously easy, but it leaves me feeling some combination of guilty and stupid for wasting so much time.
2) Watching a lot of television- I follow three sitcoms, I very occasionally will watch The Daily Show or The Colbert Report, I watch a moderate amount of sports (usually while doing something else), and I watch the occasional Internet clip. I find that the occasional TV show is fine. I love to laugh, so a great TV episode is a fun little mental break. But if I sit down and watch two hours of television I get up feeling like I’m walking through mud. Initially I thought maybe this was due to some sort of obsession with productivity I have, but the more I’ve thought about it the less I think that’s the case. I just don’t enjoy passively sitting in front of a screen for a long time. That’s why I almost never watch movies, and its why even during major sporting events I almost always either a) record it so I can watch it faster, or b) have something else going on (a conversation, a book, etc.) while I watch. I know a lot of people find TV really relaxing, but I’m finding that I just don’t
What’s frightening is that those two activities are my default when I have some free time. They’re so easy. Getting out my Kindle, or exercising, or even making plans to hang out with someone, can feel like work. Part of what makes “random” so seductive is that it’s so easy. But the low barrier to entry is a trap.
These last few weeks as I’ve asked this question I’ve had plenty of times where I’ve closed the laptop and found something else to do. Where I previously would allow myself to fall into the pit of endless articles and TV episodes I’m instead being more intentional about redeeming the time I have and using in a way that will make me feel truly rested.
So I’d invite you to consciously look at how you spend your free time this week and ask the question, is it rest or random?
Because rest- real rest- isn’t random, and random isn’t rest.