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The Importance of Doing Nothing

by edited by Sandra Glahn on October 15, 2013 in Articles

As we received notes from graduates of DTS about rest, perused their old dissertations on the subject, and interacted with them about the topic of “down time,” many confessed, “I have nothing to add—but send me the magazine when you publish that issue!” While residing overseas, some live with special challenges. A minister in Jordan described his difficulty finding regular periods of rest while living in a culture that observes the Sabbath on Friday but conducts business on Sunday. But we did hear from a number of individuals who regularly set aside time for regular rest and reflection. And they offered some great advice.

Notice biblical patterns.

In the Old Testament, God rested on the seventh day (Gen. 2:2), and God’s people observed set-apart days for rest (Exo. 20:8). Jesus made it a practice to go to the synagogue on the Sabbath (Luke 4:16). And his public ministry included regular times of fellowship alone with God (see Matt. 12:15; 14:13; 15:21; Mark 6:31–32; Luke 9:10; 22:41). Paul acknowledged that believers in his day viewed time as something to set apart as sacred, but they varied in how they applied that truth to their lives (Rom. 14:5).

Refuse to feel guilty about taking needed time off.

See it as a gift from God.

Never use busyness to cover pain.

Sometimes we avoid slowing down because when we do, we think. And our thoughts can hurt. For many, busyness is a socially acceptable way of numbing ourselves in a subculture that frowns on abusing alcohol, taking drugs, and other forms of self-medication.

Plan ahead for how you will rest on your day off.

Consider eating lighter, easier-to-prepare meals such as sandwiches and fruit, which require minimal effort. One family eats “breakfast for dinner” on Sunday nights. If you have small children, work out with your spouse, a grandparent, or a friend how you can give each other gifts of time alone.

View days the Jewish way rather than the Western way.

That is, consider days of rest as starting at sundown, and take time off from evening to evening. You can do essential tasks at the edges of the rest day while still giving yourself a true twenty-four-hour break.

Accept that we are all dispensable.

Sleeping and time off can serve as regular reminders of our mortality. Life is short, and it will soon go on without us. Our rest time provides a good opportunity to reflect on how we can give away power, mentor those coming behind us, and delegate responsibility to those ready to assume it.

Enjoy the beauty.

In the same way that the holes in lace make otherwise boring fabric beautiful, times of rest and reflection create spaces in our lives that add beauty. Take time to see it.

Expect to become more ethical when you take a break.

All those promises we’ve forgotten we made can come to mind when our minds slow down long enough to remember. Others view our follow-through as integrity.

Reflect further on the subject.

People recommended many books, but a number of resources were mentioned with some consistency: The Rest of God, by Mark Buchanan; Sacred Rhythms, by Ruth Haley Barton; The Sabbath, by Abraham Joshua Heschel; Boundaries, by Henry Cloud and John Townsend; and Margin, by Richard Swenson.

Check your identity.

One person who is trying to stop leading on fumes wrote, “In evaluating my motives for so busily working, I realized that I was striving for affirmation and validation instead of seeking to bring glory to God.” Some of us wrongly get our identity from what we do. But such thinking reflects God as a harsh taskmaster, and we serve a Lord who gives his people the freedom to take time off, to celebrate festivals, to experience rhythms of community and grace. And he does not need us in order to accomplish what is necessary. One pastor quoted Adele Ahlberg Calhoun in Invitations from God, who wrote, “An identity based on doing is always precarious and unrestful. And it is not what God intended.”

Plan vacations before you leave home.

Are you the type of person who gets frustrated when you have to spend your time off making decisions about where to eat and what routes to take? If so, consider doing your research in advance or assigning it to a travel companion who enjoys handling such details.

Lower your standards for vacation destinations

Lower your standards if the location is keeping you from resting. That is, don’t assume your options are “Tahiti or nothing.” Take a stay-cation if you can’t afford to leave town. Fly a kite in a park near your home. Take your journal and head for a friend’s back porch.

Exercise faith.

Believe that the God who multiplies resources such as loaves, fish, and money is also capable of multiplying time and opportunity. In the same way we might have to exercise faith to give away cash when money’s tight, we must view rest time as a sacred resource that belongs to God. In the words of the psalmist, “It is vain for you to rise early, come home late, and work so hard for your food. Yes, he can provide for those whom he loves even when they sleep” (127:2, NET).

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