A Day Off

Last week I took four days off. It was a retreat, a holiday, a time with no ‘shoulds’. It was wonderful. I went to a little town called Dover, rented a studio apartment with a view over the bay. The weather was misty, wet, cold, sunny, windy, rainy, all the things. It’s spring here, that’s the weather you get.

I wanted this time to be useful and restful. I tried to stay off the socials, I read novels and non-fiction books, I played my bass guitar, and I went for walks and runs. And I also watched TV and played Candy Crush and just sat on the couch and stared at the water. (And for those wondering, Moz came down and joined me for one of the four nights and spent the rest of the time doing fun stuff like four-wheel driving and helping out at church.)

The two non-fiction books I read were:

Space Maker – how to unplug, unwind and think clearly in the digital age, by Daniel Sih

And 

Sacred Rhythms – arranging our lives for spiritual transformation, by Ruth Haley Barton

And one thing those books had in common was an encouragement to explore a weekly Sabbath.

You know I love the idea of a day off each week. I know that just having one day a week where I stop trying to control the amount of work I’m doing, stop trying to get on top of my to do list and just trust God that he can keep the world running without my help, that day is essential to my wellbeing.

But reading these books encouraged me to take the whole thing further. Now, I don’t know fully where I stand on this yet but I’m feeling challenged to go even deeper into what ‘a day off’ means.

Both authors encouraged their readers to really think about what ‘work’ is. Because it looks different for each of us. For some, gardening is life-giving; for others it’s a chore. The Sih family don’t cook on a Sabbath, the Haley Bartons cook food that they find special and enjoy eating. 

Ruth Haley Barton works from a home office like I do. She says that at times she has had to close the door and not even go into her office on a Sabbath. Daniel Sih avoids email, the internet, texting, and writing, and talking about global events. 

For Daniel Sih, writing on his to do list is too much like work, so that activity is banned on the Sabbath. Ruth Haley Barton also encourages us to take a break from anything that causes worry and stress, and in that list she includes to-do lists as well as budgets, taxes, wedding planning and major decision making. 

Maybe we could just ban the word ‘covid’ on a Sabbath and see how restful that is?

Both of them agreed that having a break from screens or phones is important, though Daniel says that now that his kids are older, the ban is ‘more nuanced’. I feel like having the ability to contact my family or be contacted by them is really high on my priority list. But I also worry a bit that I am just addicted to the screen and all the apps contained therein. I’m thinking on it.

Ruth Haley Barton suggests that we don’t buy or sell anything on the Sabbath. That we take a break from our constant consumerism. Daniel says that rest might involve ‘eating at a café’, which of course requires buying things.

In terms of what goes on the list of things to do on a Sabbath, both of them are in favour of restful pursuits such as sleeping in, reading a book, riding bikes, getting out as a family to do an activity such as bushwalking or staying in to play a board game. It’s a day for rest, for community, and also for spiritual practice. That might mean going to church, though for me, church is often a work-related place. It might mean just taking a few minutes to read scripture and meditate on it through the day.

The major thing they had in common was the idea that this one day – 24 hours – is set aside for rest. And that we should not take this lightly, but instead prepare ourselves, write lists of what we consider work and what we consider rest and play, make sure we’ve done all we need to do beforehand so that the day is not chipped into by urgent tasks, and definitely do this once a week, one day out of seven, and preferably the same day each week so that we know it’s coming and we can look forward to it.

I am, as I said, still working through this. And I’m encouraged by both authors that this is a very counter-cultural discipline and therefore it’s difficult to do. But I feel encouraged that my Sabbath-taking needs to enter a new phase and I’m looking forward to the days of rest that will be ahead.

Where do you stand when it comes to a day of rest? Do you have Sabbath traditions? Or do you find it just too hard? Let me know by emailing ruth@ruthamos.com.au, or tweeting me @aquietlifeblog or find me on Facebook. I’d also love to hear from you if you have a topic you’d like me to talk about. Just let me know!

Permission to say no

Did you ever have those times in school when you really didn’t want to do the Physical Education activity for the day? Where you knew that it was going to be awful and that you were going to get a ball smashed into your head, or drown in the pool, or something awful like that. And then, just by luck, you got a sore throat and a sniffy nose, and if you screwed your eyes tightly enough you had a headache and you went to your parents and said, ‘I’m sick, can you write me a note?’ And then they wrote that amazing note of wonder:

Please excuse Ruth from today’s activity, she is not well enough to attend.

And then you got to go to the library instead and read? And the whole day was saved?

Or was that just me?

I know I got sick way too much when I was a kid. I think it was the way my introvert self coped when I was starting to feel peopled-out. 

As an adult I have realised that getting sick is a very bad way of coping. There are better ways.

But there have still been times when I’ve caught myself thinking, ‘I wish someone would get me out of this commitment. I wish that my parents could write me a note saying I didn’t have to come.’

Moz was getting ready to go to work the other day. He put his jacket on and then checked all the pockets to make sure he had all the things – watch, phone, wallet, keys, pen – you know, all the things. As he patted his jacket, it made a crinkly noise. 

‘What’s that?’

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of paper. He unfolded it and showed it to me. It was a note that simply said, ‘No.’

A green piece of paper with the word 'No.' written on it.
Moz’s permission slip

Our pastor Pete had given it to him. It was a permission slip. Permission to say, ‘No.’

I love it.

For some commitments we feel like we need to have a Really Good ReasonTM not to do things. That our own reasons are not good enough and that we need some authority to step in and tell us we don’t have to go.

Sometimes, we can feel so overwhelmed that the thought of being hit by a car and having to go to hospital is appealing, because at least then we could sit still for a while.

If this is you, I’d like to write you a permission slip. My permission slip simply says, ‘No.’

You can tell people, ‘no’ and not give a reason.

You can say ‘no’ and not even have a ‘good enough’ reason in your own mind.

Sometimes, ‘no’ is a very reasonable response on its own.

Now, this doesn’t apply to everyone. And the problem I have here is that if you’re thinking, ‘I wish this applied to me, but it clearly doesn’t.’ Then chances are that it does apply to you. And if you’re thinking, ‘Oooo excellent, I’ll take that,’ then maybe you’re the person who needs to stretch yourself just a little bit more.

You’re going to have to be sensible here.

But, seriously, if you’re in the place where sitting in a hospital bed seems more appealing than what you need to do in the next week, I’d suggest that a little bit of saying ‘no’ is in order. 

Give it a go.

Find out that the world will still spin without you.

You have my permission to rest.

If you’ve found this helpful, please feel free to share it with a friend. And if you want to hear me talk more on this subject then my podcast is just the place for you!

If you would like to read more, in My Year of Saying No, I tell the story of my own saying no journey, what I learned about saying no, saying yes, and bringing peace to my life.

How and why to sleep well

I’m not an ‘early bird’ or a ‘night owl’. I’m more some kind of ‘permanently exhausted pigeon’.

From https://www.gemmacorrell.com/

No, that’s not quite the truth, it’s just a quote from Gemma Correll’s brilliant comic that I like. I’m more of an early bird these days. But I do seem to need more sleep than your average bear.

Sleep is so very important. I’ve been reading the book Rest by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang and I’ve learned a bit about what sleep can do for you:

  • It helps your body to grow
  • It helps your body to fight infection
  • It helps your body to repair wounds and scratches
  • It is a time when myelin is generated (a substance that helps your body to send nerve signals and is damaged in MS)
  • It is a time when your brain washes out toxins
  • It is a time when brain injuries are repaired

Lack of sleep is associated with increased risk of ulcers, heart disease, breast cancer, diabetes, dementia, and cognitive decline.

Sleep is a time when your brain solidifies its memories. Visual, emotional and procedural memories are solidified during rapid eye movement sleep, and verbal memories during slow wave sleep.

And while we sleep, our subconscious mind works on problems from the day, which can lead to moments of insight. We can wake up and find that our problems are solved!

When we are busy or trying to be productive, it can be tempting to cut into our sleep time. To think of sleep as unproductive, wasted time.

‘No sleep is going to be lost time’ says Pang. And when I look at the list of things that sleep helps with, I have to agree.

Sleep occurs in cycles that are 90 – 110 minutes long. If you get woken in the middle of a sleep cycle you feel groggy and horrible. But waking at the end of a cycle makes you feel more refreshed.

You can plan for this by looking at the time you wake up and counting back in 90 minute blocks to find the best time for you to go to bed. For example, if you need to wake up at 6 am then going to bed at 10.30 pm will get you five full cycles (if my maths is correct) and 7.5 hours sleep. 

I need more like 9 hours sleep myself, but my husband Moz is fully loaded at 7.5 hours. A while back, he would do his best to head to bed at 10.30 pm in an attempt to get all his cycles in before the alarm went off in the morning.

There was a problem with this calculation though. The thing was that in order to get all the sleep he needed, he had to drop off to sleep as soon as his head hit the pillow. He came to bed needing to fall asleep straight away. And that kind of stress is not very sleep-inducing.

Now, he’s fixed that by heading to bed a little earlier. He’ll be reading in bed at around 9.30 or 10 pm and turning the light off shortly thereafter. That means that often his sleep cycles finish early in the morning. He often wakes quite relaxed and refreshed at 5am. But that’s ok. He just gets up and goes to his study (leaving me still peacefully snoring) and plays on the computer or peruses the internet until it’s time to get going for the day. The activities he used to do at night he now does earlier in the morning. And he’s a lot less stressed, but he’s still getting the sleep that he needs.

There are even smart watches that keep track of your sleep cycles. You can tell them the time that you need to be awake and they will use a vibrating alarm to wake you at a time near to that where you are in a good place in your sleep cycle and less likely to be groggy. No more waking out of deep sleep to the insistent buzzing of an alarm.

Even naps are helpful. Did you know that Winston Churchill took afternoon naps all the way through World War II? Even a five minute nap apparently helps your memory work better. A 30 minute nap helps renew your depleted energy (I took one of those right before writing this) and a longer nap can cut your day in two so that you can work longer into the evening. 

I know that some people who nap for longer wake up feeling disoriented and groggy, so I prefer a nice 30 minute nap. Enough to restore energy, but not too deep into the sleep cycle.

I want to finish with a few tips for getting yourself a good night’s sleep. 

Turn off your screens an hour or so before going to bed. The blue light from screens keeps you awake and the dopamine hits from social media or the adrenaline from playing games or watching TV dramas are not going to help with the calming down either. A book is a great alternative.

Keep your screens and your work out of the bedroom. Use the bedroom for sleeping. Keep your work life elsewhere in the house so you’re not drawn to worrying about it at night.

If worrying about things keeps you awake, choose a time of day when you will worry, either a few hours before bed, or first thing in the morning. Dedicate that time to worrying and write down your worries. Then give them to God (I put them in a shoebox that is God’s inbox). When worries wake you at night, you can tell yourself that you will worry about that in your ‘worry time’ and go back to sleep. (It sounds strange, but it works for me.)

Make sure you do some exercise, again, earlier in the day and not immediately before you’re going to jump into bed and turn your light out. And make sure you don’t drink caffeine late in the day either. Most people stop drinking caffeinated drinks after lunch so that the caffeine has a bit of a chance to leave their systems.

A warm, milky drink before bed and a cool room should be a good combination that will lead to a peaceful and restful night’s sleep.

I am still working on my sleep habits. But I know it’s worth working on and getting right. Sleep is not wasted time, it is incredibly important for both mental and physical health. I hope you can prioritise your sleep and be energised and ready to face each new day.

PS here are a few websites you might also find helpful 🙂

https://www.healthline.com/health/sleep/sleep-calculator#not-enough-sleep

https://startsleeping.org/sleep-calculator/

https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/sleep-hygiene#general-suggestions

Silence and Solitude

‘I had 90 minutes to myself,’ the tweet read. ‘No questions, no demands, just 90 minutes for me. OK, it was a root canal, but still.’

When was the last time you had time alone?

Now I know that COVID meant that we were all living on top of each other, and in most places in the world people still are. It’s hard to get time alone. 

And if you managed to get some time alone, what would you do with it?

Would you fill it with music? TV? Social media?

No judgement here – I obviously started this blog with a Twitter quote, and I’m not going to tell you how many levels I have completed in Candy Crush.

But there is real value in spending time in silence. Alone, and in silence.

Silence and solitude is one of the great spiritual disciplines, and it is that for a reason.

Sitting in silence with God at the beginning of the day reminds you that you are a human being, not a human doing. That you are loved by God just for who you are. That the world doesn’t need you to spin it in order for it to turn.

Sitting in silence for ten minutes after a hectic morning resets your body and your brain and helps you to get your priorities right again.

Sitting in silence reminds you that it’s not all about you and that you’re not needed. But that you are loved. It helps you get in touch with your own thoughts and feelings. It helps you know where you’re at and where you’re going.

It’s a circuit breaker in the 100 mile an hour rush that life easily becomes.

This is how I do it:

The first thing I do is write down everything I’m worried about. I put that all on a piece of paper and then file that piece of paper in the shoe box that I’m calling God’s In Box. Now the worries are for him to deal with and are out of my head.

I have a special place, I sit on one end of my couch. The other end from where I sit when I’m watching TV. Other people go all out with special places for this and decorate and light candles and such. You do you. But it helps to have a regular place where you do this. If you keep places separate, then your brain and body knows, ‘This is where we do this. We’re doing silence now.’ This separate places thing works for other activities as well.

You can set a timer, so that you’re not always looking at your clock to see how the time is going. I sometimes set a timer, but if I have time I just leave it and go until I feel done. At least ten minutes, but sometimes as long as fifteen. I hope that someday I’ll be able to go even longer.

I start by taking three deep breaths – in for four, out for six, or something like that. This helps me to know that you’re starting now.

Then, I just sit.

If distractions come, I bat them away and keep going. If I find that my mind is still running at a hundred miles an hour, I stop and listen. I see how many different sounds I can hear. Birdsong, distant traffic, the house creaking as it warms up for the day. 

This is a time of not achieving, not doing, not being productive. I’m not thinking things through, I’m not actively praying in words. I’m just being. 

We can be addicted to words. Especially if you make a living with words like I do. We can think that they are absolutely necessary all the time. But they are not, and praying without words like this is … it’s just a beautiful thing.

We can be addicted to activity. Why sit for ten minutes when you could be cleaning? Gardening? Ringing a lonely person? Working? Exercising? But sometimes we need to know in our souls that we are worth more than just what we do. We are valuable for who we are. And that it doesn’t all depend on us. I am not the saviour of the world.

Sometimes I finish with The Lord’s Prayer, sometimes with a prayer of gratitude, sometimes I just finish.

If an insight comes to me, then I might journal it. But this is not about journaling (another great thing to do) this is just about being.

And that’s it, really. 

Can you do it? Ten minutes a day. You could get up ten minutes early, or you could go to bed and sit quietly before sleep. You could spend ten minutes in silence while going for a walk in your lunch break. Yes, you don’t have to just sit, walking meditation is a thing, or swimming, or cycling.

I cannot recommend this practice highly enough. Ten minutes a day of just you and God. Give it a go.

If you want to learn more (and I highly recommend that too) read Invitation to Solitude and Silence by Ruth Haley Barton. This is the book that I’ve been using to start my practice.

And if you’d like to chat with me about your experience, why don’t you leave me a comment? Or head to the Contact Me box at http://ruthamos.com.au or find me on Facebook or on Twitter @amos_rj.

My Most Important Productivity Tip

We’re all back into it now. School has begun again, all the regular activities have started up. We’re back on the treadmill.

And it can really feel like a treadmill. You start on Monday with a list of things to do. You don’t quite get through them but you have high hopes for Tuesday. But the list keeps getting longer and you don’t feel like you can cross off very much. On Thursday night you have a moment of panic when you realise that there is no way that you will be able to get it all done on Friday and you realise you’ll have to take work home over the weekend. 

Saturday you chill out a little bit, sleep in maybe, do a bit of housework, but then you open the laptop or the file of paper and put it on the dining table. You don’t want to work on it really but it has to be done and it stares balefully at you over the entire weekend, robbing the weekend of its joy and robbing you of rest. 

‘If I have enough energy to do this thing I want to do,’ you tell yourself, ‘then I have enough energy to do the work I brought home.’ So you don’t do the things you want to do, and you don’t do the work you brought home either.

The net result is that you go back to work on Monday feeling more tired than you did on Friday and the to do list continues to pile up.

Which brings me to my very important top productivity tip of all time.

Rest.

The way we are made is that we need time off. I firmly believe that humans are made to function best if we take one day off a week.

A whole day. 

Of rest.

I must admit that I got caught up on the busy-ness treadmill last year and it took me to a bad place. And it’s a difficult treadmill to get off. Being productive is highly admired in our society. We begin to feel that our worth is tied to our productivity. 

But it’s not. 

We have worth because we are human beings, made in the image of God. 

And you know what God did once a week? He rested.

Sure, the stories we have of Jesus are stories where he ‘broke’ the sabbath. Where he healed someone, or his disciples pulled off some grains of wheat and ate them because they were hungry. But as a general rule, Jesus rested on the sabbath. His treatment of the sabbath warns us not to get too stupidly strict about what is work and what is recreation, but still, rest and recreation are vitally important.

The thing that got me off my treadmill was to simply stop. To take a full day of rest each week where I didn’t catch up on the week’s work, and I didn’t make myself do anything.

A day of no ‘shoulds’.

There’s a great fear that keeps us working and working, but that fear is groundless. It is the fear that if we stop, things will fall apart. It is based in the pride that says that we are the ones keeping things together. But God is the one that holds all things together. And taking a day off a week is a discipline that says that we trust him more than ourselves. That he is God and that we’re not. And that even if things do fall apart, we know that he will bring good out of the rubble.

So I encourage you this week to take a day off. Just one day out of the seven. I don’t care which day it is, but whatever day works best for you, take it off for rest and recreation. I promise you that you’ll feel better for it, and that you’ll work better the next week.

It’s always better when you work according to the user’s manual.

What we did on our holiday

I’m back! Did you miss me? I hope not, I went to a lot of trouble to schedule blog posts and podcasts so that you wouldn’t.

But I have had a wonderful holiday. Two weeks of unscheduled work-free bliss. Well, almost work-free. Nothing in this world is perfect. But it has been incredibly refreshing and joyous.

As I get back into work again, I thought I’d tell you one of the things that we did on our holiday.

We went tulip hunting.

OK, so Moz and I see this differently.

I tell people, ‘We went up to Wynyard to see the tulips.’

He says to people, ‘We went up to Wynyard to have some time away, and while we were there we saw the tulips.’

It’s similar, but different. I really wanted to see those tulips. For a long time I’ve seen other people’s pictures, or seen them advertised. We’ve been to Wynyard at the wrong time and driven past the fields and tried to imagine them full of colour. But I haven’t been able to go and see them because when I worked at university, this time of year was always flat out.

But this year I was on holidays and when I realised that the tulips were in bloom, I organised for the two of us to travel up to Wynyard (about five hours from home) and go to see the tulip farm on Table Cape.

I tried not to get my hopes up. I thought this experience might have been over-advertised. I expected the flowers to be lovely and colourful, but not anything super awesome or overwhelming.

But they were awesome. They were beautiful.

There is something about standing in a field surrounded by colour, by bright colour, by natural colour, by nature’s beauty. There is nothing like it.

I took a billion photos and so did Moz and I’m only bombarding you with a few of them. They don’t capture the feeling. I guess you have to actually be there. They remind me of the feelings I had though.

More colourFields of colour

Walking through the fields of colour was joyous, it was refreshing, it was delightful.

The good book says, ‘See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these.’ So true.

Annette Young, in our podcast interview this week, talks about being in nature and how God spoke to her through it. For her, the Overland Track and Wine Glass Bay were the places where God blew her mind and made himself real to her. Those places have a different kind of beauty to the highly tended beauty of the tulips, but both kinds are refreshing in their own way.

I think it’s so important to get out into nature and listen to what it’s telling us. And I’m glad I got the chance to do that this holidays.

Do you make a priority of getting out into nature? What lessons has nature given you? Where is your favourite part of creation? Let us know in the comments.

Are you missing some of my blog posts? They come out every Monday. Sign up to follow the A Quiet Life blog on WordPress, or you can sign up to my newsletter on www.ruthamos.com.au  and you will receive every post straight to your email inbox. You will also find my podcast, my book ‘My Year of Saying No’, and any short stories or other books will be up there as they come along.

If you would like to support this blog and the podcast then you can head over to Patreon.com/quietlife and help me out for as little as a dollar a month. Thank you so much!

Is it time to take a break?

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Last week I took a break over the Easter weekend. You may have noticed that I didn’t post a blog. I decided to have four days off. Really off. No work, just rest, church, and family things.

What I really wanted to do was go to Pop’s shack for the weekend and blob out.

Let me explain.

When the kids were little, way back when, we had no money. We couldn’t go on holidays overseas, or even rent a motel room. But Moz’s Pop had a shack, a beach house. It was in Weymouth, a little town on the north coast of Tasmania. It had three bedrooms and a sunroom, enough for all of us, and it could stretch to fit three families if we really tried (and we did, a couple of times). It wasn’t a luxurious place by any means but there was a lovely long backyard with a BBQ, a hammock and a really old swing set. There was the shed, with tools and the dartboard. There was a lounge room where we could just hang out and play board games and watch TV. There was a kitchen to cook in and we would take up all our food for the weekend to keep the cost down.

We would head up there, leaving home straight after work (or as soon after work as possible), often arriving near midnight and carrying sleeping children in to put them to bed so that we could wake up there in the morning. There was nothing like waking up at the shack, knowing that we were on holidays now.

We would blob out. We would read, play board games, watch TV, go for walks on the beach and rides around the town on our bikes. We would head down to the local park and push the kids on the swings. We would play tennis in the town’s tennis court. Or at least something that looked a little like tennis. And we would jump over the fence of the property next to the tennis court to retrieve the balls that went astray.

In summer we would swim, and body board, and once or twice we took a boat out and went for a paddle around the estuary. The boys did a little fishing. We made sandcastles and looked at the crabs scuttling around in the mud.

In winter we would rug up and fight the icy breeze as we walked along the beach. We would pick up pebbles and skip them on the water. We would go rock-hopping.

But the big thing is, we wouldn’t feel guilty. We read magazines, ate chips and chocolate, just let all the rules go for the weekend. And we would be refreshed, rejuvenated. We would come back with all sorts of plans for regular exercise and renovations on the house, all sorts of things that we didn’t have the energy for in our everyday lives.

Pop has passed away now, and his shack has been sold. And you can’t go back to the past even if you want to, and I’m sure I’m wearing rose-coloured glasses and only remembering the best times.

But for the Easter weekend I rested the way I used to rest at the shack. I decided not to feel guilty. Just to sit, read, snack, walk on the beach, enjoy some silence and solitude (when the boys were out doing other things), pray, think, make plans.

I think that there’s more chance of my plans being put into action this year. I hope so. I’ll let you know as we go on. But one thing I know for sure: I’m very grateful for the rest. It has made a difference to the week just gone. And it will make a difference to the weeks ahead.

God made us for rest and for work. May he help each of us find that balance.

The week ahead is pretty huge, and one reason is that I’ll be at an Indie Book Fair. If you are in Hobart and you would like to come and see me and have a chat, I’ll be Hadley’s Hotel, this Saturday 4th May. Star Wars day.

I’ll be giving a talk about my journey to this work-from-home life at 1.30 pm and I’ll be reading some of my cosy mystery fiction at 11.15 am. I’ll be sitting at my table for the rest of the day (from 10 am until 5 pm) with books to sell, so please come and keep me company! I’ve got sweets to share.

There will be many other authors there as well. A couple that I can really recommend are Lindsey Little (Young Adult Fantasy), WR Gingell (Fairy Tales, Science Fiction, Urban Fantasy), and Maria Grist (Tasmanian History). It’s a wide-ranging fair and it should be a lot of fun.

And a Gold Star to You!

On Thursday night and Friday of last week I attended something called the Global Leadership Summit. It was a great time of hearing teaching from excellent speakers, my favourites being Carla Harris and David Livermore (I’m sure you can find them on YouTube). Each of the speakers spoke from their wheelhouse, the things they were interested in, the things they are passionate about. Most of it was amazing and I’ve been left with many things to chew over and apply to my life.

But there was one thing that got my goat, that went against what I believe in, and because that thing is my thing, I’m going to talk with you about it here.

One of the speakers was a pastor of a church with a large congregation that meets in many different places at the same time. It’s a church that uses technology well. Again, I want to say that I agreed with much of what this guy said, I loved a lot of what he said, but he told one story that made me worried for him and for the workers at his church.

He told us that Friday was his day off, but that often he would find himself heading to the office for some reason at around 430 or 5pm on a Friday. Now, as soon as he said that, alarms started going off for me.

I much prefer Eugene Peterson’s approach. Peterson set aside Monday as his day off, his sabbath. He wrote a letter to his congregation informing them of this and asking them to respect that day off. He stated that if there was a crisis then they could contact him, but for anything short of imminent death could they please wait until Tuesday? He would send that letter out annually just to remind his congregation of the importance of a day of rest.

Pastors have one of the most emotionally draining jobs on the planet. People can feel like the pastor is their property and should be available at all times. But no one can live that way, and even God took a day off after creation. So if a pastor feels that he has to ‘drift back’ to the office on his day off as a regular thing, I think there is something wrong.

Now, the other part of setting up this story is that the pastor (talking at the GLS) told us that the church workers were allowed to go home early each Friday. That gave them time to pick up their kids from school, go to the doctors, all the stuff that you can do with a couple of extra week day hours. That is great! I think it’s wonderful that they built that into the workplace.

However, when this pastor would drop into the office on a Friday afternoon he would find some people there still working. They were working unpaid overtime.

Now this pastor is a great guy, he really cares for the people that work at his church, he’s a good leader. So he started to show the workers his appreciation. He would go around and give them a fist bump and say ‘Gold star!’

This meant a lot to the workers and their spouses would send him notes to say how much they appreciated the fact that he showed his appreciation. This made him more inclined to say thank you to all the people who were working when they could have been at home.

This situation continued and built up. And now when he heads in on a Friday afternoon he takes a bag full of little gold star toys and hands them out, yelling, ‘Gold star to you! Awesome job! Gold star!’ He showed us a video. The staff were so happy to get these toys. It means a lot to be appreciated.

And it’s lovely that he appreciates his staff. That’s great.

But wouldn’t it be even better if he told them all to get out of the office and go home? Wouldn’t it be great if he enforced the rule of rest, rather than encouraged overwork and overtime?

Insane busyness is a sickness of our age. I feel the church is called to be counter-cultural in this area as in many others. We need to be careful not to add to the busyness of our congregations by adding too many ‘good religious activities’ to their already overcrowded schedules. We need to remind people that it is God that provides our needs, not our work, nor our boss, however that looks from the outside, and that God has directed us to take a day of rest each week.

I have tested this and found that God will help me with my work in the rest of the week if I dedicate a day to resting. No-one has yet died because I took a Sabbath.

Even if you are not a believer, studies have shown that taking a rest will lead to better and more creative work later. And that not resting will lead to less effective and poorer quality work. The universe works on this rule of resting one day in seven.

I’m not sure how you’d do it, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if this man, this pastor, could give the same encouragement that he gives to his overworking staff to his staff when they left the office, went home, built relationships with their families and reached out to their friends and neighbours on a Friday afternoon?

gold star 2

Gold star to you – you played in the park with your kids!

Gold star to you – you read a novel (and therefore increased your empathy for mankind)!

Gold star to you – you stacked the dishwasher and filled the washing machine and gave your wife the couch, the remote, and a glass of wine!

Gold star to you – you invited your neighbour to go watch a movie with you!

A big gold star – you took a nap!

I encourage you to make time to take a rest this week. And if it helps, give yourself a big gold star when you do it.

For more on Eugene Peterson’s ideas on the sabbath, listen to this

Are you missing some of my blog posts? They come out every Monday. Sign up to follow the A Quiet Life blog on WordPress, or you can sign up to my newsletter on www.ruthamos.com.au  and you will receive every post straight to your email inbox. You will also find my podcast, my book ‘My Year of Saying No’, and any short stories or other books will be up there as they come along.

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Rest

This week I’ve been reading a book called Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. I had heard it highly recommended on a podcast so I toddled along to the library and placed myself on the hold list and got hold of a copy. I was number 2 on the list for this book, not number 60 like I am for a book called Educated by Tara Westover. You might get a book report on that one too but you’re going to be waiting a while.

Anyway, Rest is one of those books that looks at the science behind resting – fMRIs and studies of various student groups, and all that kind of stuff. It also looks at the lives of great achievers through history – great politicians, authors, artists, and scientists – and shows us how they incorporated rest into their lives, encouraging us to do the same.

When Alex talks about rest, he’s talking about sleeping well at night, napping, walking, vigorous exercise (like marathons, or rock climbing), and immersive hobbies (like chess or building an 18 ft robot giraffe). All of these are aspects of rest and help renew our minds so that we can work better and more creatively.

He nowhere mentions watching TV or movies or surfing social media as aspects of rest.

When Moz and I were first married we lived in a little granny flat out the back of a friend’s house. For the first few months we had no television. (And no computer. Almost no one had a computer back then. It’s really crazy to think about that.)

We didn’t miss it very much at all. We read, we chatted, visited with friends. It wasn’t a problem most of the time. But there were some days I remember coming home and really wanting to sit and stare and be entertained. So I think that TV has its place in the list of restful activities.

But I also think TV-watching has a very limited ability to refresh us. It is so easy to keep watching, keep flicking to the next Netflix show, when it would be much better for us to either sleep, or walk, or read. Any of those things would be ultimately more refreshing. I can spend a day watching TV and be more exhausted at the end than I was at the beginning.

Social media is similar. I love to just scroll through my feed when I’m feeling tired. But the scroll can become never-ending and you can end up more tired than when you started. And more disturbed and emotionally unwell too, depending on the content that comes up.

It’s important for our brains to feel boredom. To spend a little bit of time not being entertained. The flickering low-level entertainment of TV and social media is a short-term gain but a long-term loss for our well-being. I’m sure you’ve heard this before, I’m not saying anything new. But maybe it’s important to check what we are doing when we’re trying to rest, and see whether it actually helps us to feel rested or not.

It’s easy to read Rest and to add a checklist of new activities that you now have to tick off in order to achieve greatness. To feel pressure to add more of these ‘restful activities’ to your week. But I’m sure that’s not what Alex Pang intended.

Instead, if you’re feeling like you should be working more and more and harder and harder to get things done so that you will achieve what you are made for, this book will give you good scientific and historical evidence that making time to rest is essential for good work. And it will give you some good suggestions for what this rest could look like.

Rest, after all, is included in our instruction manual. Let’s include it in our lives.

 

Are you missing some of my blog posts? Sign up to follow the A Quiet Life blog on WordPress, or you can sign up to my newsletter on www.ruthamos.com.au  and you will receive every post straight to your email inbox. You will also find my book ‘My Year of Saying No’, and any short stories or other books will be up there as they come along.

Overwhelm

Well, it finally happened, and it only took two and a half months. But for the first time since I went freelance I have got too busy working for myself and this weekend I found myself suffering from overwhelm.

The deadline for a big client is drawing closer and the work is increasing in panic, it was newsletter week last week for my fiction business, I’m leading church this Sunday, I’m trying to get a podcast off the ground and that means (gasp) inviting people for interviews, I know that next week a full day is taken up travelling to Launceston with Moz and while I’ve arranged that and I’m looking forward to it, Friday of this week came so quickly I didn’t even see it coming and having a four-day week for all the work next week is frankly quite scary. Not to mention all the wonderful events that I could attend (and possibly even should attend) like the People’s Library exhibition, my friend’s band gig, the Tamar Valley Writers Festival, and the author talks at my local library…

On Friday afternoon I was exhausted and I was worried. I decided that I’d have to work on the client job on the weekend. There was no way I could get everything done. The Sabbath, the rest I usually have once a week, it would just have to be put off.

On Saturday I woke up near tears.

I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t face anything. It was all too hard.

There is only one thing to do at this point. I needed a day off.

I needed to trust God that he’d take care of deadlines, that he’d look after the speed at which my businesses grows, that he had it all in hand.

And this overwhelm and tiredness wasn’t going to be solved by just any day off. There was no way I could go with a just-do-the-housework day off, or a lets-go-out-somewhere day off. I needed a real and total rest.

The weather was in my favour. It was blowing a gale and raining sideways. It was the perfect day for sitting in front of the fire and reading.

So that’s what I did. I made a fire, I found a library book about shepherding in the Yorkshire Dales that required very little emotional energy, and I sat. Later in the day as I felt better I read some of The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard and thought deep and prayerful thoughts. Then I wrote some silly poetry exercises about what I wanted to eat, and what I could hear and see outside the window. Later I watched some TV. There was a little Facebook in all that too.

Late in the afternoon we had to head down to church to set up for Sunday but that meant that I got out of the house for a short walk and that in itself was good for me.

Soup and toast for dinner and a really mindless movie topped off the day.

I found I was much more able to face things Sunday morning. The list didn’t seem so big or difficult. My energy levels had increased. I could cope again.

I am learning to budget my time so I don’t get so overwhelmed in the first place. That’s obviously the place I want to be. But I’m also learning that when I am feeling overwhelmed, sometimes I need to chuck it all and sit for a while in faith that the world will keep turning without me.

I love a quote from The Messies Manual by Sandra Felton: ‘When I works, I works hard, and when I sits, I sits loose.’ Saturday was a day for sitting loose and now I am refreshed and able to work hard again.

I know you’ve heard this sermon from me before. I’ve written a book about it, for crying out loud. I wish I could learn it so deeply that I didn’t have to relearn every few months. But for now, I’m just letting you know, I’ve learned it again.

A day off is a necessary part of every week, no matter how busy I am. I hope you can also find this rhythm of rest and work in your own life.