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!

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.

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

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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.

Sabbath

Indispensable

When I started working at the university on short-term contracts, I had a plan. I would say yes to as many things as possible, and make myself indispensable, and then they would have to keep renewing my contracts and my employment would be as good as permanent.

I didn’t say it was a good plan.

You see the problem with thinking like that is that when the time came this year when I really needed to take a break, I didn’t feel like I could because I had made myself indispensable. I felt like things would fall over if I took so much as a week off. And so I came close to exhaustion.

I think it must be a personality-type thing for me or something. I like being friends with people, but what I really like is being needed. I love being the one people turn to in a crisis. I love it so much … until I don’t. I love it until I am tired and I really need a break but there’s no one else who can take the load.

It’s pride, people. Plain and simple.

None of us can carry that burden.

I’m not meant to be the one solving everyone’s problems. I am not meant to be the sole provider of friendship to people, or the sole dispenser of wisdom. It works much better if everyone does their little bit than if I feel (even mistakenly) that it all depends on me.

One of the things that can help stop me from continually falling into this trap is the practice of regularly taking one day off a week. It’s a discipline that helps put everything back into order. That gives a regular reset of the brain.

When I was working full-time, a Sabbath for me meant a day when I didn’t do any paid work. I would make sure I didn’t do any work at all on that day as a statement of faith that God would either make it ok that the work didn’t get done, or make me cope with the fact that disaster happened.

It was amazing how little disaster actually happened. In fact, I can’t think of one time when taking a whole day off work for the week led to a crisis. What it usually led to was a rested, more competent, more peaceful me. And that was a very good thing.

Now that my ‘work’ consists of two days paid work and the rest of the time trying to get my own business off the ground I think I might find it a little harder to take a break. Harder to trust that it will all be ok. But I want to all the same. Because I want to remember that it’s not all about me, about my business. I don’t want to disappear into the rabbit hole of entrepreneur burnout.

So what does a Sabbath, a weekly day off, look like?

I don’t believe that a Sabbath needs to always be taken on a Sunday. I don’t think that we need to spend the day sitting quietly and reading religious texts. I love the idea of preparing meals and such beforehand and not doing any work at all but I don’t think that is achievable for most of us, and for some of us doing housework and cooking is a way to relax – a different way of being than we have for the rest of the week at work.

When Moz and I were doing missions training (back in the day, before we were married) we took Sundays off. We would go to an early church service and then we would just spend time together, chatting, maybe exploring the neighbourhood. We didn’t even have to cook meals because we were living in a missions community. It was a true day off.

Last Saturday for me the day off meant that I did a whole lot of washing, and went grocery shopping, and spent a few hours in the kitchen cooking up a proper meal for my family. I tried out a couple of new recipes and I enjoyed the creativity. I read a book. And I topped the day off by watching a mindless chick-flick.

Eugene Peterson describes his Sabbath in his book ‘The Pastor’. When he was a pastor he would take a day off each Monday, and he wrote to his congregation to explain what he was doing and why. He and his wife would pack a lunch and go for a bush walk each Monday (or a hike I guess, he was in America, here in Australia we would call it a bush walk). For the morning they would walk in silence, just taking the time to process the week that had come before. But when they broke for lunch they would talk to each other and they would keep talking all the way home.

Kris Rusch just happened to talk about her weekly day off in her blog this week. She writes that she takes the day off from work and that she has a no screen rule with that day off. ‘No email, no iPad, no laptop.’ She writes. ‘Phone with me but set on do not disturb except for the handful of people who call in for an emergency.’ She also writes, by the way, that once she started doing this kind of resting her productivity increased because her stress levels went down.

Perhaps if you are parents of small children your day off would include meeting another family at a park for a play – or possibly taking your kids to one of those indoor play centres so that you can sit and read with a nice coffee. Perhaps it means using disposable nappies for one day a week so that you can take one day off the washing.

There are many options and it’s not a one-size-fits-all deal. But however you put it together, I encourage you to take time off somehow to rest and rejuvenate each week.

How do you take a day off? What would your perfect Sabbath look like? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

This is the second-last of these posts on Saying No. But the blog will continue afterwards, don’t worry. If you would like to make sure you never miss a post then feel free to sign up here on WordPress. If you would like to read my regular newsletter about my novel writing then drop me a line at rijamos@gmail.com. And the amazing work of our artist Caleb is always available on instagram @deteor42.