(This is part one of the fifth topic in a series on the subject of balance. It being the holidays, we thought titling this series the gift of balance seemed appropriate. By “we,” I’m referring to the series contributors. Joining me in this series are Mark Stanifer and Tonya Waechter. This entry will be the first half of the conversation continuing tomorrow with the second half.)
John: This topic brings a level of discomfort to most of us. It’s foreign; we don’t do it well. Those kind of emotions. Does that ring true?
Tonya: It causes you to evaluate. All these conversations have been good for reflection and evaluating. “Where am I?”
John: So thinking through these three words-play/rest/sabbath-what are the differences?
Tonya: My mindset about sabbath has been changing a bit. But they’ve all gone together for me. Sabbath for me has meant I’ve been checked out of work and checked into fun with the family. So when I think about these three, they all intertwine for me.
Mark: When I thought through this I came back to the concept of rest, specifically rest for the mind (play), the body (rest), and the spirit (Sabbath). That encapsulated it for me.
John: That’s helpful because it’s important to know what we mean when we use these words. Just like that simple differentiation was helpful to you, it shows how all these elements are important.
Tonya: I say my views are changing because of the work I’ve been doing with different pastors who have different views. I like that layout also. You have to rest your body. Playtime can be wonderful and refreshing, but it can also be exhausting physically. So you have to have time of rest for your body, mind, and emotions, which may all look different. I’m starting to see Sabbath as more of a personal time that is away from everybody and time with the Lord. That could be an hour in the morning, a whole day sometime in the month. But I’m starting to have a more spiritual approach to the Sabbath idea.
John: In a book I’m reading right now on this subject, the author mentions studies about how the brain requires periods of rest There is an alternating period needed from structured work followed by unstructured rest. In some people’s minds, Sabbath may be a pretty rigid idea. “There are certain things I must do, or it’s not really Sabbath.” She’s presenting the idea that it can be unstructured, your brain may need it to be unstructured.
Mark: I’m not an expert in the science, but I’ve read enough to know that sleep is so beneficial for your brain. Your brain doesn’t stop; the rest of your body slows down, and your brain has the time to process, organize, and structure thoughts and memories. It’s amazing what your brain is doing while your body is sleeping. Then there’s also the component of how sleep benefits the rest of your body-your organs, your health, your immune system, and particularly your heart. So that’s sounds a lot like what you’re reading.
John: She talks a lot about rhythm, the need to figure out the rhythm of life that you are wired for, what is physically and spiritually good for you. Ignoring it or not being aware of it is where many people fall into. We may not even understand it is a rhythm that we need.
Tonya: In one of our earlier conversations I referenced a book by Archibold Hart who has written a lot on sleep, how it rejuvenates us and how much sleep we really do need.
Mark: In that aspect of play, until recently I don’t think I’ve had a full appreciation for play and what that is. My personality tends to be a little more serious, “color inside the lines” kind of thing. I’ve been reminded by articles, things Michael Hyatt has published, about the importance of play in the same way that sleep helps. By unplugging, you tap into creativity, which reminds me of what we used to do as kids. It’s a challenge as adults to reconnect with that in order to get the benefits to the mind and soul, to feed them.
Tonya: Along with that is the idea of laughter. Laughter is such a healing thing as well. Learning how to laugh and let go of the stresses that we have through work is so powerful and rejuvenating to be able to handle the problems and have creativity.
John: Mark, you mentioned creativity. Since I’ve been back from being on sabbatical the month of October, people have asked me questions like, “Did you get what you needed? Do you feel refreshed?” I’ve answered that the creative juices have been flowing better and more naturally just because I was away from anything that had to do with life in Florida. The space for creativity was created. Taking time on a rhythmic basis is going to help all those juices keep flowing more naturally.
Tonya: The idea of just building in time for fun in your week, even a moment to take a longer drive home or go for walk, and allowing ourselves to do those things without feeling guilty. One of the things for me is to learn to relax and enjoy without feeling guilty. There’s still a pile of work, but it’s okay because it’s not my work hours and I’m living out of that value. It’s okay to forget it and just relax and have fun without feeling guilty.
Mark: There’s an irony and a tension there. If you make time for rest, then you can be more efficient, productive, and creative in all the areas of your life. Whereas we tend to think that “I just need to work more, work through this creative block. I just need to push through it. I don’t have time to sleep because I have a deadline.” That thinking ends up being counterproductive. It’s irony that what we need is the opposite of what we think we should be doing.
John: As you say that, my immediate thought goes to napping. I’ve taken the time over the last several years to allow myself to listen to my body. On my day off if I find myself dozing off or having a hard time concentrating, that’s a sign to me to go take a nap and that’s fine. If it lasts thirty minutes or an hour, whatever. I don’t set an alarm. I wake up when I wake up. That feels congruent with the idea of rhythm. If your body is giving you signs, pay attention.
Mark: What was that like, to give yourself permission to do that when you first started?
John: When I woke up, it felt fantastic. But I realized I don’t have a routine about this, and I’m going to give myself the permission to do this whenever and however often my body tells me it needs it.
Tonya: What this brings me back to is that rest and Sabbath looks different for everybody. The key is that you’re resting; you’re finding those times that you’re resting your body and your mind, having moments where you can laugh and not living under serious or heavy emotions all the time.
John: These thoughts are giving me flashbacks to growing up in the South in the 70’s. The culture definitely was built around the idea that there were things you don’t do on Sundays, like shopping or playing sports. Well, that didn’t mean when I became a teenager with my driver’s license that I always obeyed the rules; I’d find ways to get around them and observe rest a little differently, like going to play tennis. So yeah, it’s going to be different, and giving yourself the permission to figure that out is huge.
Tonya: I think even permission for your family. This goes back to what we talked about last week, finding the balance between legalism and letting them find it out. I have a son who is moving all the time, and to ask him to do nothing on a Sunday would have been just pure torture for him.
Mark: My upbringing was not too different. Sunday was mostly at home, couldn’t go out and ride my bike; at the time I felt really trapped inside the house. With some time and reflection, I realized that my parents were basically creating space for themselves to rest physically. That left me wondering, “My experience was this, and what does Sabbath look like in this New Testament, post-Jesus context?”