While working on the book Crazy Busy I realized how important it is to have rhythm in my life. Busyness often comes, and often feels worse than it otherwise might, because we make no sharp distinction between work and rest.
It’s easy to find people who think work is good and leisure is bad (i.e., you rest to work). You can also find people who think leisure is good and work is bad (i.e., you work to rest). But according to the Bible both work and rest can be good if they are done to the glory of God. The Bible commends hard work (Prov. 6:6-11; Matt. 25:14-30; 1 Thess. 2:9; 4:11-12; 2 Thess. 3:10) and it also extols the virtue of rest (Ex. 20:8-11; Deut. 5:12-15; Ps. 127:2). Both have their place. The hard part is putting them in the right places.
Many of us are less busy than we think, but life feels constantly overwhelming because our days and weeks and years have no rhythm. One of the dangers of technology is that work and rest blend together in a confusing mush. We never quite leave work when we’re at home, so the next day we have a hard time getting back to work when we’re at work. We have no routine, no order to our days. We are never completely “on” and never totally “off.” So we dawdle on YouTube for twenty minutes at the office and then catch up on e-mails for forty minutes in front of the TV at home. Perhaps this arrangement works for some employers and may feel freeing for many employees. But over time most of us work less effectively, whether it’s in the home or out of the home, and find our work less enjoyable when there is no regular, concentrated, deliberate break.
Not long ago, the Wall Street Journal ran a fascinating article about four-time Olympian Bernard Lagat.47 A native of Kenya but now a US citizen, Lagat holds seven American track and field records, ranging from the 1,500 meters to the 5,000. According to the article, one of the secrets to his running is, actually, not running. After eleven months of intense training and competition, Lagat “puts his sneakers in the closet and pigs out for five weeks. No running. No sit-ups. He coaches his son’s soccer team and gains 8 pounds.” He’s taken this long break every fall since 1999. Lagat says “rest is a good thing” and calls the month of inactivity “pure bliss.” Even the best in the world need a break. In fact, they wouldn’t be the best without one. Idleness is not a mere indulgence or vice. It is necessary to getting anything done.
People like to say life is a marathon, not a sprint, but it’s actually more like a track workout. We run hard and then rest hard. We charge a hill and then chug some Gatorade. We do some stairs, then some 200s, and then a few 400s. In between, we rest. Without it, we’d never finish the workout. If we want to keep going, we have to learn how to stop. Just like the Israelites had in their calendar, we need downtime each day, and a respite each week, and seasons of refreshment throughout the year.
Which is why it’s so concerning that our lives are getting more and more rhythm-less. We don’t have healthy routines. We can’t keep our feasting and fasting apart. Evening and morning have lost their feel. Everything is blurred together. The faucet is a constant drip. Life becomes a malaise, until we can’t take any more and spiral into illness, burnout, or depression. We can’t run incessantly and expect to run very well.