3 Reasons To Stop Treating Rest Like It’s Something Shameful

For American evangelicals, rest is a lot like pooping. (Hang with me on this one.)

Everybody poops. Everybody knows that everybody else poops, and that we all do it on regular intervals. If someone isn’t doing it regularly, it’s probably because they aren’t healthy. 

And yet, even with how normal, relatable, and healthy pooping is, we feel a great deal of shame and embarrassment about it. We do everything we can to hide the fact that we do it. Some of us only do it at home, where no one will know. And if we absolutely must speak of it, we only do so euphemistically. 

Many American Christians do the same thing when it comes to rest. We know it’s good for us. We know that God ordained it as a healthy thing for us to enjoy. 

But because we’ve been enculturated with the protestant work ethic, we’re utterly ashamed and embarrassed of it. Therefore, we make every attempt to deflect, minimize, or obfuscate the fact that we need it.

When we tell people we’re taking the day (or, God forbid, the week) off, we have the compulsive need to first detail all the ways we’ve been working so hard, how tired we are, and how much we just need a quick break. 

Otherwise, we couch it in spiritual language. It’s not your day off. It’s your “sabbath.” After all, you can’t judge a person for taking time off if they’re using a biblical word to describe it.

Not that it’s wrong to use biblical words to describe things. But the way we use the word “sabbath” as a euphemism for “rest” sometimes betrays our unease with the whole project.

Here are 3 good reasons to stop hiding the fact that you rest or even calling it your sabbath.

1. We are perpetuating the culture of overworking that has been a part of the American Church for generations.

When you ask a Christian, and particularly a church leader, how they’re doing, a common refrain often comes back.

“Busy.”

Sometimes, it’s couched a bit more positively. 

“Good…Busy, but good.”

But an element of busyness is almost always there––whether the busy season has just passed, is the present reality, or is looming in a dark cloud of anxiety. 

You will almost never hear a church leader immediately speak about how rested they’re feeling. Partially because church leaders are almost never well rested. But also because there’s an unspoken rule that they aren’t allowed to be rested. And if they are, then maybe they aren’t doing their job. 

Many pastors and ministry leaders are chronically overworked and underpaid. And there’s a sense among some that this is the way it should be. But it’s not

When we get sheepish about our rhythms of rest, we perpetuate the very culture that’s running us ragged. As we constantly work to maintain a facade of superhuman invulnerability and stamina, we miss the opportunity for the strength of Jesus to be present in the midst of our weakness. 

This affects more people than just yourself. Discipleship is caught much more than it’s taught. If church leaders always feel the need to tacitly apologize for needing rest, they are likely passing that same ethic onto their people. 

To be sure, it was an ethic that we inherited. And it’s a difficult cycle to break. But if you see yourself as a spiritual leader, it’s a struggle you’ll need to engage with.

If church leaders always feel the need to tacitly apologize for needing rest, they are likely passing that same ethic onto their people. Click To Tweet

2. We are covering an internal sense of guilt and shame that needs to be dealt with.

Not every leader is content to perpetuate the culture of tireless work within the church. I often see pastors and church leaders post on their social media accounts about the importance of their weekly sabbath. And that’s a good thing.

The theological justifications for rest (and indeed biblical imperatives) are all there. But my question is this: how much do we really need to employ them every single time we kick our feet up? Is it not enough to simply be wise with our personal health and family well-being? Is it not allowed to take time off to have fun? Is not the life of faith a life of abundance and joy? 

In our effort to justify ourselves, sometimes we give off the impression that even when we’re resting, we’re still not allowed to goof off. Taking the day off must carry with it the sense of spiritual gravitas and dutifulness as your work days. When you look at it through this lens, even resting can start to look a lot like work. 

And that’s the point. Because we’ve internalized a deep-seated sense of guilt and shame over not being endlessly productive, we feel the need to turn every moment of non-work into a spiritual discipline. 

Christian, you are allowed to rest and have fun just for the sake of resting and having fun. 

Silence, solitude, prayer, and meditation are all important spiritual disciplines. But you don’t have to spend your entire day off practicing them (or pretending to practice them). You can just take the day off. No guilt necessary.

Because we've internalized a deep-seated sense of guilt and shame over not being endlessly productive, we feel the need to turn every moment of non-work into a spiritual discipline. Click To Tweet

3. We misappropriate the culture and tradition of historic and modern Jewish people. 

This point may amount to little more than theological nitpicking, but I think it bears importance. When we bandy about the word “sabbath” as part of our theological justification for our own rest, we often fail to understand what the Sabbath actually is in its own context. 

The Original Meaning of Sabbath

Contrary to what many of us were raised to believe, honoring the Sabbath doesn’t mean going to church on Sunday. The Sabbath isn’t on Monday or Friday. The Sabbath is the seventh day of the week, observed from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. A time where all work ceases for all practicing Jewish people. 

Throughout the Old Testament, God commands the people of Israel to observe this very specific definition of Sabbath. And God gave very specific instructions about exactly what it looked like to honor that day and keep it holy.

But when Jesus rose from the dead, he set us free from the Mosaic Law, having perfectly fulfilled it in himself. So while we learn much about what God values and delights in by examining his commands to the people of Israel, we’re no longer bound to the letter of the law. 

Thus, we have no standing command to observe the Sabbath as described in the Old Testament. But as we seek to honor God and the way he created us, we are obligated to rest. Those are two different things that we often conflate.

I once heard it put this way: “While that’s my revelation, it’s not my covenant.” To put it another way, while all the words of scripture are equally inspired and authoritative, we need to be careful that we don’t personally appropriate promises or commands that were not intended directly for us.

While all the words of scripture are equally inspired and authoritative, we need to be careful that we don't personally appropriate promises or commands that were not intended directly for us. Click To Tweet

Why This Distinction is Important

When we misuse the word “sabbath” to simply refer to our own day off, we run the risk of misappropriating a word (albeit a biblical one) that most appropriately belongs to both historic and modern Jewish people to describe their weekly practices, which are full of cultural and religious significance. Most of us have little knowledge or appreciation for those deep generational ties for the Jewish people. 

So what we’re doing is taking a word full of meaning and then completely disregarding that meaning––to make ourselves look more spiritual when going to the beach on a Friday afternoon. I don’t think that’s something we should make a regular practice of. 

Now, if I’m speaking to someone and they refer to their day off as their “sabbath,” I’m not going to correct them or make a big fuss about it. And I’m not suggesting that you should either. Nobody likes a theological nitpicker

However, I do want to suggest that we be careful about the words we use to bolster our case for needing regular time off, particularly when that case doesn’t need any bolstering. As we engage in the process of disentangling rest from guilt, shame, and a desire to keep up our hardworking persona, what we’ll learn is that we don’t need to proof text our relaxation. 

Let me repeat. You don’t need to justify yourself. Just take the day off.

You don't need to justify yourself. Just take the day off. Click To Tweet

We don’t have to be so weird about taking time off.

I don’t think it was ever God’s intention for us to get so bent out of shape about our need for rest. As Jesus said himself, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).

God is trying to help us by telling us to rest. He wants us to be healthy. He wants our minds and hearts to be clear enough to listen to his prompting. He’s inviting us into faith.

So just take the gift that God is offering to you. 

Take the day off and go to the zoo with your kids. Go on a vacation somewhere really nice. And post pictures about it on Facebook without turning it into a sermon. It’s okay to enjoy it. You’re not a bad person for enjoying happy moments in your life that contribute nothing to your perpetual productivity. You’re just a normal human person. 

And if that means that you get a sideway comment or snarky email from someone at church who thinks you should be working harder, teach yourself not to care.

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