3. Structuring Time
WE ARE DESIGNED FOR A RHYTHM OF WORK AND REST. SO ONE HOUR A DAY, ONE DAY A WEEK, AND ONE WEEK A YEAR, WE TURN OFF OUR DEVICES AND WORSHIP, FEAST, PLAY AND REST TOGETHER.
We are supposed to work, and we are supposed to rest.
We are meant to work, but we are also meant to rest. “Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work –you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns” (Exod. 20:9-10). One day out of seven –and, even more radically, one year out of seven (Exod. 23:10-11) –the people of God, anyone who depended on them or lived among them, and even their livestock were to cease from work and enjoy rest, restoration, and worship.
This pattern is fundamental to human flourishing, and to the flourishing of the whole world that depends on our care, but it has been disrupted and distorted by human greed and sloth. Instead of work and rest, we have ended up with toil and leisure.
Toil and Trouble
How likely is it that any of the employees who now work in that building (a building previously used to make artisanal furniture, now houses a group of techies around a startup company) are creating anything that will be seen as a treasure even five years from now, let alone five hundred years from now?
If technology has failed to deliver us from toil, it has done a great deal to replace rest with leisure –at least for those who can afford it.
If toil is fruitless labor, you could think of leisure as fruitless escape from labor. It’s a kind of rest that doesn’t really restore our souls, doesn’t restore our relationships with others or God. And crucially, it is the kind of rest that doesn’t give others the chance to rest. Leisure is purchased from other people who have to work to provide us our experiences of entertainment and rejuvenation.
No amount of leisure can compensate for the sense that your life, whether poorly paid or well paid, is ultimately in vain.
Peak Leisure Home
What happens to families when the home becomes a leisure zone? One of the most damaging results, as the philosopher Albert Borgmann has pointed out, is that children never see their parents acting with wisdom and courage in the world of work. Even if the adults’ jobs still require skill and insight, even if those jobs are quite meaningful and rewarding, that work now takes place far from home.
Children no longer see their mothers or fathers doing something challenging, fruitful, admirable, and ultimately enjoyable. Instead, the family’s life together is reduced to mere consumption, purchasing the results of others’ work or toil.
Honestly, most of us can’t do much to change the nature of our work –or toil. But there is one thing most of us can do –and all of us are meant to do. It is to rediscover rest: real rest, in harmony with one another, our Creator, and all of creation. The biblical word for this kind of rest is Sabbath.
Keeping Sabbath, along with honoring our father and mother, is one of the “thou shalts” –one of the positive things we would have been called to do even if we had never fallen into sin.
A life of abundance, gratitude, rest, and quiet. It will only happen if we choose it, but if we choose it, the experience of our family and many friends has been that God blesses it.
One Day a Week – and More
Sabbath was not just a day but an organizing principle. Sabbath will be most powerful and helpful if we let its core pattern of work and rest become the defining pattern of our lives.
Build into every single day an hour, for everyone in the household, free from the promises and demands of our devices. For many of us, this will most naturally be the dinner hour. For families with small children, the better hour may be the hour just before bedtime, where baths and stories and cuddling can happen without digital distraction.
On a Friday before a vacation, I clean out my email inbox, set up a filter that will send every single message straight to an archive, and activate a “vacation message” with the stark subject line, “Unfortunately I will never read your email.”
And it is gloriously true. For two solid weeks, my inbox stays completely empty. (Part of true rest is not having work accumulate relentlessly while you are resting!)
The Brightly Lit Cage
We need to be clear: Sabbathless toil is a violation of God’s intention for our lives and our whole economy. Any serious commitment to Sabbath involves doing our best to ensure that the people who serve us are provided wages and benefits that allow for hourly, weekly, and yearly rhythms of rest.
The beautiful, indeed amazing, thing about all discipline is that they serve as both diagnosis and cure for what is missing in our lives. They both help us recognize the exact nature of our disease and, at the very same time, begin to heal us from our disease.
Legalism and Work
Something has gone wrong with our disciplines when we become more obsessed with the mechanics and mechanisms of fulfilling them than with the gift they are meant to give.
4. Waking and Sleeping
WE WAKE UP BEFORE OUR DEVICES DO, AND THE “GO TO BED” BEFORE WE DO.
Sleep seems, in a strange way, to be where the learning required to be a accomplished human beings actually happens. It is the way our bodies deal with the immense complexity and demands of growth of all kinds –intellectual, physical, emotional, and even spiritual. Heart, mind, soul, and strength all are nurtured while we sleep.
A Jewish day begins in the quietness of dusk, sharing the evening meal as the world settles in to rest, lying down to practice the “quietness and confidence” that Isaiah said was the source of true strength (Isa. 30:15 NLT). And then in the morning (neither anxiously early nor slothfully late) we rise to our work. Rather than resting to recover from a hard day’s work, this way of seeing time suggests that we work out of the abundance of a good night’s rest.
Fatigue and isolation compound our immaturity and susceptibility to temptation –especially for teenagers but also for adults. At their best, social media, like all media, substitute distant relationships for close ones.
The devices we carry to bed to make us feel connected and safe actually prevent us from trusting in the One who knows our needs and who alone can protect us through the dangers and sorrows of any night.
There is something for you to discover in these moments just after waking that you will never know if you rush past it –an almost-forgotten dream, a secret fear, a spark of something creative.
Give your devices one more minute in their “beds”. Practice the grateful breath of someone who slept and awakened, given the gift of one more day. You slept and allowed God to be enough. Now, for at least a moment, wake and be still, letting him be enough for this day. Then you can say good morning to whatever the day brings.