Written by Colin Noble, guest contributor to desiringGod.org
Recovering Rest in a Burnout Culture
The cry of our age is “busy.”
How are you? “Busy.”
How’s work? “Busy.”
How are the kids doing? “Their lives are so busy. I feel like I’m just a taxi driver.”
How was the shopping mall today? “Too busy.”
Can you help me? “I’m busy at the moment.”
The fast-paced busyness of life that pushes God to the margins can easily turn into burnout. Lots of us are crying out for ways of handling the busyness before it does.
Yet expectations of keeping up with everything continually escalate, courtesy of Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Netflix, and the rest. We are all susceptible to the expectation that we always are available, aware of everything that is happening, and capable of achieving anything. Unsurprisingly, this demand to be omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent places pressure on all of us, whatever our level of social media dexterity.
“The fast-paced busyness of life that pushes God to the margins can easily turn into burnout.”
Add some more ingredients — inadequate sleep, poor dietary habits, caffeine addiction, the urge to project our preferred identity, a sedentary lifestyle — and we have the perfect recipe for unremitting anxiety and restlessness.
But each of us is, if you like, the chief cook in our own kitchen. We can choose to rethink the ingredients we stir into the mix of life that leave us feeling bloated and stressed rather than nourished and sustained. The 24/7 hustle and bustle is of our own making, at least to some extent. Just as people go on detox diets, we would do well to heed calls for digital detox and reconsider how much we try to pack into life. A good starter is the practical suggestions for a twelve-step digital detox by Tony Reinke, followed with the richly nourishing poetry of Wendell Berry’s This Day.
The futile attempt to sustain ourselves by our own efforts is not new. Our digital age simply offers new manifestations of the age-old temptation to usurp God’s role for ourselves. But against this age-old temptation, God offers an age-old response: what would happen to our 24/7 switched-on world if the people who came to Jesus for rest (Matthew 11:28) regularly took a day of rest from distraction, work, and busyness? What would this weekly habit have to offer to the world in which we find ourselves — a world that restlessly continues to search for peace amid busyness?
1. Taking a weekly day of rest is a sign that we desire God.
Taking one day a week to cease our strivings and focus on God shouts out that we desire God above status, financial reward, promotion in the workplace, achievement, and all other things that would distract us from the one we love.
“Taking one day a week to cease our strivings and focus on God shouts out that we desire God above all else.”
Not taking time with someone we love when given the chance is a sure sign of diminished desire to be with them, to reflect together on the good times spent together in the past, and to consider what the future holds. When we specifically and intentionally set a day a week aside to focus on the Lord, as the old covenant people of God were commanded to do as they journeyed (Exodus 16:23
), we signal to the world that our hearts belong to him.
Treasuring a day of rest and worship lets people know where our heart lies.
2. Taking a weekly day of rest is a sign that we trust God.
Taking one day a week to let go of our endeavors to survive the present and prepare for the future shows that we trust God that his provision for the present is adequate and his promise for the future is sure.
When we have a weekly rhythm of a day of rest, we stand alongside the old covenant saints who trusted God to provide for their needs (Exodus 16:22–30). We stand alongside Jesus, who rejected Satan’s attempt to convince him to look after his own needs, by recalling that we live not on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord (Matthew 4:4).
We live with integrity as people who pray “give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11), and then trust God to do it. As finite creatures, we declare our trust in the resources of the infinite Creator, who provides us with every blessing (Ephesians 1:3; 1 Timothy 6:17). When we commit to enjoy a weekly day of rest in the busiest seasons of life (see Exodus 34:21), we declare our trust in God even more loudly.
3. Taking a weekly day of rest proclaims Christ’s supremacy.
Taking one day a week to loosen our hearts’ grip on our own achievements clears space for remembering and reminding each other of Christ’s achievements. Everything we cannot do, even with endless striving, Christ has done already. In our rest, we proclaim that he has fulfilled the requirement of perfect obedience to his Father (Romans 8:3–4
). We proclaim that he has provided the true rest our pursuit of leisure activities and restless sleep cannot provide (Matthew 11:28–30
“Everything we cannot do, even with endless striving, Christ has done already.”
Since those who die in the Lord will rest from their hard labor (Revelation 14:13
), resting one day a week now helps us to remember and prepare for that future, when at the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue confess he is Lord (Philippians 2:10–11
). We declare that our ambition is much bigger than career progression, or status elevation, or completing earthly tasks — it is to make Christ known.
4. Taking a weekly day of rest declares our freedom.
Freeing one day a week from the tyranny of the urgent and the never-finished to-do list reminds us and those around us that we are no longer slaves. The original recipients of the command to rest one day in seven were reminded that the Lord rescued them from slavery in Egypt (Deuteronomy 5:15
). But for Israel — and for us — redemption from physical bondage was merely a picture of the greater freedom from sin and death (Romans 6:15–23
). We see more clearly than did Israel that we “were called to freedom” (Galatians 5:13
), and therefore our cause for remembrance and celebration is greater.
We take a day of rest not by obligation, but out of a greater desire to pause, to remember, to look forward, and to worship. Declaring that we freely choose to celebrate freedom is a message sorely needed by those who are enslaved to the obligations of busyness and who feel like they cannot escape the tyranny of burnout.
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