Take one sabbath each week and rest

Imagine what a gift it would be to tell slaves that they could take one whole day off every week to rest and be renewed.

Yme Woensdregt

News Item: Canadian full–time employees spend 50.2 hours in work–related activities each week, according to a study, “Revisiting Work–Life Issues in Canada: The 2012 National Study on Balancing Work and Caregiving in Canada.”

The conclusions of the study show, among other things, that 1) stress in the workplace is increasing; 2) people are finding it more difficult to balance work and family life; 3) email is increasing stress levels both in the workplace and the home; 4) stress impacts life negatively in many ways, including increasing absenteeism due to reduced mental and physical health.

These results won’t surprise us. Statistics clearly show that most people are working harder and longer than ever. So much for all those labour–saving devices which were supposed to make life easier and provide more leisure time. We are experiencing more stress in our lives, because we are having trouble managing the many competing demands on our time and energy.

September is often the time we are busy gearing up for back to school, back to work, back to the rat race after a summer which (hopefully!) was more relaxed for many of us.

So let me ask: have we forgotten the gift of a sabbath in our lives? The concept comes from the ten commandments in Exodus 20. Yes, it’s another one of those hoary religious concepts — but let’s think it through for a moment.

In the story, the ten commandments (or more accurately, the ten words) were given to Israel as they escaped from slavery in Egypt. Now, imagine what a gift it would be to tell slaves that they could take one whole day off every week to rest and be renewed. What incredible good news. After being required to work 24/7, now they were being given a day every week to reconnect with themselves, with their friends and families, with creation, and with God.

How does that sound to you in the midst of the busyness of our lives? Wouldn’t that be a gift to us all in this society in which we can shop, work, and chatter online 24/7?

That’s exactly what Dr. David Posen, a stress specialist, recommends in his book, “Is Work Killing You? A Doctor’s Prescription for Treating Workplace Stress.”

“My message about leisure and work-life balance is that they are not luxuries. They are necessities for good health, for good energy, for good productivity and, frankly, for stress relief.”

He observes that “many employees are now expected, or take it upon themselves, to check emails on their days off and weekends.” But there’s a cost to always being ‘on.’ “It’s costly to health, energy; it’s also costly to relationships…”

The human body needs recovery time between periods of high stress. The fight–or–flight response was intended to deal with short–term threats or dangers. But these days, “you’ve got people’s stress reaction turned on pretty well all the time, and cortisol flows through your body, and then all the effects of the stress reaction — your blood pressure goes up or stays up; your cholesterol goes up; it causes heart problems and compromises your immune system, and so on…”

A true day of rest each week provides important benefits for us, including “an opportunity for your stress level to come down, which is healing in itself.” Rest offers an opportunity to refresh and replenish energy levels, and he goes on to say, “It gives people a chance to connect with family and friends, and enhances relationships, which often get neglected when people are very busy.” It is also a chance to enjoy life and expand it with activities such as reading, music, art and volunteering.

Our 24/7 culture takes such a huge toll on “the inner self, the spiritual side of people, the soul.” Even if you are not highly religious, there is a tranquility in being in a sacred space, whether it be a church, synagogue or mosque, or even in a location where you can bask in the beauty of creation. We pause for reflection, and “that pause is exceedingly important.”

Time to reflect offers people a chance to step back and gain perspective and inspiration, he said. “Dr. Herbert Benson wrote a book called The Breakout Principle, in which he talked about the fact that when you take time out, away from work, you often get some of your best ideas, or suddenly the solution to a problem you’ve been struggling with will come up when you’re not even thinking about it.”

Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. Holiness doesn’t mean moral perfection. It means “to keep something separate.”

Here’s another issue in which an ancient religion may have been on to something. Give yourself this gift. It’ll pay huge dividends for you.

Yme Woensdregt is Pastor at Christ Church Anglican in Cranbrook