Learning to rest productively

Photo by  John Matychuk

Photo by John Matychuk

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.
— Matthew 11:28-30

There is always so much to do.

Always one more email to reply to, one more article to read, one more step-by-step plan to grow your business faster, or one more new trick to improve your love life.

There is always one more load of laundry to do, one more meal to make, one more project to finish. One more, one more, one more…

We charge through each day—tired and stressed about how much we have to do. Eventually, we crash on the couch, too exhausted to keep doing all these things we’re supposed to do.

Sadly, our society has us so fixated on doing more and more, that to stop even for a moment makes us feel guilty. We think we’re being lazy and unproductive when we do “nothing.”

Sound familiar? I can definitely identify with this, and I’m pretty sure you can too.

While in college, I spent nearly all my energy taking every opportunity I could and trying to excel at everything. I barely ever took days off and I never let myself rest, no matter how sick or tired I was. I was under constant pressure to perform—a pressure which I mostly put on myself.

I’ve also been in the reverse position, where I tried lightening my schedule so that I had more time to rest. But it was so easy to just sleep too much, eat junk food, binge-watch TV series and spend hours on social media.

That was no better. I was left mad at myself for wasting time and even more exhausted than before. Apparently, this wasn’t the kind of rest my body and mind is looking for.

So how do we fix this? Isn't being busy a good thing?

To some extent, yes. Humans are filled with the desire to create and make an impact. Those desires are amazing. But the problem is, we put far too much value on producing results. All. The. Time.

We’re simply not meant to work 24/7.

In order to be our most efficient, productive and creative selves, we need to learn how to rest well.

It’s pretty simple. When we’re operating from a place of exhaustion and stress, whatever we produce won’t come easily. It also won’t be as creative or effective as when we’re operating from a place of energy and personal well-being.

And eventually, if we keep trying to be productive with less and less fuel, we’ll burn out. We won’t be able to produce at all, because we can't create something out of nothing.

So what does it mean to rest well?

  1. It’s more than just sleep. Sleep is great, and most of us could probably use more of it. But it's only one of the ways we can gain energy and build our creativity. Sleeping too much robs us of time spent doing other activities that provide deep, fulfilling rest.
  2. It is intentional. Resting well likely does not mean mindlessly watching TV. It means choosing to do something that is both relaxing and rejuvenating. It means doing something that truly gives you joy. For me, praying, going on walks alone, reading, painting and spending quality time with friends are each different forms of rest that leave me satisfied and energized.
  3. It is consistent. Going on two weeks of vacation every year simply doesn’t cut it. Those two weeks aren't enough time for your body to recover; they won’t carry you through another whole year. You have to carve out a chunk of time every week that is dedicated to resting. A full day is best, but if half a day is all you can manage, start there.
  4. The busier you are, the more you need it. The longer your to-do list, the more counter-intuitive it seems to stop and rest. But consciously doing so can actually help you to work more efficiently and produce better results.

As a Christian, a big part of resting for me means time spent with God. Because each of us has been designed to operate using Christ's power, we function so much better when we're tapping into his strength.

We can live more joyful, fulfilled lives because we're connected to our Creator and Father. Spending time with him rejuvenates our spirits and prepares us to tackle whatever we need to. 

Of course, this is far from easy.

Our culture has taught us to be constantly on the move. And even if we do manage to take a break, we'll just keep thinking about all the other people who are busy out-performing us.

It takes quite a leap of faith to believe that choosing to rest will actually benefit us in the long run. But I know for myself personally, I've seen this happen.

When I choose to set time aside to do the things that refresh my soul, I end up returning to my work feeling more relaxed and focused.

I've also found that my best creative moments—new blog posts, poetry, novel ideas, or other projects—have come to me during prayer.

The Holy Spirit inspires these ideas and provides ways to follow through on these passions. It is in resting with Jesus that I can be refueled with the best kind of energy to be creative and productive.

My boyfriend has experienced this too. He's in his fourth year of a highly demanding tech program. Intuitively, it makes no sense for him to take any time off right now.

And yet, he has had several days this past year where he's been completely exhausted and distracted and has chosen to set aside his deadlines and spend those days with God instead.

Each time, he was able to finish his assignments on time, and ended up feeling utterly cared and provided for during the rest of the week.

But it’s hard. And I definitely haven’t mastered it.

When my days get busy, my "resting time" is often the first thing to go. But I know this needs to change because I keep seeing the difference it makes in my life.

If I don't take the time to rest well, I become stressed, anxious and often unproductive. When I do, I'm able to produce far better results—often far more efficiently. 

In other words, the busier we are, the more we should be prioritizing our time with Christ because we cannot afford to not do so.

We need his strength in order to do our best work.