Tag Archives: rest

Just Stop

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The classic Christian hymn, Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, contains the line, Drop Thy still dews of quietness / Till all our strivings cease.  That last part just sounds terrible.  You see, I’m a striver.  Striving’s my thing.  I like accomplishment.  Give me a problem to solve, yours or mine, and I will strive all day and night to solve it.  One of my latest projects is striving to learn how to take a break from striving, which it turns out is just as complicated as it sounds.

Last week Pepperdine hosted theologian, Miroslav Volf, who in his final lecture extolled the Jewish practice of Sabbath as a weekly event where one stops striving.  I have long agreed with that concept but am just terrible at it.  Since my new preaching gig sees Sunday as work day, I approach Friday-Saturday as weekend and Friday in particular as a personal sabbath.  Well, that’s the idea at least.  It hasn’t gone well so far.

For starters, I don’t want to stop striving for a day.  I prefer catching up on unfinished striving and go a little bonkers ignoring things that need attention when I actually have time set aside to do them!  But even when I try, presumably non-striving activities morph into things to accomplish.  A nature walk becomes the quest of the perfect picture or story.  A novel becomes a mission that needs to be completed in a certain time frame.  A sport becomes a personal competition.

I am more than a little nutty.  How exactly do I not strive?  I could say that I will work on it, but that is exactly the problem.

John Greenleaf Whittier wrote that 19th century poem-turned-hymn that imagined the cessation of strivings.  Ironically, he hated the very idea of singing in church and wrote the poem to promote silent meditation in contrast to musical worship, but his poem became a tool of the thing he despised.  Life is funny.  He was also an abolitionist, who in his lifetime saw the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing the practice of slavery in the United States.  So he was a striver, too! 

Well, obviously striving and Sabbath are teammates, not opponents.

Breaks are important for any endeavor, which obviously includes life itself.  This may not come naturally to me, but the secret just may be when it no longer feels like something to accomplish.  Stopping is the opposite of accomplishment.  It is a gift.

Emancipation

An article in the online edition of the Harvard Business Review caught my attention: “A Modest Proposal: Eliminate Email: Reasonable Attempts to Tame It Are Doomed to Fail.”  Ironically, or maybe appropriately, the article arrived via email.

The author (Cal Newport, Georgetown professor) is apparently serious, and as one of the “inbox-enslaved individuals” he describes, I appreciate his attempt at a Technological Emancipation Proclamation.  He accurately portrays my people’s need “to constantly check their inbox and feel great guilt or unease about the possibility of unanswered communication awaiting attention” and that “the inbox-bound lifestyle created by an unstructured workflow is exhausting and anxiety-provoking.”

So, he suggests chunking it.  He writes, “The concept is simple. Employees no longer have personalized email addresses.”

I think he is crazy.  Which is partly why I love it.  But more importantly, and I’m speaking as one highly skilled in email management, I think the day is coming when the email problem has to be addressed.  As Professor Newport concludes, “if workplace trends continue as they are, [his crazy/stupid/fruitcake idea] might one day soon seem less less like an interesting thought experiment and more like a necessary call to action.”

Email allows us to be so stinking available, efficient, and responsive that we no longer have time to work (in fact, that becomes our work)–or, tragically, to live.  In his delirious alternate universe, Professor Newport envisions: “[W]hen you’re home in the evening or on vacation, the fact that there is no inbox slowly filling up with urgent obligations allows a degree of rest and recharge that’s all but lost from the lives of most knowledge workers today.”

Can you imagine such a thing?  I can imagine.  In fact, I can almost even remember.

Recurring Fluctuation

Rhythm: (noun) [ri-thəm] 3a: movement, fluctuation, or variation marked by the regular recurrence or natural flow of related elements.¹

You say routine, and I hear same. That’s boring. You say rhythm, and I hear flow. That’s magic. Routine is my middle name (or possibly Andrew), but I want to live with rhythm.

The end of the calendar year brings a holiday break to most people, and it arrived yesterday with much rejoicing for the students in my world. I like the rhythm of the academic calendar, the dependable circuit of fresh beginnings building toward grand crescendos and coveted breaks. Nothing lasts long enough for monotony to set in, but the variety is familiar. It is rhythm, that lovely idea with the oxymoronic definition of recurring fluctuation.

Our particular culture may be rhythm-impaired.

The American notion of work is hard to identify. From one angle it looks all workaholic with a capitalism-infused insatiable desire for more and a technological revolution that never really allows us to go home or on vacation, but from another it looks a little like laziness expecting two full days off a week and only eight hours of work the other days carefully divided by breaks and lunch hours and creative approaches to what counts as being on the clock (not to mention vacations, sick days, and other assorted flavors of leave).

So which is it? Do we work like crazy fifty weeks of the year and then take two weeks to run like crazy on vacation and never really rest? Or, do we never really get around to work?

Can it be both? I answer both because I think we lack rhythm.

The planner in me says that rhythm demands excellent time management skills, and it does, but the rhythmic life demands the creative side of the brain, too. Do not settle for a bland, routinized life. Do not settle for a rudderless, pinball life either.

Seek a life with beautiful recurring fluctuation, and then—and only then—go with the flow.

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¹ Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 14 Dec. 2015.