Do you know there are 168 hours in a week? Now, does it actually feel like that? If you answered no, you're not the only one. I am currently taking 16 credits at NOVA, and 2 extra with a Tuesday night theology class. I also prepare for and lead two to three groups a week. When I'm not doing schoolwork, I'm doing more schoolwork. I'm writing this after an eight hours at NOVA, with more schoolwork to do after this. When do we get to slow down? I often joke that I'll sleep when I'm dead, and sometimes, I think there might be more truth to that than I'd like. There is always something to be done, always something we could be doing with our time, why in the world should a leader stop?
Back in Genesis, we read that God creates the world in 6 days. That's a lot more work in 6 days than I have done in six years, but since He's God, we understand that there was no actual effort in doing any of it. Now we read in Genesis 2:1-3 that God decides after six days of work, to stop. The actual verb in the Hebrew we use for rest is, shabath, which means "to cease"(Strong's). This idea of ceasing is not that God stopped doing things, but rather he stopped doing that work, and turned to something else. The idea is that we work for six days, and on the seventh, do something different. God seemed to think it was important for Himself to rest.
In the book of Exodus, the fourth commandment given in the famous ten commandments passage, was to obey the Sabbath (Exo 20:8-11). The Sabbath was of such importance to the Jewish people that some of them began setting up some extreme rules for what one couldn't do on the Sabbath. One couldn't even carry a mattress on the Sabbath, because it was considered too much work (John 5:10). This idea carried on into Christian history, notably with the puritans, some of whom wouldn't even shave on the Sabbath (Shulevitz).
Taking time to rest is not just a Christian idea, but seen by many as beneficial. Judith Shulevitz, a Jewish writer for the New York Times, explained in her article "Bring Back The Sabbath" that the very notion of a day of rest is foundational to America society (Shulevitz). Even non-religious leaders recognize the importance of taking a break. Stefan Sagmeister, a designer in New York, spoke at a TED conference about how taking a year long break every seven years positively changed the efficiency and passion with which he did business.
Now, one might ask, "Sure Colin, rest is important, but this is a leadership blog. Why emphasis this for a leader?" I'm glad you asked. Leaders especially need to be reminded to rest, or to take a Sabbath, because of the standards we tend to set for ourselves. Gordon MacDonald lists some of the myths that leaders begin to believe about this aspect of leadership, including: "A leader must be constantly available for all emergencies" or, "rest, recreation and leisure are second-class uses of time" (MacDonald, 86-87). I have found myself feeling ashamed for not working or not always being available, and I don't think I'm the only one.
Yet, leaders see a rather different example from Jesus. Though Jesus constantly had crowds to heal, disciples to teach, and religious people to silence, he still found time to get alone. (John 6:15, Luke 9:18, Luke 5:16) If Jesus Christ, religious and non-religious leaders, Jews, Christians and God Himself all took time to rest. How much more so, should an average leader? I may be taking 18 credits this semester, and by now, I should have had copious amounts of mental or emotional breakdowns. However, this idea of a Sabbath helps to stop that. At 11:59pm Saturday night, all my weekly activities stop. I do no homework, reading, or even check my email all of Sunday. To be honest, it's a challenge not to do any work, stressful to try to get stuff down before or after Sunday, and so much more wonderful than I can explain. Sunday is when I get recharged and refocused for the week. It is where I meet Jesus in beautiful rest. The sabbath is the foundation of a healthy leader. Twenty-four hours that set the standard for the other 144.
Strong's "Sabbath" Strong's Hebrew Lexicon, 1890. Web.
Shulevitz, Judith. "Bring Back the Sabbath", New York Times. Mar. 03, 2003. Web. Feb. 20, 2013.
MacDonald, Gordon. Building Below The Waterline. Peabody, Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, 2011. Print.