How to rest (do you need to learn?)

Rest like an All Black: take a sabbatical

Richie McCaw, the All Black captain some call the best rugby player ever, has a plan for winning the next World Cup. It has included a long holiday from rugby.

What a wise and counter-cultural choice. In a society that is not only getting busier, but feeling prouder of the acceleration, the relentlessness of our activity, rest is a four letter word.

(Well, yes, it’s a four letter word no matter how busy or relaxed a culture is, but you know what I mean.)

English: Richie McCaw, New Zealand rugby union...

Richie McCaw, New Zealand rugby union player, in London. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But Richie McCaw is taking a longer view. Here’s an excerpt of the Guardian article that came out a couple of years ago, as he was preparing for his sabbatical:

McCaw’s preparations, yet again, will end with some solitary moments as he reaches for his notebook and a trusty old Warwick 2B4 pencil with which he writes down some familiar instructions to himself. They always begin with the words “Start again” and end with the letters G.A.B. – in reminder to McCaw that, ever since he was a boy, he has aspired to be a Great All Black.

That desire will not disappear during his sabbatical. His chosen break is, instead, meant to replenish his ambition so that he might become the first captain in history to lift the World Cup a second time, when he hopes to lead the All Blacks in the 2015 tournament. “I’d love that but there are no guarantees,” McCaw says. “Before then I want to spend December and January at home and then I’ve given myself three months to travel. I’ve never been to America and so I’ll definitely be spending time in New York and doing some gliding in Nevada.”

McCaw breaks into a helpless smile at that thought. But the same old fiery zeal soon returns. “I probably won’t be able to help myself checking on scores from games back home. And the exciting thing is that I believe I’ll come back even stronger and become a still better player. Who knows if that’s possible? But I feel like I’m giving myself the best chance to make that happen.”

Our family life has included several sabbatical-like periods, where we’ve travelled without doing paid work, spent a season with family overseas, reconnecting with old friends and visiting new and old places. We’ve tried to make the most of this time in life, with small, portable children, and flexible work.

[If this appeals, check out Lucy’s brand new post on her family’s trip around Europe in a campervan!]

The next season will be pretty different, and that’s ok, too.

Do you have experience of any kind of sabbatical? Was it a good thing for you? I’d love to hear in the comments at the bottom of the post.

Rest like Israel: Keep the/a Sabbath

Moving from sabbatical – something you need quite a commitment and/or the practical resources to attempt – to the sabbath, which has been part of Jewish and Christian heritage since Moses came down the mountain.

The marvellous Canadian theologian Marva Dawn wrote Keeping the Sabbath Wholly to inspire us busy folks to approach time differently. It’s worth a look (you can click on the book cover at Amazon and check out the contents pages and other extracts).

The subtitle gives her fourfold framework, the things that make up the perfect Sabbath (whatever day of the week you do it on): Ceasing, Resting, Embracing, Feasting. Better than an old-style sit-quietly-reading-the-Bible-all-day Sabbath, yes?

Dawn has chapters not just on ceasing work, but also ceasing anxiety, ceasing possessiveness, ceasing trying to be God.

Physical rest gets a chapter, but so do spiritual rest, emotional rest and ‘aids to rest.’ And how about feasting not just with food, but with beauty, with music, with the eternal?

Israel’s sabbath-keeping wasn’t just about a sensible regime of rest and recreation, but about remembering who they were. God had brought them to freedom from slavery, and a day of rest was a weekly reminder that they were no longer drudges under the lash, but the cherished people of God.

Check out this clip from the (fascinating!) Shalom Sesame, on what a modern Sabbath day is like for an observant Israeli family. I was really struck by a couple of points in it – what do you think?

If you have kids, can you see extra benefit in keeping a Sabbath?

Some forms of sabbath-keeping, like the more recent Buy Nothing Day, are a way to step outside cultural constraints and find freedom. Whether we are driven by consumer pressures, Pinterest beautiful-home jealousy, lingering perfectionism or the natural desire to provide the best possible environment and stimulation for our kids, how about we just… stop. Every week.

Do you guys observe a sabbath? In any form? Tell us in the comments at the bottom what you and your household do to unplug, and how good or hard it is.

To rest is to re-create

Let’s talk about recreation, or even better: re-creation. Allowing yourself to be created anew. What re-creates you?

Are you replenished and re-energised by:

  • a walk/run/ride somewhere picturesque
  • hanging out with a good friend
  • cooking
  • some kind of craft or creative activity
  • sleep
  • music
  • being outdoors
  • meditation
  • sport
  • reading
  • gardening
  • something else?

Now, there are two obvious ones I’ve left off that list – which of course wasn’t meant to be exhaustive. But watching television – the top leisure pursuit in most countries that measure it – and shopping aren’t there.

Feel free to push back on this, but I reckon that even if you enjoy them a lot, they are not sufficient for almost anybody to be re-created.

How to rest: take a five-minute rest, right now

If rest is something you’re in serious need of, try this. Look at this painting for a few minutes. Imagine yourself in it. Relax your shoulders, maybe even close your eyes, and try being as loose and warm and content as the resters in this painting.

If they resonate with you, you could also repeat or contemplate these words of Jesus, from Eugene Peterson’s translation of the Bible:

Matthew 11:28-30

28-30 “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.”


Noon rest from work (after Millet), Vincent van Gogh, photo credit: Wikipedia.


Do you need to learn to rest?

Is this something you’re good at?

In my circles, I’m conscious of two groups of people who have trouble with resting appropriately: pastors and parents.

Pastors, because – like many others – they work a job they’re very committed to, that doesn’t have clear time boundaries, and they often have no systems in place to put a lid on the number of hours they work. Parents, because children don’t require care only between the hours of 9am and 5pm, five days a week.

If you fall into one of these categories, and you don’t rest enough, here are my best tips for you if you are interested in changing how your life works.

Do you actually want to rest more?

Before we get to the tips, let’s just unpack that last bit. Needing more rest and wanting it are very different things, I reckon.

I am always tired. Tiiiiiiired. I don’t get enough sleep. Partly this is because I have two small children, but partly it’s because I have the internet.

My kids sleep 10 or 11 hours at night – not unbroken, in the case of the baby – but still a big long stretch, and more than I need. If I wanted to, I could get enough sleep, though it would still be broken.

If I wanted to?! Of course I want to get enough sleep!

But actually, my behaviour demonstrates that I don’t want to get enough sleep – or I want to do other things more, just now.

When my kids go to sleep, however tired I am, I also  really want to spend some time being conscious and free from parenting interactions.

I want to blog, I want to read most of the internet, I want to watch The Americans, I want to learn Thai on YouTube while I do pilates, I want to do the flipping laundry without interruption. (Though I’d like it even better if someone else did the laundry, with or without interruption.)

Parents are usually short on discretionary time – after work, childcare and household jobs are done – and it can be hard to choose to use it on things like exercise and rest, when we have FOMO about so many other fun things.

People working too many hours at their outside-the-home work might similarly be getting some kind of emotional pay-off from their overworking. Are you avoiding being home? Are you a perfectionist? Are you trying to prove something to your colleagues or someone else? These are hard questions to face squarely, but there’s no point rearranging your schedule to get more re-creation time if the problem isn’t the schedule but your inner drivers. This could be a good time to book a psychotherapy appointment and figure out some of what’s going on.

If that last paragraph resonates with you, this post might be helpful as a starting point.


How to rest: for people overworking at their jobs

Here’s my four-step plan for getting more rest (if you actually want to).

1. Collect data

For two weeks, keep track of the hours you work, and what you’re doing in that time. It can be as detailed or brief as you like, but note down at least once a day what work you’ve done in the last 24 hours.

For example:

7am-8am Caught up on email over breakfast
9am-1pm At the office
1pm-2pm Lunch with boss
2pm-6pm At the office
7.30-9pm Meeting

As a side note, the person with the day outlined above probably thinks they work a normal, 9-5, 40ish-hour week. But add an hour of email at home, an evening meeting (common in church and school circles) and a working lunch, and this workday is 11.5 hours long.

At the end of two weeks, add up the hours, and take a good look at how you’re spending your time. Show the figures to a friend or partner and talk about what you see.

2. Discuss possible changes with people who have authority and influence over your time

Schedule a meeting with your boss, mentor, supervisor or friend (depending on your employment situation) to discuss your hours and how to better manage your time so you can get enough rest.

Some key things to discuss at this meeting:

  • Do you have a meaningful job description and does it match how you spend your time?
  • Are there parts of your job description that need to be delegated or deleted?
  • Can you or your colleagues make any improvements to systems to save yourself some time? Are there meetings that don’t need to happen so often, or processes that could be streamlined?
  • Are there any internal anxieties or dysfunctions that are driving your overworking (as distinct from external work pressures)? Are you worried about job security? Are you a perfectionist? Are you working more to avoid being at home? (This might be better discussed with someone outside work, depending on your situation.)

3. Set some specific goals

Set a rest and re-creation goal. How many hours or slots a week will you spend on things that replenish you? How many hours or days will you work? Will you have a set day or two that you will generally not work on?

Be as specific as is reasonable. Try to schedule more rest (eg, Tuesday nights), not just have theoretical goals (once a week).

4. Be accountable to someone for meeting your new goals

Create a self-care checklist (include your rest and work time goals in it) and report on it to your supervisor, mentor, friend or partner each month.

How to rest: for caregivers

If you have dependent children or others in your household you provide care for, it can be very difficult to rest well. To some extent, we’re all just riding it out and surviving the most intense season of caregiving, but even in the middle of the madness, there are probably a few things you can try to get more rest, if it’s something you actually want to do.

So if you need more rest, and want to prioritise it your choices are to a) carve out some more discretionary time in which to rest or b) choose to rest instead of choosing other activities in at least some of your downtime.

If you would like to spend it on a bit more rest, here are some ideas:

1. Pick the most valuable, most replenishing activities

Decide on one, two or three things that re-create you (sleep can be one!), that you are not currently getting enough of. Your list might be: sleep, hockey, and time with a key friend or partner.

2. See which ones you can combine with family life

This confronting post from an unschooling mother, Pam Laricchia, on seeing your life as one whole, rather than your parenting and ‘me time’ as separate, could be helpful:

That was a big shift for me, realizing I didn’t need to be away from my children to be a whole person, to fully be myself. I started looking for things that brought that person out and nurtured her, while being with my children. For me, sometimes it was puzzle games with the kids. Or reading a magazine nearby as they played or watched TV. Or reaching for an almost meditative state during repetitive activities like pushing a swing, or separating Lego pieces. A candle lit in the kitchen while I tidied or prepared some food. A light nap as they were engrossed in a movie. A walk around the block giving us all new things to look at, including me checking out the neighbours’ front gardens for ideas. A quiet coffee and a book for a half-hour before the kids woke up. The whole me is always there.

What do you like to do? What refreshes you?

[Read more at Living Joyfully.]

3. Carve out extra time for solitary or non-kid pursuits

Create some more discretionary time by either purchasing it (hire a babysitter), asking for it (can your partner, friend or family member give you an extra afternoon or evening off each week or fortnight?) or bartering for it (you have your friend’s kids on Wednesdays and she has yours on Fridays).

Remember that mostly, when you say ‘yes’ to one thing, you say ‘no’ to another. You may need to stop doing something that’s in your current timetable in order to make more space for rest and re-creation.

More on that here.

4. Make a specific plan and enlist support to make it happen.

Talk with a friend or partner about one or two slots in your week that you are now going to devote to something that re-creates you.

Make sure the people who have influence over how you spend your time are on board – like your partner or other people who look after your children regularly, and your kids if they are old enough to be involved.

Write down specific rest and re-creation goals. If you’re right in the thick of intensive child-raising, some of these will be small slots. Anything is an improvement!

Some examples:

  • On Tuesday nights I’m going to go to bed at 8pm and read instead of doing housework.
  • I’m joining a choir/volleyball team/walking group/painting class.
  • On Saturday mornings my partner will take the kids to a playground and the supermarket and I’ll sleep in.
  • The kids and I are going to learn ukulele together and sing our favourite songs.
  • Whenever we go to the playground I’ll take my knitting.
  • Now that the kids are old enough, whenever I have a shower, they will give me privacy and some alone time, and I will lock the door.
  • We’ll go for family walks somewhere new and interesting once a month.

I’m very keen to know what you think.

Do you get enough rest at the moment? Do you want more? How do you make it happen? Is any of this helpful? Let me know!

I tell you, I’m everywhere these days. Follow me on Facebook for daily links, resources and Sacraparentalish tidbits, on Pinterest for lots of lovely links and on Twitter for ranting.

You might also like these other posts:

Four things I don’t have time for (like ironing)
Making parenting easier: the water’s lovely (all about the headspace)
The self-care report (particularly good for pastors)

Do you need to learn how to rest? A guide to why and how |

Do you want to use one of these shiny sharing buttons?

4 comments on “How to rest (do you need to learn?)”

  1. Heather Reply

    Hi,Anna S’s friend Heather here.  Thanks for writing this!  Rest is super-important and far too little valued in our society…

    In terms of caring for yourself when you’re a caregiver, this article I wrote a while back might be of some help to people who’re caring for adults rather than small children.  It’s about how Martin and I make sure he doesn’t get burnt our caring for me (as I’ve mentioned before, I’m largely bed-bound so take a fair bit of looking after!) and was originally written for the quarterly magazine of ANZMES, the national support society for people with ME/CFS.

    Anyway – I must go as I’m supposed to be resting (i.e. lying with my eyes closed, not typing) right now!

    • thaliakr Reply

      Thanks so much, Heather. As always, I appreciate your thoughtful and informative comment, and also the effort it takes to make it.

      Thanks for the resources!

  2. Boganette Reply

    Perfect timing reading this! Point four in particular will be a big help for me – I never thought of making rest goals. It’s such a good idea! Great post x

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge