On Finding a Healthy Rhythm of Work and Rest

Last week, I was pleased to spend a few days at the beautiful Barnabas Family Ministries retreat centre on Keats Island. I loved the warm hospitality and accommodations in the Carriage House (on the left below), and the excellent farm-fresh meals served in the Lamplighter Cottage (on the right).

Barnabas Family Ministries

It was the perfect setting to be on retreat with Mennonite Foundation–now called Abundance Canada— for me to lead three sessions on a healthy rhythm of work and rest. In between, while they had their own additional policy and training sessions, I was free to explore, write, and regain some rhythm of my own too.

Session #1
Work and Rest: precarious balance or healthy rhythm?

In our first session, I introduced the theme of healthy work and rest:

Matthew 11:28-30 – Jesus’ words embrace both work (take my yoke upon you) and rest (come to me and I will give you rest).

Romans 12:1 (NRSV) – urges us to offer all of our lives to God, both our rest and our work:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

The Message puts the same verse this way:

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: “Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.

In my remarks, I noted that many Canadians do not take all of the rest/vacation that they are entitled to take (Nay-cation? Why Canadians are leaving vacation days on the table), and I quoted a portion of an address on The Power of the Pause by Maria Shriver; we didn’t take the time to watch it together, but here it is:

Session #2
God’s Gift of Work and Rest

In our second session, we spent time with Genesis 1:1-2:4, and discovered:

  • God engages in both work and rest. This was illustrated in a responsive reading of the text, with one voice reading the parts where God is creating and another voice reading the pauses between the days and at the end of the week.
  • Work and rest are gifts from God.
  • Work is not something to endure between weekends, it’s not a punishment, although maybe we sometimes think of it that way or organize it that way. Work plays a key role before the fall. Work can be fun and enjoyable.
  • Work is creative and life-affirming. “Even when I was standing in sewage cleaning up after the disaster in New Orleans, I felt good about it,” said one. Although the work itself was not pleasant, he remembers thinking “there’s nowhere else I would rather be.” It was work that he had chosen and that was making a difference.
  • Work is purposeful. It can be organized, there’s a progression, it has an impact beyond the immediate effects. Things continue to happen even while God rests.
  • Work is measurable – there is a visible difference and impact. Work results in good things.
  • As God’s image-bearers, we represent God, reflect God’s image in our rhythm of work and rest. There is a limit to work – God paused, God completed the work.
  • Rest is the evidence of having worked, a reward for work, maybe more rewarding after work.
  • God is intentional about stepping back and seeing the good. At other times in Scripture, God steps back and sees the good (words of blessing) and not-so-good (words of judgement).
  • Rest means savouring the moment – recognizing the good, giving thanks, celebrating, feasting. Rest is not necessarily sitting still – it’s a different kind of activity: anticipating, forward-looking.

Other Scripture texts:

Exodus 20:8-11 Sabbath as part of the ten commandments.

Exodus 23:12 work and rest are both important, Sabbath is for refreshment.

Exodus 31:14, 35:2 Sabbath is vital to the community’s life and identity.

To those losing sight of the meaning of Sabbath, Isaiah 58:13-14 is a reminder that Sabbath is a delight.

To those refusing to work because they expected Christ’s return, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 is a reminder of the value and importance of work.

Sabbath practices/pauses shared from my own experience as well as:

24/6: A Prescription for a Healthier, Happier Life by Matthew Sleeth  (Tyndale House, 2012).

Sabbath in the Suburbs by MaryAnn McKibben Dana (Chalice Press, 2012).

Session #3
Jesus’ Rhythm of Work and Rest

Lectio Divina: Mark 6:30-46 followed by sharing and discussion.

Case study: “Jesus Interrupted” (Mark 5:21-43).

Other recommended resources:

Sabbath as resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now by Walter Brueggemann (Westminster John Knox, 2014).

The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath by Mark Buchanan (Thomas Nelson, 2007).

In these sessions, we also compiled a list of what contributes to a healthy rhythm of work and rest for us:

  • getting enough sleep
  • having time to cook healthy food at a leisurely pace with music playing
  • recognizing my boundaries/thresholds
  • reflecting on what is healthy, what is quality refreshment instead of mindless tv or mindless anything else
  • having a good routine, control of my schedule so I escape the tyranny of the urgent
  • not focusing only on “self-” care but having a rhythm that works for me, my spouse, and family
  • finding “rest” in my work – creativity, flow, being energized by work
  • blocking time off and choosing what to do with it
  • deliberately keeping a weekend open so my schedule is not packed too full
  • rest begets rest – getting off the treadmill – taking regular time for rest encourages me to take time for rest
  • being prayerful, having a sense of gratitude, worship
  • deliberate intentionality – e.g. turning off the phone, unplugging from social media for a time
  • having good support from others both at work and home – it’s easier to have a healthy rhythm when in community with others

Writing/Reflection Prompt: What contributes to a healthy rhythm of work and rest for you?


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8 thoughts on “On Finding a Healthy Rhythm of Work and Rest

    1. Hi Judy – we also talked about barriers to having a healthy rhythm, and the first item on the list was “everything”! Our own internal wiring of wanting to enjoy and do it all, the responsibilities of life, expectations of others, and “everything” can take away from a healthy rhythm. For me, one of the key ideas from the Genesis text and our discussion is the relational/community aspect–I hear a lot of talk these days about “self-care” but a healthy rhythm of work and rest is not only about the individual. We also need to be asking what is a healthy rhythm as a community–for family, for the work place, for schools, for all of us.

  1. Thank you for sending me digging through my quote book. There is a third idea beyond work and rest, which you point out in your book, “Sacred Pauses:” having fun. Here are two of the quotes that have spoken loudly to me about the importance of fun and play in a balanced life:

    We have to let “go of exhaustion as a status-symbol and productivity as self-worth.” – Brené Brown, “The Gifts of Imperfection”

    The opposite of play is not work—the opposite of play is depression. – Stuart Brown, “Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul”

    Yes, we are “wired” for work and productivity, but at the expense of our ability to be truly creative and engaged. In my experience, these appear only when there are opportunities not only for work and rest, but for play.

    1. Thanks, Kathleen, I love your quotes! In my draft for the retreat, I actually had “Jesus at work, rest, and play”! When I think about leisurely cooking a meal in the list above, for me that would be a kind of play, somewhere between work and rest. Sometimes writing is a kind of play for me, for other people it might be playing piano or going ice skating, or sitting down to a board game. On this retreat, I think we tended to put play in the rest category, but it’s helpful to think about it more specifically as you point out. Thanks for your comments!

    1. Thank you for your kind words–the retreat was a wonderful experience for me too. And I’m glad you like the Maria Shriver speech, which I think speaks so well to graduates and to all of us.

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