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Stop doing so much already: thoughts on making more time for rest

Here's a sobering fact: More than half of American workers (55%) left vacation time unused in 2015. This adds up to 658 million unused vacation days.

That's a lot.

Furthermore, U.S. workers forfeited 222 million of those 658 million unused vacation days. These days cannot be rolled over, paid out, or banked for any other benefit—they are purely lost. This forgone time results in $61.4 billion in forfeited benefits annually.

In other words, collectively Americans would rather flush $61.4 billion down the toilet than take a day off.

Um--is it just me, or does this seem like a problem?

I'll be the first to confess that I'm not very good at taking time off--so I guess that makes me part of the problem. On the weekends, for instance, I still feel pressure to be productive even though I'm not on the clock. There's always a little voice in my head saying, "You could be doing something useful with your time right now..."

Likewise, quiet time is hard to come by in my life. Even if I'm not laboring under a to-do list, there's still a lot of mini-distractions and tasks vying for my attention, like the ping of an incoming text, or a comment to reply to on Instagram.

In other words, I'm rarely just resting. The idea of doing nothing makes me feel itchy under my skin. (I can't be the only one who feels this way...right?) Unless you physically transport me to a beach or mountain cabin, I'm unlikely to lounge about.

That said, recently I've been challenged to get more comfortable with rest. In addition to the touted benefits of time off (increased creativity, focus, and productivity at work), being constantly on the go is counter to the rhythm God established for us, and the way Jesus lived.

If you ever read Little House on the Prairie you may remember that they did nothing on Sundays. Nothing they went to church, food was made in advance and they would just sit quietly in their rocking chairs and contemplate. Can you imagine doing that?

Author Rick Lawrence offered a really good perspective on the subject of rest in The Jesus-Centered Life. Though it's tempting for us to simplify rest as "taking a day off" (aka observing the Sabbath), he suggests that the true spirit of the Sabbath was to invite us into a restful lifestyle. And by rest, he doesn't mean physical sleep or relaxation (though for heaven's sake I could use more of that!), but more that we can Stop Trying To Work So Hard On Being Better already. For me this usually means taking a break from my ever-present perfectionism to let Jesus remind me that he's already done enough and I need to CALM DOWN NOW (sheesh). For others, rest means breaking from the strain of trying to overcome sin and shame by the force of their own will. And for others still, resting means surrendering ill-placed responsibility they've put on their own shoulders for relationships and the choices of others.

So rest is good. We get that. But how do we do it? Well, one thing I'm trying is to free up one day on the weekend for a day off, because resting in my spirit is MUCH easier when I'm resting with my schedule. I made a list of all the things (aka chores) I typically do on the weekend, and now I'm working on fitting them into the regular week.* Let me tell you--it's a real pain to add more to the week. I resist grocery shopping on Thursday night, or scrubbing toilets Monday at 8PM (when I'd rather be vegging after a long day of work with Netflix, thank you very much). In other words, this shuffling around is a process. I repeat--it's a process. Some weeks have been easier than others. And I don't have kids at home, which admittedly makes things less challenging because I'm not balancing multiple schedules.

(*Psst--I wrote a free handbook for creating a Jesus-centered daily routine that includes a worksheet for this chore-shuffling exercise. You can get it here.)

That said, my initial report is that a slower, roomier schedule helps me (duh). There's a difference between the weeks when I rest and the ones when I don't. I'm more frazzled, and more easily frustrated without the rest. I have more anxiousness about work, more arguments at home, and greater difficulty remembering what the big picture is (or having hope that it's good). I still feel these things during the weeks I carve out more rest, but I feel them noticeably less, and they're much easier to brush off or put into perspective. Because of this, I'm going to keep playing with my schedule and shuffling things around. In the long run I believe it's worth the inconvenience.

What do you think? Could you reschedule chores and routine tasks to free up intentional rest time? Or are you already regularly resting and have some tips to share with me? Leave your comments here on or Facebook. Thanks!

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Showing 4 comments
  • Claudia

    Stephanie I loved reading this. We recently did a series at my church on this very topic and how important it is for our overall health. It’s true that we feel guilty for resting and not being “productive”. Thank you for reminding us the importance of rest and how by resting we are honoring God, we are honoring one of His commandments. We have to be intentional about our rest. Thanks for the worksheet for chore shuffling, I will definitely try it out.

  • Kate

    Because my husband is not able to work and I carry the load of supporting my family, which includes three children in college, there is no time for rest. Even during sleep there is no time for rest. I crave it day and night, but feel guilty if I take time for me. I pray that one day that guilt will disappear and I will be able to take some time to enjoy the wind blowing through the trees or the waves brushing the shore next to my favorite Lake. I don’t foresee this happening for many many years, perhaps not even during my lifetime, but it does give me something to look forward to in my next life. At that point I promise I will rest and revel in it.

    • Stephanie Hillberry

      Hi Kate–thanks for sharing your heart about where you’re at right now with rest. Your love for your family, and sacrifice for them, is such a testimony to how Jesus lived and loved others. I’m praying that in the midst of your busyness and the weight of responsibility you shoulder that you’ll feel peace in your heart.

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