Why is it so difficult to take time off in our day and age? While there are exceptions, it seems that many people in the Western World find it difficult to consistently take a sabbath. Now I know some will immediately say that the sabbath was for the Jewish people and we no longer have to follow all those Old Testament regulations. But I am not talking about taking every Saturday off as the Torah describes, rather, I am using the word “sabbath” to denote the very real and binding principle going all the way back to creation where mankind was commanded to rest one day in seven. Of course, this was reiterated in the fourth commandment and also by Jesus in Luke 6:1-5.
On a Sabbath, while he was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked and ate some heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands. 2 But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?” 3 And Jesus answered them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: 4 how he entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those with him?” 5 And he said to them, “The Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath.”
Notice what Jesus does not do and say. He does not say that the sabbath is no longer binding in any way because He is present. Rather, He seems to indicate that the sabbath observances were always supposed to point to the one who gave them, “the Lord of the sabbath.” This would indicate that the sabbath is still a good thing. More to the point, Jesus never, either in this passage or any other, repudiates the creation principle of resting one day in seven. But, of course, we quickly recognize that Christians struggle just as much as anyone in this regard and often completely ignore this principle from Scripture. But before getting to the spiritual aspects of this problem, what are the pragmatic, cultural elements that make it so difficult to take off the proper amount of time? There are at least four cultural reasons that many of us find it difficult to take the proper amount of time off from our jobs:
- Jobs are insecure. We feel we must work harder to keep our job security. In the Western World especially, there is so much competition that many will change jobs multiple times and sometimes even change career paths multiple times in their working lives. The days of my grandfather working the same job for over forty years and then retiring are long gone.
- There is an expectation that the more money you make the more hours you must put in. If you make more money than someone else, the odds are you are expected to work more hours than that person. As our work-load increases, our amount of rest decreases. This reality is seen in a recent study which found that we sleep 1-2 hours less, on average, than people did sixty years ago.
- We can work from anywhere because of technology, and so we work everywhere. We all know the pull of checking work emails when we are supposed to be relaxing. Most employees feel compelled to keep their phones on at all times and constantly check their emails – even on their days off. While some of this is self-induced, some of this pressure can also come from the employer.
- Perhaps most significantly, we have linked our identity and meaning with our work. We encourage young people to decide what they want to be and then we judge their entire lives on whether they accomplish that one goal. This cultural emphasis can be easily seen when we are introduced to a new person. After finding out their name, one of the next questions will almost always be: “What do you do?” Of course, what we mean is “What do you get paid to do?” Why do we feel the need to ask this question? Because we tie a person’s identity and value to their jobs. We do this with others and we do it with ourselves. This is why we might realize we need more rest but are completely unable to get more rest. We have so linked our meaning and self-worth with our job performance that we cannot shut off our phones, emails, or our minds long enough to get sufficient rest.
For these reasons, among many others, the full physical rest we require alludes us. Probably everyone has experienced those nights where they are physically tired but cannot get to sleep because their mind is churning far too fast. What we need it not simply more physical rest, but deep spiritual rest. Often, only if we can find spiritual rest will the physical rest follow.
If this is the problem and these are some of the contributing factors, what is the solution? That will be the subject of the next blog post. Stay tuned.
 It should be noted that the Jewish people were required to take off more than the 52 Saturdays that occurred each year. They also had feast days and celebrations as well as being a more agricultural nation in which there was much more ebb and flow to the seasons of work.
 For further considerations, see the book RESET, by David Murray. Kindle edition: Loc 707.