The Benefits of Relaxation: Why You Need to Add a Day of Rest to Your Schedule
One Unscheduled Sunday
"Will you play a game of Monopoly with me? Every one else is really busy."
It was a rainy Sunday afternoon, and my son Joe was standing at the door of my home office looking less than hopeful. Even a 10-year-old knows better than to approach a place of work expecting to find a playmate. But his older brothers were doing homework and his dad, almost always good for a game of chess, was grading papers.
So I was Joe's best bet for entertainment, never mind the fact that I was sitting in front of a computer myself. The only problem? There were 14 work e-mails in my inbox, I had a deadline the next day and all the school uniforms were dirty. Also, there was no bread in the house.
I looked at Joe with real regret. "Sweetie, I have way too much to do today," I said.
"But it's the weekend. Can't you do your work tomorrow, when I'm at school?" he said. "Please?"
Maybe it was that forlorn little "please," uttered with hope but absolutely no confidence, that got me. Maybe I was just tired and looking for an excuse to be completely unproductive. Either way, I changed my mind. "Okay, I'm in," I said. "You roll first."
Later, after Joe was in bed, I caught myself humming as I rummaged through the foot-high stack of unsorted papers on my kitchen counter. I should have been annoyed, even frantic; it was 10 and I still hadn't found the fourth-grade permission slip that was due the next day, much less washed the dirty uniforms or made it to the grocery store. But I wasn't annoyed. I wasn't overwhelmed. I was actually happy.
While I was looking through those papers I uncovered a church flyer for a lecture called "Sabbath Rest and Delight." The picture on it showed a woman leaning on her elbows in a field of grass and wildflowers, her head thrown back, her eyes closed, her mouth parted in a dreamy smile. The picture didn't do much for me. (When I see someone lying in the grass, I don't think, "Ah, happiness." I think, "Whoa, chiggers.") But the words rest and delight struck a chord: Until that afternoon I couldn't remember the last time I'd experienced a real Sabbath, a day set aside for rest. Apart from church -- and, let's face it, getting an entire family dressed and mobilized is no picnic in a blooming meadow -- Sunday at my house is a day for laundry, school projects, grocery-shopping, and getting a head start on the week's work. Not exactly rest, much less delight.
And it's not just me. For most of us these days, it's a 24/7 world, where the stresses of the work week invariably bleed into the weekend. As journalist Steve Bailey noted last September in The New York Times, even vacation homes are wired for telecommuting. "Is there anything sadder," he asked, "than someone working on a laptop at the beach or at a picnic table?"
And even when we don't spend vacations and weekends getting ahead at a paying job, we're spending our "off" time ferrying kids to soccer games and birthday parties, running errands, or tending to the other myriad tasks required of a spouse, a parent, a daughter, a neighbor, a citizen, a friend. None of these activities are bad, of course, but we forget that good and meaningful activities can wear a person down as insistently as work does. "In the relentless busyness of modern life, we have lost the rhythm between action and rest," points out Wayne Muller, author of Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives. "The more our life speeds up, the more we feel weary, overwhelmed, and lost....The whole experience of being alive begins to melt into one enormous obligation."