The solution to half the world’s problems, including your own.

For most of us, living in the 21st century is like the constant torrent of a waterfall. I’m not thinking of the pleasant sounds of rushing water in the distant forest. Think swimming right beneath it. The force of a plummeting river pulling you under. All of your senses completely overwhelmed. Blinded by falling droplets and the light refracting through the spray. The deafening noise. Using all of your energy to barely stay afloat. The initial sensation of exhilaration, the rush of adrenalin gives way to but one feeling: the desperate longing for respite. 

We spend the week fighting fires, battling the chaos without – responsibilities, pressures, several balls in the air, trying to get ahead. We spend the weekend absorbed in white noise, trying to drown out the chaos within.

I admit, I’ve made it sound a little dramatic, but I’m certain that we can all relate. Rest is essential for a thriving life. But how essential? How many problems in our lives – in our world – could be remedied through rest? And I’m not talking about taking a nap. Deep Rest is about a world in search of respite and restoration, that enchanted elixir that refreshes our bones, renews our minds and releases the shackled spirit within. A nap will not do. We need regular, sacred spaces in time carved out of solid stone, unspoiled by the ugliness of obligation, the trauma of duty, or the sacrilege that is work. Just rest.  

This is a real problem that many societies and governments through history have attempted to solve. Many cultures have functioned on a 6-day working week with 1-day rest. Last century, the 5-day work week with 2-day weekend became popular in many western countries. Revolutionary France attempted a 9-day work week with a 1-day rest. Today we have trials for a 4-day work week with a 3-day weekend in parts of the world. History demonstrates there’s something missing and we are looking for a remedy to rest. We know idleness is not the answer and overwork has it’s own problems, but no amount of fine-tuning has helped us identify the magic formula. I believe that is because rest is not simply about time off. Rest must be meaningful to be effective.

Could Rest be the Remedy?

Let’s get practical. What could regular periods of rest do for your personal life? How many physical, emotion and mental stressors are caused by the constant flood of cortisol pouring through our veins. What if you actually had time to think, feel, explore, dream, love, live? 

What if regular, intentional periods of time were dedicated to your relationships? How would it transform your family? What would change in your community if rest was a priority? If our children feel secure in their families, would that change how they treat their friends? How would neighbourhood relationships be different? Would we be more patient with each other? More in control of our emotions? Less susceptible to road rage? Would we care more? 

What about work? What would Monday morning feel like in a workplace where each individual prioritises deep rest? What would happen to our productivity? What would happen to the bottom line? How will all that extra creativity and energy effect the economy?

What would happen to the environment if there were sacred spaces in time where it too could rest? If our cities went quiet every now and then, would air quality improve? Could whales do with a regular respite from the noise pollution in our harbours?

If you’re a pragmatic, business-minded individual like myself, you might be thinking, “Could all this butterfly-flapping, metaphysical Kumbaya really make a dent in the treadmill-like burnout of our society?” Keep reading. But for now, think about this. For the underprivileged, the answer is a resounding and immediate YES! For the single mother who cannot say ‘no’ to that extra shift in fear of losing her job; for the retiree whose adult children have less time to visit; for the stressed dad who is working fourteen days straight in the mines to help his family get ahead, and for his children suffering from parental neglect, the answer is ‘Yes’! 

What kind of a dent are we talking about? Yes, overworked people need physical rest. But the deep, the sacred rest we are talking about accomplishes something else. For an overworked, underpaid factory worker, this rest gives dignity. The phrase ‘working like a dog’ expresses a loss of dignity and selfworth. Being in a constant state of crisis management will cost you more than a few sleepless nights. Like a feeding parasite, it will drain your joy for life, creativity, compassion, and will leave you with little more than cynicism. Trust me, I was there. Running two businesses with a newborn left me working 16 hours a day. These lessons were learnt the hard way. 

Defining Deep Rest

Deep rest is not distraction. It is regular. It’s more than simply a repeated calendar event. It’s an “I don’t care if the boss calls…” kind of thing. Sounds attractive doesn’t it? We call it sacred because nothing can impinge upon it. It is to be adhered to religiously to the point that even your parasympathetic nervous system learns to anticipate this regular event and begins adjusting your stress hormone levels accordingly. Moreover, this is not a period void of activity. Deep rest has little to do with refraining from work. But rather, it has more to do with engaging in the types of activities that really matter. What if you had regular intentional time set aside to think about what you love, what drives you, what is meaningful to you, and about your purpose? This is a time where you can explore the things that are truly important, experience intimacy, reset your priorities, and capture a vision for why you are here. These are the things that give us explosive energy, sustained vigour, unfettered creativity, and the courage to dream. This is what Deep Rest looks like.

And no, I didn’t invent all of this from the ashes of my own restlessness. I’m not bringing you some trending theory of mindfulness. I’m addicted to doing. And I love it that I’m this way. I love seeing good things come about due to blood, sweat and teamwork. Consequently, I need something more potent than a nap in order to keep me going. I need recharging, refocusing, re-igniting, deep rest. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a fan of burnout, and these days I keep to reasonable working hours. But I would be doing you a grave disservice by not sharing the one thing – hands down – which has held my sanity and my family together and thriving through thick and thin: Shabbat.

Now, before your hypocampus recalls a flood of outdated, ritualistic imagery still fresh with the stale smell of tradition, let me tell you a story. Shabbat is not an ancient relic kept alive by fringe religious communities. It is part of an amazing story that is believed and revered by more people today than at any other time in history. This incredible story is about rest – a next-level deep rest.

Shabbat

There are many genesis stories – about how it all began. How did we get here? Some of these are embellished with vivid, poetic imagery. Others are strictly materialist and scientific. These stories impart meaning and insight about our humanity. This particular genesis story is about a god who spoke everything into existence. For six days he laboured transforming our void and formless world into a beautiful masterpiece of creative expression. From the enigmatic photon to majestic beasts, he spoke into life entire ecosystems. God was pleased with his creation. He also created Adam and Havah – the first human family. He formed them with his own hand and assigned them a place above everything that was created. On the seventh day, God rested from all the work that he had done. He set the seventh day apart and made it sacred, because in it he rested.

“So how does this story help me rest?” you might ask. Well it’s about what you believe ultimately holds everything together. If you believe that the universe exists purely by chance, random chaos given enough time, exhibiting only a semblance of predictability, than your world can destabilise in a moment or randomness – a comet headed toward earth, a nuclear war, a fracture in the space-time continuum. This story is about a god who is the architect of everything there is. His existence explains everything from the structure of atoms to the irreducible complexity of a bacterial flagellum. Can you see where I’m going with this? How can I take a day off and relax if  everything I hold dear can fall apart at any moment? I would have to suspend all logic. I might as well write all of this off as a motivational bathroom pep talk. I must admit, it’s much easier to see the order of creation when camping in a national park than when driving down the M5.

Shabbat is a statement of belief in a trans-cosmic being who creates order and holds chaos at bay. I can rest because his existence guarantees tomorrow, and ultimately, a better tomorrow. For those of you who believe in God, you know what I’m talking about. You have already experienced the feeling of knowing that you are ultimately in his hands. If you don’t believe in God, I don’t blame you. After all, doesn’t all the chaos and random suffering we see around us suggest his absence? It may be really difficult to understand those who do believe. This may feel like a fork in the road. But hey, you have come so far. I would encourage you to keep reading. At least you’ll be exposed to a new perspective and get to learn a little more about your believing friends. 

We are told that Shabbat was created for us. We benefit from it. It is like a gift of rest. God wasn’t tired when he was done creating. But the order and beauty which he created meant that we could be at rest, enjoying life in a state of harmony. Shabbat tells us that we are more than our work. Your value is not in your accomplishments. In this day and age, we define ourselves by what we do, what we accomplish. God says, “Remember Shabbat. I created you. You are my child. There’s nothing you can do to add or subtract from your intrinsic worth.” And so we are commanded to remember this fact each and every week, to stop, acknowledge and worship.

Why the Seventh?

At this point some might note, “This is great! A gift of rest sounds amazing. But does it have to be on the seventh day of the week? After all, it’s just a story. I get the point of regular rest. But Saturday is simply not convenient for me. Can’t I just do it on Monday? I need to work weekends you see.” This is reasonable, I guess. If Shabbat is for my benefit, can’t I celebrate it at a time that works best for me? This would make an interesting panel discussion. I would have to agree that most of the above benefits could be enjoyed by Shabbat-ing on any day of the week. Personally, this thought feels like a small pebble in my shoe. For some reason it reminds me of the next part in the Genesis story. God placed Adam and Havah in a garden containing the complete diversity of wildlife. The pair were to eat of any tree in the garden, but they were forbidden to eat from one tree: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This tree is a living metaphor. It represents God’s claim to defining what is good and what is evil. Biologically, the tree was just as pleasant as anything else in the garden, but it represented God’s moral authority and humanity’s submission to it. By eating of the tree, Adam and Havah were essentially saying, “God, thank you for this beautiful creation, but we’ll take it from here. We want to define what is good for ourselves.” Today, with the privilege of hindsight, we can see precisely how successful we are at defining what is good and what is evil. So by all means, all the days of the week look and feel the same and you can rest on any one of them. But most people who observe the seventh do it simply ‘because God said so’. Personally, I want the benefits, but I also want to acknowledge the benefactor. One last thing to think about: if you take Monday off because it’s convenient, do you think you will still take it when it is no longer convenient to do so? 

The Real Meaning of Shabbat

You might think, “Wait a minute? Haven’t we already talked about the meaning? You know, God rested on the seventh day?” Oh, but there’s so much more. There is another story, and this story has taken the world by storm. It burst into history at its darkest hour, overturned empires and captured our collective imagination like no other story in human history. This is a story about a god that did not forsake a world drifting into darkness, his own world which he had created. This story tells of a god that is working, right now, just as he did in the six days of creation. He is doing a work of restoration. The pain and suffering we witness around us is not our eternal destiny. He is working, and one day there will be no more pain or suffering. And on that day, we will all rest, in a restored world; an endless, eternal Shabbat. This is why Shabbat is like no other rest you could architect or engineer. Imagine, weekly resting in the knowledge that chaos does not reign, and one day it will be eliminated.

I want you to know why I believe this story. Because I have experience God restoring my own life in extravagant, undeniable ways. Like lightning flashes across the sky followed by a crack of thunder, God’s punctuated interjection in my journey revealed to me how much he cares about my life. You could disregard this as coincidence if it were not for millions and perhaps billions of people on this planet having experienced the very same thing. I cannot but believe. And so I Shabbat, every day of the week I rest in the knowing that God created, God cares, and God is in control. It restores my soul and gives me the resources to pour a tall glass of water for the next exhausted person. This is Deep Rest. And so on the seventh day I rest, celebrate, and worship. Come, sit and drink from this wellspring of rest. 

Maddy Voinea