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Sane Rhythms of Work and Rest

Published on October 05, 2023

This article appears in the Spring 2023 issue of the FCA Donor Publication. The FCA publication is a gift from our FCA staff to all donors giving $50 or more annually. For more information about giving, visit here.

"We are blessed with inner rhythms that tell us where we are, and where we are going. No matter, then, our fifty and sixty hour work weeks, the refusing to stop for lunch, the bypassing sleep and working deep into the darkness. If we stop, if we return to rest, our natural state reasserts itself. Our natural wisdom and balance come to our aid, and we can find our way to what is good, necessary and true.”—Wayne Muller

One of the main reasons life in and around the church is full of so much activity, so much busyness and such weighty expectations is that that is the way its leaders are living. Most of us only know one speed: full steam ahead. And we have been stuck in that speed for a very long time. If we do not establish saner rhythms in our own lives—life patterns that curb our unbridled activism and calm our compulsive busy-ness—we will not make it over the long haul and neither will the people we are leading.

Worn out by our passion
Jesus seemed to understand how quickly our passions, even the most noble, can wear us out if we’re not careful. Early in his leadership development with his disciples, he began to teach them about the importance of establishing sane rhythms of work and rest. In Mark 6, Jesus had just commissioned the disciples for ministry and had given them the authority to cast out demons, preach the Gospel and to heal the sick. They went out on their first ministry excursion and returned all excited about their new-found powers, crowding around Jesus to report in on all they had done and taught.

But Jesus didn’t have much time for their ministry reports. Immediately he instructed them “to come away with me and rest awhile.” He seemed to be much more concerned about helping them to establish rhythms that would sustain them in ministry rather than allowing them to become overly enamored by ministry successes or inordinately driven by their compulsions to do more.

Sloppy desperation
When we keep pushing forward without taking adequate time for rest and replenishment, our way of life may seem heroic but there is frenetic quality to our work that lacks true effectiveness. This is because we have lost the ability to be present to God, to be present to other people and to discern what is really needed in our situation. The result can be “sloppy desperation”: a mental and spiritual lethargy that prevents us from the quality of presence that delivers true insight and spiritual leadership.

In his book, Sabbath, Wayne Muller describes Charles, a gifted physician who illustrates the point: “I discovered in medical school that if I saw a patient when I was tired or overworked, I would order a lot of tests. I was so exhausted, I couldn’t tell exactly what was going on...so I got in the habit of ordering a battery of tests, hoping they would tell me what I was missing. But when I was rested—if I had the opportunity to get some sleep, or go for a quiet walk—when I saw the next patient, I could rely on my intuition and experience to give me a pretty accurate reading of what was happening...when I could take the time to listen and be present with them and their illness, I was almost always right.”

What happens when we are rested
When we are depleted, we become overly reliant on voices outside of ourselves to tell us what is going on. We react to symptoms rather than seeking to understand and respond to underlying causes. When we are rested, we bring steady, alert attention that is characterized by right discernment about what is truly needed in our situation, and we have the energy and creativity to carry it out!

As disciples, we are called to consider our need for rest, replenishment and healing AND do something about it. This will introduce, or perhaps re-introduce, us to the promises of God. Take a moment to consider how you are living your life—are you perpetually exhausted or are you in sacred rhythms of work and rest? Find space to ask God what you can do to mend your life by seeking rest for your mind, body and soul.

DjtjymKTRuth Haley Barton is founder and Chief Essence Officer of the Transforming Center, a ministry dedicated to strengthening the souls of pastors and leaders and the congregations and organizations they serve. For the past twenty plus years she has developed and leads the two year Transforming Community experience—a practice-based spiritual formation journey for leaders offered in nine quarterly retreats. Ruth is the author of numerous books and resources on the spiritual life including Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry, Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation, Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups and most recently, Embracing Rhythms of Work and Rest: From Sabbath to Sabbatical and Back Again. She is the host of the Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership podcast where, in conversation with other leaders, she regularly explores how we can forge a stronger connection between our souls and our leadership.