Before we get started, note that I am not a psychologist but wanted to share an encouraging message that challenged me in my mental health recently.
A busy life is the typical life
It's no secret that rest is important for health. We know that good mental health, stress management and high quality sleep aid digestion, immune function and inflammation. However, we also live in a world that demands busy lives and it feels nearly impossible to catch a breathe. We're over committed and exhausted. But why?
When you think of rest you may think of a peaceful sloth nap or a getaway holiday. However, I have definitely experienced unrestful naps or holidays where I dream of work or feel just as anxious being away from work as when I am doing it. I'd argue that rest is less of an activity but rather a deep feeling of being fully satisfied.
When I think of unrest, I think of a never ending to-do list where everything seems urgent. Its late nights at work or a schedule with no flexibility for down time. Sometimes I look at my schedule, my week booked from 6:30am to 11:00pm 7 days a week with tasks that all seem absolutely essential.
But what about those days off that feel just as exhausting as work days. The ones where you are bouncing from coffee with friends to training to a family event to something else that requires you to put on face and make pleasant conversation. Somehow you've still managed to say 'yes' to more than you'd like.
Warning...about to get deep
I listened to a podcast recently by Timothy Keller that defined 'unrest' as the need to prove ourselves. Prove ourselves worthy for that promotion, worthy to be loved by your friends and/or spouse. Prove to yourself that you are a 'good' person. Prove that you are intelligent, desirable, strong... the list is honestly endless!
Who's your boss?
Here in Australia we consider ourselves a 'free' nation, free to make our own choices and do what we want. However, I would argue that slavery can take multiple forms. We may be free from physical slavery, however, emotionally and spiritually we are all slaves to something.
Your boss at work might not control you but the desire to prove to your boss that you are intelligent and have what it takes to move up to the next level is dictating your choice to stay back an extra hour or take on a new stressful assignment. Your partner might not control you but the need to be desired and respected by them has already dictated your decision to buy an extra Christmas present that you can't afford or not speak honestly about something you disagree with.
Its as if the need to be valued and special by those we value is enslaving us. Where the choice to say 'yes' or 'no' doesn't feel like a choice at all.
Recognising the desires that drive your decisions is an important step in finding rest.
When choices are often an automated response based on a deep need to prove ourselves, boundaries are a helpful reminder and permission to say no sometimes. Protect time during your day/week for things that you know are important to your mental and physical health. Make time for getting outside and exercising, letting your thoughts run wild, bubble baths or getting out with friends.
Boundaries and saying 'no' also gives weight to your 'yes'. Sticking to your boundaries means that when you do say 'yes', you can be trusted to give that task 100%.
Addressing the deeper issue
Although setting and sticking to boundaries are a great first step in prioritising rest, they don't address the underlying need to prove ourselves worthy.
We are made to be loved and valued. However, in this crazy world it feels like we are constantly having to prove that value and earn that love or respect that is so essential to our being.
Imagine if you didn't have to earn anything - that you were automatically desired, valued and respected regardless of any of your failures or shortcomings in the past or future. Without having anything to prove we would be free to live a life that we choose without caring about the judgement of others. We would be free of the unrelenting need to prove our worth at work, at home and to ourselves.
Well I do believe that we are loved and valued. Loved and valued by a creator who understands that we aren't perfect and never will be but loves us anyway. There is something comforting about not having to put on a face or stand up tall but knowing that you are valuable to him regardless of your achievements or mistakes. It's empowering venturing out in life, exploring new skills, knowledge and relationships without fear of failure or embarrassment.
There's 2 possibilities:
1) There is a God - a creator who values you completely as you are. You have freedom from the pressure to live up to anyones standards.
2) You formed from a random explosion and will compete for survival. You can structure in 'rest' days but there will forever be an underlying anxiety questioning your worth.
If your convinced of option 2, at least structure in some boundaries.
If you'd like more information on the podcast referenced by Timothy Keller, you'll find it by following this link: Work and Rest.