Inside: Do you think taking a weekly day off in our fast-paced world is a pipe dream? Think again. A day of rest could be just what you need.
In the classic movie The Shining, the main character Jack accepts a caretaker position at a haunted hotel, desperate to cure his writer’s block. Tortured by his dark past, Jack falls apart over time.
His wife realizes he’s gone mad when she discovers hundreds of typewritten pages with the same sentence:
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
First used in 1659, this proverb says that without a healthy work-life balance, a person becomes bored and boring—or in Jack’s case, something far worse.
So what happens to us when we’re always on and never off in a 24/7 society? (And will we turn into a dull person?) Part 2 of this Sabbath series will answer these questions by examining the science-backed research on maintaining a day of rest.
(Read Part 1 of this series here: 8 Surprising Benefits of the Sabbath)
Sundays Weren’t Always This Busy
In Genesis 2:1-3, God created the universe in six days and rested on the seventh. In doing so, He set limits in both time and space, establishing a rhythm for humans to work and rest. He commanded us to follow this rhythm in Exodus 20:8-10:
“Six days you shall labor and do all your work. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God” (NIV).
While Christians aren’t required to keep the Sabbath anymore, we can still learn from the wisdom of taking a day off each week.
For most of American history, Sundays were protected as a day of rest by law. Blue laws prohibited most activities, including selling and buying. In McGowan v. Maryland (1961), the Supreme Court deemed the blue laws as constitutional despite the religious origins because they promoted the “health, safety, recreation, and general well-being” of the citizens.
The justices saw the benefits of a universal day of rest for society at large. These weekly days of rest not only protected laborers and their families but also promoted societal stability.
“Now Open Sundays”
Since 1961, various states have slowly eliminated these laws—to the detriment of our society. The end of blue laws marked a decline in people’s connection to their church and purpose, particularly in places where Christian communities were once so strong.
One study showed that the elimination of blue laws has led to decreased church attendance and giving as well as substance use. Another study showed that the loss of community has been correlated to the increase in deaths of despair: addiction, overdoses, violence, and suicide.
Church services now compete with entertainment, errands, shopping, sports, and home-improvement projects. Attending church is now one of many options for Sundays, rather than the main option.
If you’re like me, you feel this tug of distractions competing for your attention on Sunday mornings.
As the lines between work, commerce, and downtime have blurred, we have gradually lost our ability to rest and gather collectively in community. The line between workdays and rest days has all but disappeared, making it more difficult for us to have a dedicated day of rest and worship in modern society.
The Attempt to Override the Day of Rest
But Americans weren’t the first to try to get rid of the Sabbath. In 1793, the French government tried a drastic experiment of replacing the 7-day week with a 10-day week. Known as the French Republican calendar, the metric-based system attempted to wipe out Christian traditions, including the Sabbath.
The workers got one day off after nine days of work.
Not surprisingly, this new calendar was highly unpopular among the laborers. The ambitious undertaking to rewrite the calendar failed miserably. People simply couldn’t defy their God-given limits to work for nine days straight.
How Many Hours a Week Should We Actually Work?
If people can’t work for nine days straight, how many days can they work? Studies show that people hit a ceiling in terms of productivity at 50 hours a week—about six 8-hour days. The most productive people work anywhere from 35 to 49 hours per week.
Not only does employee productivity drop after 50 hours a week, but it also drops drastically after 55 hours. This means that the person who works 70 hours a week produces nothing more with those additional 15 hours.
Originally initiated in 1926 by Henry Ford, the eight-hour workday is a human construct for a manufacturing context. In today’s information age, productivity is not so clear-cut. Our work is no longer neatly measured as “X number of cars manufactured.”
In his book Rest, Alex Pang argues that knowledge workers can only be engaged in highly focused, uninterrupted work for about five hours a day. Research like his has given rise to the recent calls for a compressed, more productive four-day workweek.
The Truth about Our Workweeks
About 41% of employees work 45 or more hours a week. People who work remotely put in the most unpaid overtime, landing them closer to a 50-hour workweek.
In the Bible, work doesn’t refer to a day job, however. It refers to our household, family, and ministry responsibilities as well.
Many of us go home from work to…do more work. We tackle the stack of dishes, help the kids with math homework, and scrub the tomato stain from our work shirt. You get the idea. (Where did that stain come from, anyway?)
If we include our responsibilities outside of work, most of us end up working overtime—and much more than six days a week. Our “personal” to-do lists are longer than ever. We’d put the French laborers and their 10-day workweeks to shame.
At least they got a day off after nine days.
What Happens When We Work Too Much?
This is not to say that we shouldn’t work hard in all our areas of responsibility. We glorify God when we work diligently.
He calls the person who multiplies his or her time, treasure, and talents “a good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23). Colossians 3:23 says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.”
The issue is not work, then, but overwork.
Chronic overwork puts us in a state of prolonged fight-or-flight, leading to higher production of the stress hormone cortisol and all its associated health risks.
A recent study by the World Health Organization concluded that working more than 55 hours per week is associated with a 17% higher risk of dying from heart disease and a 35% higher risk of a stroke (compared to working 35-40 hours a week).
In Japan, there even exists a term for death by overwork: karoshi. First invented in the 1970s, this term referred to the phenomenon of workers who died from heart disease, stroke—and suicide. The Japanese government registers about 200 claims for karoshi deaths per year, but activists estimate this figure to be around 10,000 deaths.
Most of us can relate to the price we pay for overwork in the short term. Working too much overtime results in worsened memory and concentration. It’s associated with poor sleep and those “mysterious” tension headaches. Not to mention weight gain from eating too many bad office donuts.
The Struggle to Disconnect from Work
In addition to working longer hours, Americans are having trouble disconnecting from work during their off hours. About 40% of all workers say they check emails outside of regular work hours every day. When it comes to remote workers, that percentage rises to 94%.
Simply being on call or available for work makes it more difficult for people to recover—even if they don’t receive any work communication. A workplace culture that encourages employees to be available 24/7 is linked to higher levels of anxiety and depression. And the inability to mentally detach from work is highly correlated with burnout, regardless of the field.
No wonder some secular workers are now calling for a “Tech Shabbat” to disconnect from technology one day a week.
God didn’t design us to be machines that are always on and plugged in. When it comes to work, more is not always better—or humanly possible.
Why Resting is Important
The good news is that we can harness the power of rest by incorporating it regularly. Studies show that mandating time off in the evenings and weekends in a corporate setting makes people more productive, not less.
Intentional rest makes us more resilient to stress and engaged at work. It improves our physical and mental health. And it makes us less likely to snap at our family when they barge in during a Zoom call with a new client.
In addition, downtime increases our creativity and problem-solving abilities. Have you ever noticed yourself coming up with new ideas while soaping up in the shower or after sleeping on a problem? Whenever we take a break, our minds keep working on the problem subconsciously.
As good as it feels to finish a task, leaving a task unfinished makes it easier to get started the next day. Ernest Hemingway famously said regarding writer’s block, “Always stop when you know what is going to happen next.”
Squeezing in more work won’t necessarily make you more productive. But taking breaks will.
Saying No to the Culture of Overwork
From creation, God has ordained a rhythm of work and rest, and we go against this ingrained pattern at our own risk. When we push the human limits of how God created us, we pay the price, whether in our well-being, relationships, or productivity.
Sometimes, the most Christ-like thing to do is not to work more, but to rest more.
In his book You’re Only Human, Kelly Kapic argues that our limits are God-given and to be embraced. He writes, “Many of us fail to understand that our limitations are a gift from God, and therefore good. This produces in us the burden of trying to be something we are not and cannot be.”
Whether we call it hustle culture, burnout culture, or toxic productivity, our culture doesn’t stop to rest—not even for God. It’s time to say no to the pressure of overwork. As the apostle Paul writes: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).
Even without mandated blue laws, we as Christians can choose to live counter-culturally and set aside one day a week for rest. In the Old Testament, the Israelites stood out in stark contrast to the pagan cultures. While the other cultures worked around the clock, the Israelites chose to stop to rest and worship their God.
Reclaiming Sabbath as a Day of Rest
Unlike the Israelites in captivity, we aren’t slaves to our work, technology, or to-do list—not unless we allow it. Keeping a Sabbath will mean living a 24/6 “mostly-on” pace that’s radically different from the 24/7 always-on pace around us.
The benefits will be well worth it. Let’s examine what a modern-day Sabbath looks like in the next post. Because if we’re all work and no play, perhaps there might be more of Jack in us than we care to admit.
Recap: 5 Reasons You Need a Day of Rest
1. History shows that we benefit from a collective day to rest and gather in community.
2. We hit limits as to how many hours we can work—no matter how hard we work.
3. Chronic overwork is killing us (slowly).
4. Disconnecting from work helps prevent burnout.
5. Individual rest improves our well-being, productivity, and creativity.
How might taking a day off each week benefit you?
For more on this topic:
Part 1: Why the Sabbath Matters So Much
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