If You Don’t Rest, You Won’t Last
I worked on a hospital ship for five years… hospital and ship. That’s a combination of two industries that operate on constant 24-hour schedules. Watch-keeping and navigating. Emergency response and patient care. Security rounds and generator maintenance. Intensive care and vital signs. Work never stops in a hospital nor on a ship. So how do we rest in such an environment?
One Friday morning, I was worn out from work. I had already labored more than 40 hours just between Monday-Thursday, and my Saturday and Sunday were already scheduled out with work duties. I needed a break and I knew Friday afternoon was my only option.
After lunch, I put on my swim shorts, grabbed my towel, sunglasses, and Bible, and headed up to the pool deck for a relaxing afternoon of swimming and reading in the sun. Between my cabin and the pool deck, I passed housekeepers mopping, supply personnel carrying boxes, nurses escorting patients to their physical therapy appointments, deck hands unloading containers…
I felt so guilty! How could I be going for a swim when everyone all around me was working!?
In that moment, I sensed the still small voice of God say to me: “If you have to work when others are resting, don’t feel guilty for resting when others are working.”
Most of our crew worked in rotating shifts. Many of us shared on-call schedules and duty pagers. There are always people working on the ship: engine watch-keepers, night-shift nurses, nighttime security patrolmen, weekend on-call plumbers, the duty OR staff, those monitoring the emergency phones and alarm panels, and on and on and on.
If I was motivated by guilt to not rest when others are working, so I never rested! Yet, we have to have a different standard than guilt. If we have a rotating schedule of work, then we must have a corresponding rotation of rest. That means you may be relaxing in the middle of a weekday while others are working because you are on night shift or you just finished a full multi-day shift of weekend duties.
In The Message, Eugene Peterson translates the Hebrew word “Sabbath” into the English word “Stop.” It’s okay. Relax. Take a break. If you don’t rest, you won’t last. You’ll work yourself until your passion is burned-out and your soul is dried-up. Then you’ll leave one day angry at the ministry and distant from God, and we don’t want that for you. God’s not asking you to work yourself to death. In fact, one of His commandments is to rest:
“Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God… Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.” – Deuteronomy 5:12–15
God had miraculously delivered His people from lives of overwork. They had been enslaved to an around-the-clock work requirement for 400 hundred years! Now He commands them to remember His divine rescue, and honor His deliverance from overwork by having a weekly rhythm of rest.
One year, during our Spiritual Life Retreat onboard the ship, our retreat speaker Barry Brown explained that the Biblical principle of the Sabbath is that “we are to spend 1/7th of our time doing nothing that depletes or drains our personality, and instead doing things that bring renewal to our souls.” Barry went on to explain, “If you want to be greatly used by God, you must learn a great rhythm of rest. Most of us think that in order to do the work of God, we have to go beyond the boundaries of a healthy and restful life.”
God and the poor do not need us to work 14-hour days and 80-hour weeks. We glorify our overworking while God condemns it. He commands weekly Sabbath along with daily soul care. What that means for us is that we must set healthy boundaries between work and rest, to regain some margin in our lives and to stop feeling guilty for resting when others are working! Remember, you’ll be working when others are resting. That’s why we work in shifts: so that everyone gets the chance to rest.
We want you to work hard—the ministry needs you to work hard!—and to give your very best to your role. But we also need you to last. And if you don’t rest, you won’t last. So, you have to force yourself to rest, even if it is at an unconventional time due to shift work. Take time to relax. Refuel. Refresh. Replenish. Spend time alone with God. Take a nap. Go for a swim. Watch a funny movie. And return to work the next day with fresh energy and renewed vigor for service.