Someone said life now has two speeds: fast and manic. Most of us are caught in the high velocity traffic of life in the very fast lane. Perhaps the adage, "we worship our work, work at our play, and play at our worship" is behind the pace that drives so much of what we do. Yes, there was a time when the games we played were equated with some level of personal leisure. Not so much anymore. Even our time off the clock is now as frenzied as our hours on, and for the most part we are an exhausted, worn culture. Any kind of renewal or refreshment seems so old hat.
Travel to almost any locale around the world and you'll note American exceptionalism in at least one area of comparison. Americans work longer, an average of 34.4 hours per week, than the working population of other nations. How much of that is actually productive labor is arguable. But, it is what it is. That's not the rub, however, when our thoughts turn to down time or personal renewal or time off the treadmill. Our most grueling life expenditures are often those that happen when we leave the office or sales floor or assembly line. We're the culture of Little League everything, music lessons, varieties of dance, gymnastics, tennis, golf, bridge or garden club, painting, pottery, school projects, fund raising, boys/girls night outs, sports, civic clubs, community involvements, and yes, ladies, coloring. What is different today from previous generations is the preparation and travel required, as opposed to the day when reading or television were the primary uses of our time away from work. With church attendance being down, Sunday is suddenly prime family and play time.
The result is the empty suit, frazzled, worn people whose major times of renewal and refreshment are an occasional sleep-in. Perhaps that's another reason our language is so seasoned with references to stress, hurry, culture shock, attention deficits, every syndrome under the sun, and the therapies that carry us through them. As I was preparing for retirement a year and a half ago my retired friends warned me about being busier than ever before, too entangled with life commitments and pursuits to lay back and enjoy life during the last chapters. it's what one writer called our obsession with busy-ness, the low self-esteem and standing of people with nothing to do. Every single day I talk to my 88 year old father on the phone to see how he's doing and he usually says, "I didn't get anything done today". We're embarrassed if we don't have a completed to-do list when the day ends.
As a Christian I know the value of personal renewal and the physical, emotional, and spiritual elements necessary to lead a balanced, well-lived life. His invitation to me was the very one he issued to his followers one day when he said, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28). It was a promise of rest that encompasses the totality of life, physical, emotional, and spiritual. One day he saw the fatigue in his immediate circle of followers and said to them, "Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while" (Mark 6:31). He knew they needed moments of personal renewal and refreshment away from the crowd.
It's the Sabbath rest that was commanded in the Old Testament law. Jesus reminded his followers and those who opposed him that the Sabbath was more than a day of ritualistic observance. In the New Covenant the Lord's Day, the celebration of the glorious resurrection of Jesus, became the day of worship and ministry for the new believers. There was an expectation, however, that Christians would experience a time of personal rest, refreshment, and renewal in their busy, Christ-centered lives. Most other religious orders and belief systems know the value of being alone with God, evaluating life, and being renewed in rest and devotion.
But, here we are, America the tired, and so often, America the empty. It's a missing life puzzle piece in an undisciplined world paced by the clock and evaluated by busy-ness. Author Rumer Godden may have said it best: “Everyone is a house with four rooms: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Unless we go into every room every day, even if only to keep it aired, we are not a complete person.” Clever.
No. Actually Jesus said it best: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29).
It's a missing life puzzle piece that we need to fit into our lives right now.