Last summer was the first time my family and I fully unplugged and rested for an extended period of time. We took off almost three entire weeks and had our first family vacation. After running full-speed ahead, working way too many hours for nearly a decade through my MSW/PhD/first few years of tenure-track, and having Callie & Oliver during that time, we finally chose to rest and play. Thankfully, we’re repeating this summer Sabbath practice again this year and already had plans to get out of town for a couple of weeks. As my friend, Steve Austin, recently posted his commitment to unplug for June, I found myself thinking of one of my favorite quotes by Marianne Williamson:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
The last two sentences are my favorite – when we decide what’s true for us, who we are, what we value, and share it in love, we give others permission to do the same. This leads me to wonder about our culture’s orientation toward busy and why we so often work without resting or pausing or playing? I know when I was in graduate school, I picked up on cultural messages that rest was often scoffed at as a luxury few could afford (both in time and finances) or for those who seemed to care less about their work. I was always nervous to admit if I took a day off over the weekend or got a full 8 hours of sleep, so either a) I wouldn’t, or b) would lie. It seemed “I’m so busy!” and “I’m so tired!” got more accolades than “I rested/played/relaxed this weekend”, and usually, the latter would be met with a sarcastic “must be nice!” and an eye roll. Quickly, I learned the ropes and bought the lie that busier meant better and perfection, productivity, and people-pleasing meant security.
Unfortunately, academia and social work (like many other fields) aren’t always friendly toward the idea of not working constantly. Thankfully, I’ve noticed since joining Baylor how many supportive colleagues I have who DO value rest and balance and self-care and celebrate when I choose to do any and all of that, knowing that I still get my work done. It has been in their choice to openly value rest that I’ve learned to unwind the narrative that busier is better and rewrite what I really believe about balance and rest, while trying to empower those around me to do the same.
I think Jonathan Singer‘s recent podcast episode on self-care explains this myth of burnout as a badge of honor so well and how damaging it is to our profession. The truth was, I could have made the time to rest, but my inner dialogue convinced me that I couldn’t. There was just too much to do. And while I couldn’t financially afford to not work, I’m sure I could have saved up and then taken off. For me, it went way deeper. My inability to prioritize rest was out of a deep fear that if I rested, if I slowed down, I couldn’t bear the crippling self-talk that I wasn’t being a good steward of the time I’m given to serve others, that my work would be less-than-perfect, and that eventually, when I reached some arbitrary goal, then I could rest. I have lived in the narrative of “if I can just get XYZ done, THEN I can rest” for as long as I can remember.
But XYZ gets done. And do you know what? The list circles back to ABC with more things to do. So then it becomes, “when I get ABC done, then I can rest.” Of course, you guessed it, DEF are the next items on the to-do list. And on and on it goes. There will always be work to be done. But my kids will not always be 2 & 5, I may not always have the abilities I currently have to play with them, and every single day with Cory, Callie, and Oliver is a gift. We never know which day will be our or a loved one’s last, and if I miss the moment because I’m so overwhelmingly worried about finishing the next item on my to do list so that I can later rest, I will regret it. That realization carried with it a hard lesson and heavy responsibility to make some changes – some quickly, and some over time.
Working without pause and a chance to be quiet, still, and listen does not offer healing or creativity or presence. Working without rest or play does not make manifest the glory of God. Truthfully, working without rest makes me less productive, less attentive to details, and less efficient. So for the next month, I’m unplugging. I’m offering two weeks of undivided attention to my family, followed by a couple of weeks of just focusing on my work projects and then coming home to play with the kids, go on a date with my husband, practice solitude with my journal/books/paints, or go grab coffee with a friend.
Why do I share this with y’all? Because though culture celebrates busy more than rest, I hope that openly sharing my struggle with a broken accelerator and the need to rest/practice sabbath empowers you to use the time you’re given to do the same. Maybe for an hour, a day or two, a week, or longer. But rest. Don’t numb, rest. (So sorry, but an 8-hour Netflix or 2-hour social media scrolling binge often aren’t resting – they’re numbing agents, and I’m guilty of using them, too). We need you to take care of you in order to care for others well. You can’t draw water from an empty well. If it helps, make a list of things to do that fill up your spirit so that you have options and aren’t tempted to numb. I also share this because I admit this is really hard for me and accountability often helps. Maybe disconnecting is easy for you, but it’s not for me. (See Adam Alter’s Irresistible: The rise of addictive technology and the business of keeping us hooked)
If you’ve been waiting for permission to rest, grab a piece of paper and write yourself the permission slip you need. Celebrate those around you who are choosing to rest as they’re able to. Remember to let your light shine, so that you can give others permission to shine as well. And have a restful, fun, memorable summer, friends!