The Discipline of Rest

The word “success” is a blotted, fat, dead fish of a word. It used to be the prize Steelhead of words. Now–it’s just the floating carp bobbing on the surface of a giant lake of words. The funny thing is, like a catchy song on the radio, the word just won’t go away. It once got noticed, but now it’s just another annoying synthpop line in a Rebecca Black song–not taken seriously but evokes very strong emotions. You get the point.

Truth is, the word is practically useless because the meaning has become so relative. William James once wrote to H.G. Wells complaining of the “moral flabbiness” of the word “success”. “The squalid interpretation put on the word,” James writes, “is our national disease.” Amazingly enough, this was written in 1906.

Success does have vernacular–“achievement, profit, accomplishment, gain, fame, progress”and a whole host of other bedfellows. Unfortunately, most of these words have strong connections to or evoke strong images of money. This, of course, isn’t inherently bad, unless a person defines his/her entire success on hoarding the stuff. This kind of definition is also toxic when it comes to include words like “power,” “fame,” and “TOTAL WORLD DOMINATION!” Okay, maybe not the last one…then again.


Okay, here’s the point: Success is not dictated by the amount of money a person has. Yada, yada, yada. We have all heard this, and it has unfortunately become rhetoric just like the word success itself. Images of progress and winning have become so embedded into the understanding of the word, that it is has become difficult to stop and ask the question, “what am I progressing towards or succeeding at?” It reminds me of the number of people who are famous for being famous. In essence, “success” has become a kind of grand social tautology that seems to be growing larger by the day. If you see this as true, then I have one word for you: Sabbath.

Not the black, Ozzy Osborn kind (although we all board the crazy train at one time or another). No–the biblical 5th commandment kind:

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Exodus 20:8-11

Rest? Set apart a day not to work? God obviously doesn’t know what will happen to my YouTube subscribers if I don’t publish a video everyday.

If we define success by the amount of work that we generate to maintain our success, then this command sounds like pure poppycock. In a digital age where marketing one’s self involves a continual stream of posting and reposting (of which I am doing right now…so yes, I get the irony), this discipline of rest is very difficult. Not necessarily because work is hard (although it can be), but because work bleeds into every area of our lives on every day. It’s hard because we never really stop working. I’m not saying that everyone is slaving away seven days a week, but most people subject themselves to all the aspects of work on all seven days of the week (phone calls, e-mails, meetings, reading for work, etc.).

Maybe success is the ability to work our butts off six days a week so we do the really hard thing of NOT working on a seventh day. Maybe success is reorganizing our lives so we can work diligently during six days in order that we can be diligent in our rest on the seventh. I realize that the words diligent and rest seldom appear together, but really they should. I believe that our digital culture thrives on the notion of continual motion. Even the idea of creating a passive income online isn’t really passive–you must be always posting, and writing, and marketing. Maybe real success is understanding that there is something more important than our physical movement. 

Maybe success comes from the discipline of resisting the grind for one day a week. Resisting the phone calls. Resisting the e-mails. Resisting the desire to check to see how many people are now following our blog. Resisting the ability to move in the same direction as the other six days. Really, to make the seventh day “holy” or set apart from the other days. Now that’s real work!

I’m not writing this because I’m great at it. In fact, sometimes I’m just flat out awful at resisting movement. But my challenge, along with yours, is to follow the guidelines that God has set. Pick a day and rest. Sleep. Unplug. Play hide-and-seek with your kids. Kiss your wife. Read a fiction book. Listen to an entire music album without multitasking. Pray. Take a walk. Write a poem. Simply sit on your porch with a hot cup of tea and enjoy the Sabbath.

Don’t get caught in the minutia of defining what day is the Sabbath and what is acceptable to do on the Sabbath. These are important, but starting this discipline is more important. You will figure it out as you go.

I promise you will find life and success in the discipline of rest. It’s almost like it was designed to be this way.

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