I’m an achiever. I don’t say that to brag; it’s a bit of a problem. I tend to measure my value by how much I get done. My to-do list is unending. I sometimes feel guilty when I have an evening off with nothing to do.
It sounds strange, but it’s true. I have a hard time resting.
I’m not alone. I notice the faces of people I pass on the street. Many of them look perpetually stressed. I hear the horn when someone hesitates a second too long at the stoplight. And when I talk to people about the biblical principle of Sabbath, I see the way people react. Stop working for a day? Rest? Who’s got time for that?
The stranger the idea of Sabbath sounds, the more we need it.
We are not what we do. God has given us important work to do in our various roles, but he doesn’t need us. Sleep is a daily reminder that the world goes on very well without us. The work will always be there; we must learn to pause and rest.
So, every day, I lay my head on the pillow and leave my to-do list behind. Once a week, I cease working, and devote a day to restoring my soul by engaging in activities that bring me refreshment in every area of my life.
Jared Wilson said it best a long time ago now: “The gospel frees you to chill the heck out.”
Learn to rest well. It could be one of the most beneficial skills you learn.
I love to read about other people’s routines. One thing I’ve learned: everyone is different. In the book Daily Rituals, we learn about the routines of famous artists. They’re all different. While it’s wise to use routines, the way we use them will look different depending on our circumstances and temperaments.
Still, it helps to be intentional about the routines that work for us. Out of the three core habits I mention in How to Grow, two of them are best practiced daily: reading or listening to Scripture, and praying. The trick is to build a routine that incorporates both of these into our lives on a regular basis.
Here’s what I do — although, as I’ve hinted above, my way may be completely different from the way that you do it. I wish I could say that I kept up this routine perfectly, but I don’t. But, generally speaking, it’s the way that I try to begin my day.
- I wake up at 6 a.m. Usually I wake up by myself, but I’ve also set an alarm to wake me up.
- I resist the urge to check social media, emails, and the news.
- I pour myself a glass of water and sit on the couch, preferably outside if the weather is good.
- I breathe for two minutes using the Breathe app on my Apple Watch. It sounds strange, but it forces me to slow my mind down.
- I read the next passage in my Bible. I pick up where I left off the day before and read for about 10 minutes or so. I finish whenever I feel like it. This year, I’m not following a strict reading plan.
- I read a devotional. Right now I’m using Tim Keller’s God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life.
- I journal for about 10 minutes, reflecting on the past day as well as what’s on my mind. My journaling sometimes turns into written prayers about what I’m thinking about.
- I pray using an app that helps me remember to pray for a list of items in different categories called PrayerMate.
- I then go over some verses I’m trying to memorize using another app called Scripture Typer.
- I read a chapter of a book. Right now I’m reading Tim Ferris’s Tribe of Mentors.
- I review the goals that I’ve set for the year.
That’s it. Then I’m ready to begin my day and to connect with others in my family. The whole process takes about 40 minutes.
I’m not recommending that anyone else follow what I’m doing. I’m just sharing what works for me, hoping that it may stimulate you to think about what could work for you.
We operate best when we use routines. As the book Daily Rituals says:
The more of the details of our daily life we can hand over to the effortless custody of automatism, the more our higher powers of mind will be set free for their own proper work. There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision, and for whom the lighting of every cigar, the drinking of every cup, the time of rising and going to bed every day, and the beginning of every bit of work, are subjects of express volitional deliberation.
What’s your routine for building what you need in your life, including Scripture and prayer? I’d love to hear. Leave a comment, or message me.
My book How to Grow: Applying the Gospel to All of Life comes out on August 7. But you don’t need to wait until then to get started.
My desire in writing this book was to provide a clear, practical, guilt-free guide on how to take the next step in growth. So many of us feel stuck and don’t know where to start. I want to help people grow, not just for their own sake, but so they can make a difference in the lives of others.
Here’s a sneak peak at the table of contents, and the first chapter. The book is available for preorders at all major booksellers.
Here’s the table of contents:
Here’s the start of chapter one:
Lola was a slave.
She grew up in a poor family in a rural part of the Philippines. She was penniless, unschooled, and gullible. Her parents wanted her to marry a pig farmer twice her age, but she was unhappy at the prospect. When a lieutenant approached her with an offer, she couldn’t resist: she could have food and shelter if she would commit to taking care of his young daughter.
Lola agreed. She had no idea she had signed up to become a slave for life.
Lola lived with that daughter, and eventually her children and grandchildren, for fifty-six years, both in the Philippines and America. She raised children. She cooked and cleaned from dawn to dark. She was tongue-lashed and beaten, wore used clothing, and ate scraps and leftovers by herself in the kitchen. She slept anywhere she could find a spot: on couches, in storage areas, in corners, or on piles of laundry.
As Alex, the son of the family that enslaved Lola, grew up he began to understand that Lola was a slave. As a young adult, he gave her an ATM card linked to his account and taught her how to use it. He tried to teach her how to drive.
Later he invited Lola to live with him and his family. He gave her a bedroom and permission to do whatever she wanted: sleep in, watch TV, or do nothing all day. “She could relax—and be free—for the first time in her life. I should have known it wouldn’t be that simple,” he writes in a recent article for The Atlantic. He sat her down. “This is your house now . . . you’re not here to serve us. You can relax, okay?”
“Okay,” she said. And went back to cleaning. She didn’t know how not to be a slave.
One day he came home and found Lola sitting on the couch with her feet up, doing a word puzzle and watching TV, with a cup of tea beside her. She looked up sheepishly. “Progress,” he thought.
Lola had been a slave for so long that she struggled to embrace freedom when it was offered her. She spent the last years of her life with only a fleeting understanding that she was free and loved.
In a similar way, many of us find it difficult to accept our freedom in Christ. The Bible says that we—all of us—have lived as slaves to sin (John 8:34; Rom. 6:20). We’re so used to it that we struggle to understand that, in Jesus, we’re no longer slaves. We’ll spend the rest of our lives trying to live in light of two truths we find hard to grasp: in Jesus we’re free and we’re loved.
Finish chapter one of How to Grow
We had a family wedding last week. On Thursday I was scrambling to get work done, keep my appointments, and maintain my sanity. I’m not sure I succeeded.
Do you ever have one of those weeks? You know: there’s too little time and too much stress. These weeks impact our relationships and the state of our souls. We’ll experience them sometimes, but we can’t afford to make them the norm.
Looking back, here are a few things I could have done better to stay healthy — spiritually, physically, relationally, and emotionally — in an extraordinarily busy week.
You can usually see weeks like this coming. It’s a good idea to plan extra margin for the weeks that will be more stressful. I could have avoided scheduling extra appointments last week. The extra time would have given me the room that I needed to maintain a healthy pace last week.
Practice Key Habits
I follow a set of practices that help me to love God and love others. It’s called a Rule of Life, designed to help me stay healthy spiritually. When things get busy, it’s easy to suspend these practices. Big mistake. These are the very practices that will help us function well during a period of high stress. (For more on building a Rule of Life, check out chapter 8 of How to Grow.)
Busy weeks require healthy habits. Don’t ignore the practices that keep you healthy when you’re under extra stress. Instead, double down on them. They will help you through these weeks.
Ask for Help
I have a hard time asking for help from others. Call it pride: I’d rather tough it through myself without admitting that I’m struggling.
I’m learning, though, that others are quick to help when I ask for it. I’m amazed by the response when I ask others to pray for me, or when I’m honest about my limitations and ask for extra grace.
We’re not meant to be self-sufficient. Asking for help is an act of humility, and God promises grace to the humble.
Plan to Recover
My high-stress week is now over. I’ve realized that I need some time to ease back into my normal routine. Extra rest and downtime is crucial after we’ve been under increased pressure.
Monday was a national holiday. I used the day to relax, and I didn’t feel guilty about it at all. Enjoy the gift of rest after you’ve experienced a high-stress week.
Enjoy God’s Grace
Here’s the convicting thing about last week: I made so many mistakes. I could have done a better job anticipating the stress. I should have managed my schedule better. I should have maintained the practices that would have helped me to thrive under increased pressure. But I didn’t. I know what to do; I just didn’t do them.
But God is gracious. He keeps giving grace to those who fail. We can enjoy God’s grace, even when we make mistakes again.
Last week was stressful. It won’t be the last time. We can take action to stay healthy even under the extra stress, and enjoy God’s grace when we fail.