Living 24/6 in a 24/7 world

The news is overwhelming. Hurricane Sandy has left many underwater and out of power. Iran and North Korea want a … Continued

The news is overwhelming. Hurricane Sandy has left many underwater and out of power. Iran and North Korea want a place on the nuclear playing field. And then there are the elections. Both sides find themselves polarized: conservatives fear that the country is headed for a liberal free fall, and liberals believe that we are being led down a path of strident fundamentalism.

Next month the battle lines will change and the hurricanes will have new names, but the tsunami of information coming at us will continue to swell. For the last decade, we’ve been told that we live in the age of information overload. We can do anything, buy anything, and find out about anything twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. The problem is that our 24/7 world is not only making us anxious and unhappy—it is killing us.

A growing number of studies reported in the medical literature and popular press all point in the same direction. This generation’s brave new experiment of working more and resting less is making us fat, anxious, and short-lived.

As a former ER physician, I treated the physical and mental effects of our always-on society in my patients. As an A+ personality type, I felt the ramifications in my health, my marriage, and my work. Then a decade ago, my family switched from a 24/7 way of life to a 24/6 rhythm. On multiple levels, taking a weekly “Stop Day” saved our lives. It can save yours, too.

Remembering to Rest

Some 4,000 years ago on the Sinai Peninsula, a quick-tempered abolitionist repelled off the north face of Mount Sinai with a top ten list of thou shalls, thou shalt nots, and one remember. The fourth on his list told everyone and everything, including beasts of burden like you and me, to remember to throw life in park one day out of every seven.

This was a radical social experiment. In the pre-Moses culture, the Egyptians outdid the Beatles’ eight-day week and functioned with three ten-day weeks per month. Irrespective of whether one believes the Bible’s account or if one holds to the Cecil B. DeMille of deliverance from slavery, a weekly Stop Day began permeating culture once the Hebrew people exited from Egypt.

More than a thousand years after Moses, the custom of ceasing (Sabbath literally means to cease or stop) had taken hold. The Greek writer Philo (20 BC—AD 50) noted, “Who has not shown his high respect for that sacred seventh day, by giving rest and relaxation from labor to himself and his neighbors, freemen and slaves alike, and beyond these to his beasts?” Roman statesman and philosopher Seneca (4 BC—AD 65) reported that the customs of the Jews “have gained such influence that they are now received throughout all the world. The vanquished have given laws to their victors.” In Rome, Josephus (AD 37–100) wrote that there was no city from Grecians to barbarians “nor any nation whatsoever” where the observance of Sabbath did not come.

For nearly all of the last 2,000 years, Western society has observed a day of rest each week. Only in my lifetime has this 24/6 prescription been lost. The side effects are making tempers flare and civility wane.

I am not advocating for the reenactment of Blue Laws or for Judaism or Christianity to become the state religion. But as a former laborer in the 24/7 world of medicine, and as a practitioner of a weekly day of rest for the past decade, I can attest to the healing power of rest—for individuals who chronically feel stretched too thin, and for us as an overworked nation.

What is rest? Figure out what work is for you, and then don’t do it one day in seven. And then protect the right of others to rest: The Fourth Commandment specifically extends the right of stopping one day a week to children who are not literate, illegal immigrants and minimum wage workers (Exodus 20:8-11).

Stopping 24 hours a week

Several weeks ago after preaching at the National Cathedral, I had lunch with a politically diverse group. At the table sat people from the left and right, from blue states and red. Peace prevailed. We stopped working and ate. We found common ground. We lay down our labels and came to rest.

We are the richest society ever to exist, yet many express discontentment with what they have. We have great literacy concerning nutrition, yet we are obese. We have access to more information but feel overwhelmed. Perhaps the solution to America’s anxiety is not more, but less.

Political seasons, hurricane seasons, and new threats will continue to loom, but taking a day of rest one day a week helps us define ourselves outside of these events—not as human doings but as human beings.

Everything has limits, including us. To believe we don’t have boundaries is hubris. As global challenges confront us, we must not tune out—nor must we gorge ourselves at the all-you-can-eat buffet of news and information.

When one adds a day of rest each week and multiplies it times an average lifespan, one spends a decade in rest and peace. Multiply this times an entire nation and an ocean of time spent with family, nature, and community has gone missing.

What’s missing from our lives does matter. Rest, love, and forbearance are not the subjects of news headlines or debates, but they are the things that make society civil and life worth living.

Perhaps the best thing we can do for the peace and healing of our country is to take a weekly day of rest, beginning now.

Dr. Matthew Sleeth, a former emergency room physician and chief of a hospital medical staff, is the author of the new book, “24/6: Prescription for a Healthier, Happier Life.” He currently serves as executive director of the faith-based nonprofit, Blessed Earth, and is a monthly guest preacher at the Washington National Cathedral

Comments are closed.

Read More Articles

Valle Header Art
My Life Depended on the Very Act of Writing

How I was saved by writing about God and cancer.

Sociologist: Religion Can Predict Sexual Behavior

“Religion and sex are tracking each other like never before,” says sociologist Mark Regnerus.

The Internet Is Not Killing Religion. So What Is?

Why is religion in decline in the modern world? And what can save it?

river dusk
Cleaner, Lighter, Closer

What’s a fella got to do to be baptized?

Magical Thinking and the Canonization of Two Popes

Why Pope Francis is canonizing two popes for all of the world wide web to see.

An Ayatollah’s Gift to Baha’is, Iran’s Largest Religious Minority

An ayatollah offers a beautiful symbolic gesture against a backdrop of violent persecution.

Screenshot 2014-04-23 11.40.54
Atheists Bad, Christians Good: A Review of “God’s Not Dead”

A smug Christian movie about smug atheists leads to an inevitable happy ending.

Ten Ways to Make Your Church Autism-Friendly

The author of the Church of England’s autism guidelines shares advice any church can follow.

Pope Francis: Stop the Culture of Waste

What is the human cost of our tendency to throw away?

chapel door
“Sometimes You Find Something Quiet and Holy”: A New York Story

In a hidden, underground sanctuary, we were all together for a few minutes in this sweet and holy mystery.

Mary Magdalene, the Closest Friend of Jesus

She’s been ignored, dismissed, and misunderstood. But the story of Easter makes it clear that Mary was Jesus’ most faithful friend.

From Passover to Easter: Why I’m Grateful to be Jewish, Christian, and Alive

Passover with friends. Easter with family. It’s almost enough to make you believe in God.

Top 10 Reasons We’re Glad A Catholic Colbert Is Taking Over Letterman’s “Late Show”

How might we love Stephen Colbert as the “Late Show” host? Let us count the ways.

God’s Not Dead? Why the Good News Is Better than That

The resurrection of Jesus is not a matter of private faith — it’s a proclamation for the whole world.

The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.