What's the Big Deal about a Day Off? Really.

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It’s easy for many of us to just go, go, go. After all, this is the one and only life we have. Once we discover how we’re wired, what our talents are and what our purpose is, it’s time to "get to it," right? Maybe. But we often burn up the wonder of discovering why we exist because we don’t know how to exist without working every day of the week.

Why is it so difficult for us to unplug? To take a “day off?”

Here are five reasons we often lean in to our own demise.

*Note: if your work is in a church, feel free to replace “work” with “ministry” if that helps you.

1.     We are unaware of the energy we expend. 

My wife, Laura, chides me about my notion that I can always “get just one more thing done.” When I’m in that mode, I’m not thinking about how I feel or what may be required of me after this “one more thing.” I think I can do it all.

Many of us believe we have a limitless supply of energy. We don't know we believe it, but our behavior reveals the truth. Just one more phone call. One more conversation. A few more minutes of research. Then, although we had an unlimited sense of energy for “work,” we’re too tired to engage meaningful conversation with our spouse, visit with a friend or focus on our family.

Worse yet, a moment here, an hour there – it all adds up. And the cumulative result is sheer, life-sucking exhaustion. But until we crash and burn, we keep going. And going. And going. We keep spending energy. We’re okay, we tell ourselves, this just has to be done. ‘Til we are done.

2.     We confuse the words STOP and QUIT.

I remember an evening years ago, meeting an associate in the hallway who (ironically) asked me what I was still doing at the office. This wasn’t my first day working into the evening; it was my third or forth that week. I suppose with a tone of both pride and martyrdom, I remarked about having so much to do; it was "such a busy season."

She looked at me and said, “There’ll always be another season. After this one will be another one, and another after that. You’ll have to learn it’s okay to stop for the day.”

But to me, stopping meant quitting. It meant being irresponsible. And it certainly meant I wouldn’t be perceived as hard-working. Maybe that was it – as a perpetual people-pleaser, I wanted others to see me “not quitting.”

Regardless the reason, I’d twisted up these two words together: stop and quit. I believed they were synonymous. But, I slowly learned that I could stop and not quit. The work can always be picked up again. But, I needed desperately to STOP. To take a break. To be done for the day.

3.     We don’t know what to do with “time off.”

Most of what we read and hear about leadership is geared toward how we lead in our business, in our church or non-profit – whatever and wherever is our workplace. We don’t lack for resources related to our work: leading, building, growing, solving, innovating, processing, analyzing, reporting, succeeding. Don’t misunderstand. I want to lead better, build people, grow and develop, solve problems, innovate ideas, process challenges, analyze trends, report and succeed.

But. We know far less about what to do with “time off” from all the above. The risk is that we ONLY know how to lead, innovate and succeed. What else is there?

How do we relax? What does it mean to engage a relationship with no agenda or expected outcome? What does it look like to just walk? How do we nap with a deep sense of peace? Can we simply watch a great movie, take in a play or listen to a concert? How do we STOP and simply “BE?”

4.     We don’t know how to listen without thinking about how we’ll talk about it.

Another challenge with “time off” is that if we actually stop work and everything related to work (email, social media, reading about work), we easily fill the space with other things. Good things, things that are healthy to engage for replenishment: an inspiring movie, reading a novel, sports, travel or time with friends and family. All good. All important to refueling.

But, there is another option for that space: quiet. Blocking time to listen to the Voice within us, to nature, to God. I’ll make this personal for me. Too often my reflective journaling has a subtle but distinct second thought aside from the content: “this will be good to share with my team.” My deep soul work can become a talk tomorrow. The picture of the sunrise during my quiet morning can be taken for my next social media post. Suddenly, I'm not practicing quiet. I'm not reflecting for my soul's sake. I'm leading. I'm planning. I'm working.

Everything easily gets turned into an illustration, a story, a lesson, a piece of encouragement for someone else. Someone else we lead or feel responsible to in some way. What if we simply listened. Soaked. Dug. Felt. And that’s it. What if our gain in the quiet is lived out rather than talked out? What if our insight is for our own growth and not the next piece of wisdom that makes us a better leader?

5.     We want everyone around us to model our hard-working lifestyle.

Again, with a focus on productivity, high expectations for effectiveness and ultimate success, we demonstrate our priorities for our team. I have to talk about how busy I am, so they are encouraged to work just as hard. I need to set a pace of sacrifice so they understand the stakes are high.

And in doing so, we most certainly convey our priorities. We communicate that work is more important than marriage; productivity is valued above relationship; and the work of our hands trumps the sacredness of our soul.

What myth have you bought into?

Will you…

  • schedule time away from work?
  • honor that time?
  • give yourself to a full 24-hour period away from all work-related efforts?
  • experiment and discover what gives you rest and refuels you?

What else prevents you from taking time for YOU?