If you’re reading this article, you probably know you need some rest. Maybe you’re experiencing anxiety about the amount of stuff on your plate. Or you might be wishing you had more time for the people in your life. Perhaps you’re on the edge of burnout and know your pace of life is unsustainable. No matter your situation, you know you need to slow down. But how?
Here’s the good news: It’s possible to find peace, even when life feels impossibly busy. This guide is designed to help you refresh your mindset on work and rest. Because life can be busy, but busy doesn’t have to become burnout.
What does it mean to rest?
What do you think of when you see the word “rest”? Maybe you think of taking a nap, watching TV, or going on vacation. All of these things can be restful, but rest is more than just an action; it’s also a mindset.
Rest is any time we choose to let ourselves stop working. Which of course, leads us to another question: What is work?
When we think of work, our minds often jump to our job—the things we do to get paid. But work is more than just what we do to pay the bills. Work is anything we do that provides order, structure, maintenance, or predictability in our lives. What does that mean? Well, when we fold laundry or do the dishes, we’re creating order in our homes. When we make budgets and family calendars, we’re creating structure for the future.
And when I scrub my two-year-old son’s oatmeal off the wall, I’m maintaining my home—at least until more oatmeal inevitably ends up on the wall.
All of this is work. So when you’re in the office or out on the job site, you’re doing work; and when you get home and do the dishes, you’re still working. Work can tend to take over much of our lives.
Work isn’t bad.
Defining work is important because it can help you identify all the work you’re doing. Work is a good, healthy part of life, but it can become unhealthy if work takes over your whole life.
Work has a way of sneaking up on us and invading every area of our lives. When it does, it distracts us from other things essential to a healthy lifestyle, like our relationships with others and with God.
So, what constitutes a healthy balance of work and rest? And how do we find rest when life is busy? After all, we have to pay the bills, do the dishes, and get groceries. And many of us also need to care for people who depend on us.
I’m not suggesting we drop all our tasks, let go of our responsibilities, and nap five times a day. But there are some steps we can take to help our lives line up more closely with the way Jesus lived. Exploring how Jesus related to work and rest might lead us to rethink our own approach.
Let’s start by unpacking some common myths about work and rest that our culture tries to sell us.
3 Myths About Work and Rest
Myth #1: Rest is a reward for hard work.
Do you ever feel anxious when you rest? You’re not alone. Our culture treats work like dinner and rest like dessert. Once we’ve finished our work, then we can rest. But we have it backwards. We don’t work for rest. We rest so we can bring our best.
The first page of the Bible tells the story of God making the world. On one of the days, God made people, and the next day was a day of rest. So humanity’s very first day was a day of rest. They didn’t work for it, and they didn’t need to earn it.
Have you heard of hustle culture? It’s an extreme example of the mindset that rest is a reward for hard work. Here’s the idea: Work, hustle, and “grind” now so you can rest later in life. Hustle culture promises massive wealth and early retirement in exchange for decades of 80-hour work weeks. But for every “success” story, countless people just burn out and don’t ever end up getting to retire on a yacht.
Hustle culture tells us to focus on work now, so we can focus on rest later. But both are unbalanced and unhealthy. So ask yourself: Am I putting off rest now so I can rest later? If so, consider how that mindset could negatively impact your mental health, physical well-being, and your relationships with others.
Myth #2: Work defines your worth.
As a kid, I used to watch a show about a blue train named Thomas. He and his friends had one purpose—to be really useful. Each episode, one of the train engines would mess up their task and feel guilty. Then, they’d learn a lesson that would help them be even more productive in the future. At the end of each episode, the train that had learned its lesson would be called a “really useful engine.”
What does this have to do with work and rest? Well, when my wife or I are having a less-than-productive day, we’ll half-jokingly say, “I’m sorry I’m not being a really useful engine.” We say that because, deep down, we feel a little guilty for not being productive. Why? Because a part of us believes that our work defines our worth.
Your work doesn’t define you. Your worth doesn’t come from good grades, performance reviews, titles, or having well-behaved children. Your worth comes from God’s view of you. He loves you just as you are, and calls you a valuable child of His—even when you feel like you’re not a “really useful engine.”
Myth #3: Rest is a sign of laziness.
What’s stopping you from getting your dream home and car? Hard work. At least that’s what most of us were told. But does our work ethic really determine our success? Sometimes, but not always.
So many of us were raised with the toxic belief that rest equals laziness, and lazy people fail in life. But it’s the other way around. Regular rest improves our memory, problem-solving skills, and concentration. It also gives us the ability to focus on other areas of life that are equally as important as work.
When we rest, we care for our whole selves. So as we practice self-care, we’ll often find ourselves with a higher level of productivity when it’s time to focus on work. In fact, Jesus specifically invited His disciples to rest during a busy time of ministry.
As we’re about to see, Jesus Himself intentionally chose rest over productivity in certain situations. And He certainly wasn’t lazy. So if Jesus chose rest when He could have made a positive difference in someone else’s life, then rest isn’t laziness.
Jesus Prioritized Rest
Jesus got a lot done in His three years of ministry. He traveled, taught, and performed countless miracles. But He still prioritized rest.
… the news about [Jesus] spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. Luke 5:15-16 NIV
Think about what this passage is saying. Many hurting people wanted to hear Jesus speak and receive healing from Him. Yet Jesus took time out from some of these encounters to spend time alone with God instead.
More people could have had life-changing experiences with Jesus, but Jesus knew when to stop. And we know that Jesus never did anything wrong. So when He sacrificed productivity and opportunities to help others—in order to rest—it was a good thing. Why?
Jesus Needed Rest
Jesus, while fully God, is also fully human. In His humanity, He could have fallen into burnout during His physical ministry on Earth.
Burnout happens when we consistently choose work without taking time to reflect and recharge. Burnout doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, it’s the result of forming a habit of hustling without prioritizing rest.
Jesus knew that you can only be as helpful as you are healthy, so He set boundaries on His time and purposely slowed down. All humans need rest, so it was true of Jesus too while He was on earth. He knew His ministry would be more effective if He spent a portion of His time resting.
Rest Is Worship
Jesus also knew that His heavenly Father was ultimately in control of everything. Jesus worked hard, but He knew that the weight of the world didn’t rest on His shoulders alone. That’s why He didn’t worry about everything falling apart if He took a day off.
To Jesus, rest was worship. It was a physical way to display His trust in God. He brought some of His potentially productive hours as a sacrifice to God as a way of saying, “You’re in control; I’m not. So I don’t need to fix every problem and complete every task. I can rest in You.”
If Jesus rests, then you can too.
Those were just two of the reasons Jesus rested, but they tell an important story. Jesus, the perfect Human, chose rest, even when He could have been perceived as more “productive” doing other things. He allowed Himself to slow down, take a breath, and recharge.
Are our tasks, concerns, and relationships today more important than those of Jesus? Unlikely. Then why do we feel so anxious about incomplete tasks and unsent messages? Why are we worried about missing opportunities to get things done? And why do we feel like we’re only allowed to rest after we’ve finished every task?
Trusting God With Our Lives
When we rest, we’re reminding ourselves that God is in control of our lives. No matter how hard we work to maintain order, unexpected things will happen. So we need to put our trust in God, not in the results of our work. It’s God who establishes the works of our hands.
We do need to be responsible, and we’re called to steward what we’re given with care, but working all day only to get home and spend all our free time doing chores isn’t sustainable. So how do we start finding rest when life won’t cooperate?
How to Start Slowing Down
I get it, you can’t just drop everything. You have responsibilities like your job, classes, chores, and people who depend on you to care for them. All these responsibilities compete for your limited time. Rest can easily feel like just one more thing to add to your already chock-full schedule. So, if adding rest to your life feels like a stressful task, don’t worry—you can take it slowly.
Learning to rest takes a little work. Sounds a bit contradictory, right? But don’t worry; once you develop some rest habits, your rest will feel … well, restful.
What Is the Sabbath?
Early on in the Bible, God instructed His people to prioritize rest. Like us, they weren’t always very good at it. For extra clarity, He commanded them to take one day of rest each week. This day of rest was called the Sabbath.
On the Sabbath, God’s people were required to rest from their work and set aside time to worship God. And while non-Jews are not bound to all the laws in the Hebrew Bible, we can all still learn a lot from the wisdom they provide.
The Sabbath shows that God wants us to engage in a healthy balance of work and rest—He’s fully aware that many of us tend to overwork. The Sabbath is also God’s weekly counterpoint to our temptation to rely on ourselves instead of trusting His ultimate provision.
While we don’t all need to follow the Sabbath exactly the same way, it’s worth remembering that constant work isn’t spiritual. God rested, so we can too.
Here are a few habits we can start implementing to help us find rest.
3 Habits to Help You Slow Down and Rest
1. Meditate, then pray.
Meditation might make you think about sitting next to a waterfall and pondering the mysteries of the universe. And, sure, you can do that if you have a waterfall nearby. But don’t worry, it can be much simpler than that.
Meditation is simply taking time to slow down and let your mind relax in God’s presence. You can take five minutes to become more aware of His loving presence with you after waking up, before bed, or anytime between! But there’s one important rule: Don’t think about tasks, to-do lists, or a string of prayer requests. Just be still with Jesus. Maybe let a short phrase from Scripture reset your mind as you begin, like Jesus’ words from Matthew 11:28, “Come to me … and I will give you rest.” For more simple meditation tips, check out this article.
Taking time to meditate before you pray can be a helpful practice as you start slowing down. It can be tempting to rush through your time with God each day. Setting aside time in the morning to preemptively slow down and meditate can help you connect with God.
2. Let go of guilt when things don’t get done.
You’re not Thomas the Tank Engine. You don’t have to feel guilty when every task doesn’t get done. If you do, you’ll always struggle to rest well. Why? Because there will always be something else clamoring to be accomplished. We don’t need to finish everything today, so let’s learn to be okay with some tasks being delayed, some being done by someone else, and some just remaining unfinished. God doesn’t call us to do more than we can do each day. He holds today and tomorrow in His more-than-capable hands. We rest with a grateful heart, we work hard, and we trust God with the results of both.
3. Plan to rest.
Most of us don’t plan to rest. We rest when the tasks are done for the day, or when we’re too tired to keep working. But let’s remember the Sabbath. The Sabbath was intentional time set aside to rest. When the Sabbath arrived, it didn’t matter how many dishes you had in the sink, how many unfinished tasks were on your to-do list, or how many unread messages were in your inbox. It was time to rest.
While we don’t need to observe Sabbath in a strict way, it is wise to create a regular time each week to rest. For a while, my wife and I had a period of rest every Saturday morning. Before noon, we didn’t clean, talk about tasks, work on the budget, or do anything else productive.
And yes, it was stressful sometimes. Some days It felt like the dirty pans in the sink were judging us as we sat drinking coffee and doing a puzzle. But over time, it became less challenging and more rewarding.
So, choose a time to rest. If life is crazy, start small. Even thirty minutes can be a meaningful time of rest. Use that time to prioritize the important over the urgent: There are tasks that might feel urgent, but rest is more important.
4. Cultivate a Sabbath mindset.
The Sabbath isn’t just a day; it’s a way of life rooted in trust. So throughout our day, while working and resting, let’s cultivate a Sabbath mindset. We do that by remembering that God is in control, that our work doesn’t define our worth, and that rest is equally as valuable as work.
Having a Sabbath mindset reminds us that the weight of the world doesn’t rest on our shoulders. That realization can provide us with greater joy in both rest and work.
You can slow down.
Your life might feel out of control. I get it. You might work long hours and have people who depend on you. So don’t feel guilty for not being able to take a full day off each week to rest. Instead, find moments to rest where you can. Jesus did the same: Once when he was tired, he simply sat down by a well, and another time he took a nap in a boat. He met with His heavenly Father outside in nature. Do your best to plan to rest, and give yourself time to figure out what works best for you.
Remember, your work doesn’t define you. Work can be healthy, but it’s only one part of a healthy lifestyle. And as you begin to develop a healthier relationship between work and rest, you’ll also begin to experience greater peace and more opportunities to find strength in God.