This op-ed was written in association with The Op-Ed Project.
"Time is money," wrote Ben Franklin in "Advice to a Young Tradesman, Written by an Old One." The saying that has embodied the Protestant work ethic since 1748 is no less relevant in our 21st century postmodern culture. Our consumer-based economy thrives on packing as much productivity into our 1,440 minutes per day as possible. And, with the demands of technology, we're too distracted to notice how stressed out we've become.
In my lifetime, I've seen blue laws repealed such that Sunday has become virtually indistinguishable from any other day for many service workers. But in 2012, we hit a new low: for the first time major retailers opened their doors for shopping on Thanksgiving evening. Several employees mounted petition campaigns -- one garnered more than 30,000 signatures -- pleading for the full day off to be with their families, but to no avail. Official corporate announcements stated, "The super majority of our 1.3 million associates are excited about Black Friday and are ready to serve our customers."
Really, they needn't have bothered. The Internet has already granted consumers the ability to shop constantly. Every time I log onto my computer and open the browser, items I've searched for once on Overstock.com now rotate across my screen, beckoning me like tantalizing dishes circulating on a sushi bar. The technology meant to make life easier now risks turning us into shopaholics and workaholics, while exposing our kids to cyber-bulling and cyber-sex. Is there no escape from this unrelenting, 24/7 lifestyle? There should be laws.
Wait, there already are.
Thou shalt not kill. Neither shalt thou commit adultery, steal, nor bear false witness against thy neighbor. If you have never opened a Bible in your life, you have probably still heard some version of the verses in chapter five of the book of Deuteronomy. Lately, one of the Ten Commandments has been gnawing at me -- the fourth one:
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all they work: But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor they maidservant, nor they cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates.
Stop Day. That's what author Matthew Sleeth calls the Sabbath in his new book "24/6." I first met Dr. Sleeth in 2006 when he came to Dallas on a tour for his first book "Serve God, Save the Planet," which chronicles his unusual experience of resigning from a post as the chief of staff for an emergency room in order to teach and preach on environmental stewardship. So pivotal was this book in my faith journey that I can trace my own writing and speaking on creation care back to the moment I finished reading it. Reading "24/6," I was moved once again by Dr. Sleeth's wisdom, authenticity and stories of patients from his days as a physician. It's an easy read, replete with facts, real-life examples, and a historical perspective on the Sabbath -- as well as ideas for enjoying the spiritual, health and social benefits that it carries. True to its promise, this book offers a prescription for a healthier, happier life.
The idea is deceptively simple. Work six days a week and take a day off from work to rest. And yet, the call to action of 24/6 is challenging me more than the one Sleeth presented in his first book. For an action-oriented sustainability consultant and writer, serving God by saving the planet (or trying to) comes more naturally than honoring the Sabbath. Sleeth understands:
There is something comforting about being overworked. If work is the meaning of our lives, then more work equals more meaning. Our work ethic even extends to our time away from work. We like to say that we work hard and play hard. But 24/6 is not about working hard and playing hard. It is about working hard and stopping. In that rhythm, the work takes on more meaning, and the stopping takes on holiness.
People of all faiths would agree: We need a day off. I'm encouraged by Sleeth's stories of people, as well as major companies, that are keeping Stop Day alive. For all the technological solutions we're investing in to solve our energy and environmental challenges, I can't help but wonder how much pollution, carbon emissions, and sanity we could save by collectively deciding to take this day back. In biblical times, to work on the Sabbath was punishable by death. Today in America, it's a choice that many of us are lucky enough to make, if only we would.
A recovering productivity junkie, I've only begun learning how to slow down my pace long enough to rest on the Sabbath (especially with two kids to get ready for church on Sundays). The book is helping, but I catch myself forgetting to stop in odd moments. Last week, a pile of laundry kept nagging me on my Stop Day. I couldn't rest until I succumbed to loading the dirty clothes into the machine. A number of other chores suddenly leapt out, causing me to think, "I could really get a jump start on Monday if I got this out of the way now."
If, like me, you suffer from lack of imagination for ways to relax, Sleeth offers plenty of ideas for celebrating the Sabbath: Make a list of the week's minor miracles, sit on the stoop, explore nooks and crannies in your neighborhood, read a novel, and if you are so inclined, ponder Scripture. One of many tips I like is this:
Be still, and know that I am God.
Recite Psalm 46:10, breathe, then say it again, subtracting one word each time. At the end, just be.
We can count of the minutes that make up our lives as increments of productivity or as moments to savor. To regain quality of life, we must let go of things that do not serve -- like outdated mantras. Forget what you've been told, because time is not money. Time is sacred. Remember the Sabbath -- and for at least one day a week, bask in the peace that God promises.