Discipline, part 2: Rest

One night in September 2014 I stayed awake until around 2:00AM. I was watching The Biggest Loser with my roommates and eating yogurt like I wanted to be a contestant. And I enjoyed the early morning hours with my roommates, especially since times to simply have fun with them don’t come often.

However, what I didn’t realize was that I was throwing off my schedule. I am currently training for a marathon, which is a distance I have never before run. As such, I have arranged my daily routine to begin with an early-morning run, usually around 6:00AM.

This run, I knew as I dozed off to sleep, was not going to be at my best effort, if I ran it at all. And not running is contrary to achieving my goal.

The importance of rest in a disciplined schedule is immense. Rest is a particular part of each person’s schedule that is necessary to live, yet all too often it is also neglected. We feel a need to go, go, go and do, do, do. Productivity reigns as a ruthless tyrant in our lives, never giving us a chance to stop, think, reflect on why we are doing what we are doing. And this is exactly what we need to do. If we don’t, we will surely stray from the path of what we as individuals and communities desire to do, and travel by default down the road of what our society at large expects us and pressures us to desire and do. Consequently, if we are to live disciplined lives, which are by definition planned, we must take time to rest so we can continually confirm that we are walking the path that we want to walk.

To be clear, when I use the term “rest,” I do not mean merely sleeping, nor do I mean more generally the idea of being inactive. Rather, I am referring to any state in which a person recovers energy and the ability to focus. This recovery state is different for each person; to give some examples from my life, I can rest by going on a relaxed run, reading a book or watching a television show I enjoy, playing my guitar for fun, or sleeping. These activities all have two common traits: I am putting in little effort as I do them and I am spending significant amounts of time doing them. Whatever you do to rest, the activities should contain both of these attributes in order to help you rest effectively and efficiently. These aren’t required, however: occasionally when I have been studying for hours and wanted to take a break, I have gone to the nearest outdoor track and run 400-meter sprints. This was a way of resting, though it wasn’t the most effective because I still felt tired, from physical fatigue in this case, when I once more began studying.

Consistently resting is a crucial part of a life marked by discipline because discipline requires no small amount of energy. There is more to effective training for a goal than simply doing the training. Energy is required to stay motivated and to focus as well as to carry out the tasks involved in training. Put energy into motivation, focus and acting (indeed, they must remain together to produce a result) and you will quickly feel fatigued. And to train, you must consistently motivate yourself, focus and act. This means you will consistently deplete your energy, which necessitates consistently resting. Said in practical terms, this means you must abolish any habits of staying up later than you need and doing exhausting tasks that are unnecessary. Now, by no means am I saying we should live selfishly, have no fun, or not allow irregular occasions to change our schedule. Rather, you should not allow habits that are irresponsible to persist in your schedule. When unexpected things happen, respond to them appropriately; enjoy your life and do things you enjoy; and “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).

Rest isn’t merely part of human life: it has been an important part of the process of the world since God first filled the Earth. The second chapter of Genesis states that God rested on the seventh day after he finished creating the world. In this act of resting, God models for us how we should live: spend most of our time working, but take a significant amount of time to rest regularly. We should follow God’s example and take time to rest. When we do this, we show that we trust him and will rely on him to provide for us before we rely on anything or anyone else. When we rest, we are combating idolatry. And in our non-stop world, taking time (maybe one day each week) to refuse to labor will make a sharp and effective statement to other people about whom we trust.

Staying well-rested is a vital part of staying disciplined. But it is only a part. If committing to be disciplined is the first step, then resting is the second. It is a basic and necessary building block on which the other parts of a disciplined life will rely, and when maintained, will make continuing in all other parts of the disciplined life much easier.

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