Today’s blog post is brought to you by the letter H. Do you know what starts with the letter H? If you guessed “hypocrite” than you are probably a cynical person, but you would also be right on this occasion. No, I’m not going to be talking about hypocrites or decrying religious people for their hypocrisy. That would be like waiting in a long line of candy stealers so that I can steal a single piece of candy corn from a baby. Today, I want to talk about rest and Sabbath, and I hope that you will begin to see why I am a glaring hypocrite today and most other days.
My first semester of seminary, I took a spiritual formation class, and among my most difficult assignments was a required (and documented) weekly Sabbath. One would think that seminary students in all of their vast righteousness would have no problem following the Ten Commandments, but even the best of us usually fail miserably at the fourth commandment, “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy”. I don’t know what Moses was thinking when he wrote that one down. I don’t have time to take an entire day off every week! I am a full-time graduate student, part-time intern, thrift store manager, and worship leader. Not to mention the fact that I have to learn French and German, study for the GRE, and maintain a 4.0 if I’m going to get into any PhD programs next year. Dear Moses and God, I really appreciate the sentiment, and I would love to take a day off every week, but it is not practical. Don’t worry. I will be fine. Unlike in 1500BC, we have coffee, Red Bull, and 5-Hour Energy. All I have to do is sacrifice my body to the gods of caffeine, taurine, guarana, and B12, and I can do whatever I want to do!
Did you hear that? It sounded like my (several) cardiologists suddenly screamed out in terror and were suddenly silenced.
Ok well maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. Since that first semester, I have carved out every Thursday as my Sabbath day in which I would rest and do the things that I wish I had time for. Sometimes that means building something, playing video games, reading for fun, taking a walk, or writing this blog! In theory, I have been the model Sabbath-taker, but I wouldn’t be a hypocrite if I wasn’t also a failure. For example, after I finish this post, I am going to work on a project for class and the music for worship this Sunday. After that, I will be driving an hour to a sleep center to get fitted for a CPAP machine that will hopefully cure my fat-neck-induced sleep apnea. On this day which I have set aside to lecture you all on the importance of rest, I will be resting for a total of about three hours. It’s a good thing that I love blogging so much, or else this would be the worst 70 degree March Sabbath day ever.
Are you in the Northeast United States? Have you been outside today? Oh man. This is baseball weather…
Anyway, this is neither the time nor the place to get excited about baseball even though Cole Hamels is about to make his second spring training start in about 15 minutes…
My problem is not that I take on incredibly massive projects. I’m not trying to save the world before Easter. I have, however, taken on about a dozen seemingly manageable commitments with no regard given to how those commitments add up. I have found that it is not a simple matter of addition when it comes to commitments.
15 hours of classes + 15 hours of homework + 20 hours of work + 10 hours of internship ≠ 60 hours of actual work
This equation does not account for travel time, prep-time, overtime, complications, special assignments/projects, and intangibles like a crippling fear of failure and the perceived disappointment of others.
Suddenly, I find myself doing 12-13 hour days of almost constant stress, and Thursday slowly starts getting filled with responsibilities. Even if I manage to keep Thursday free of responsibilities, I can’t turn my stress level off for just one day. It is as if Thursday is my safe island in the middle of a pool of lava. I might not be on fire while standing on it, but it is still really hot!
We Americans love our stress. We can’t get enough of it. It’s like a drug for us. Actually, it is a drug, or rather it is several drugs: Adrenaline, Cortisol, Norepinephrine, Serotonin, and Neuropeptide Y. We are biologically programmed to react to stress by being more focused and alert, with a stronger memory, and strangely enough, an increase in urine production. Biologically, this makes sense. When our ancestors were being attacked by lions on the African plain, those of them who had such a super-human response to stress would survive to pass on their abilities to their descendants. Thank God for stress!
Unfortunately, like any drug, moderation is key. While cortisol helps to create brief, vidid memories and helps us to quickly draw upon long-term memories in a panic, over a long period of time, it actually inhibits the hippocampus and dramatically decreases the brain’s ability to make new memories. Those late-night, stress-filled cramming sessions that we students do are actually making it harder for the brain to learn. Oh, the hormone-induced irony!
Likewise, over an extended period of stress, those hormones lower the immune system, metabolism, mood, focus, decision-making abilities, sleep patterns, and cardiac function.
Are you starting to understand why this entry is brought to you by the letter H for “hypocrite”?
On a related note, the word “hypocrite” comes from the Greek word for “actor” and attained the modern connotation from those comparing an actor’s performance with a politician’s double-talk. I can live with that.
Ants and bees will work themselves to death. They will literally work until they are dead. Humans do that too except instead of dying in the grass with pollen on our legs, we die in a hospital bed after a quadruple bypass when our organs finally say, “I can’t work under these conditions anymore!” Constant environmental noise can also cause the same rush of chemicals to your brain. So, for all of fellow city-dwellers who never have a quiet moment, you might want to get out of the city every once and a while to give your body a chance to simmer down. The most relaxing day in a loud setting is worse than a busy day in a quiet hillside.
So why do we do it? Why do I do it? I suppose that is something that I will have to figure out for myself in therapy, but I don’t need to pay an expert to know that play is extremely important for humans, and God knew that when he told Moses to make everyone chill out once a week. All work and no play makes Jack Nicholson run around a haunted hotel with an axe trying to kill his family. You don’t want that to happen to you, do you? I think not.
Here is my resolution to myself, and I recommend that you figure something out for yourself too. I will not let my cortisol levels ruin my hippocampus. When I feel my “fight of flight” response start to kick in, I will boldly say, “Neither. I need to rest my adrenal glands for a day or two before I will be biologically able to make sound judgements”. When a new and exciting opportunity comes up, I will either decline or remove something else from my life first. I will not work myself to death like an ant. I will not spend so long trying to achieve some abstract concept of success that I miss out on all of the effortless beauty that surrounds me.
He made the world a grassy road
before our bare, wandering feet.
Then crushed the stones into the softest sand
between our toes,
But we’re wondering where to sleep
“Seven Sisters” by mewithoutYou