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The Physician Philosopher Podcast

TPP 59: The Importance of Rest

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Larry Keller

 

In the book The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, the author John Mark Comer, a pastor in Portland, points to the Gospel of Matthew to teach us about the importance of rest.  In Matthew Comer points out where Jesus, one of the greatest teachers of all time, calls people to rest.  And he does this in a really interesting way.  This is what he says,

“Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

For those who aren’t familiar with this passage (or with farming) you may not know what a “yoke” is… So, when he says “take my yoke upon you…” that may mean nothing.  A yoke is the device that you put on an animal (usually an ox) that is pulling the plow to work the land.  In other words, a yoke is an instrument for work.

Think about that… Jesus is calling you to rest by putting on a device that is meant for work.  Pretty counter-intuitive, right?  So, you’re telling me that if things feel really heavy right now and I am overworked, the solution in order to rest is to put on a yoke so that I can do more work?

In a way, yes.  

What he is calling people to realize is that work doesn’t have to be heavy.  It does not have to be hard.  Work can be light and easy.  The kind of work that Matthew is calling us to is a kind of work that is easy and light.  

It is a call to rest, which makes sense given that this passage precedes a passage on the Sabbath or the day of rest that is observed in the Judeo-Christian tradition. 

Rest and Restoration

The idea of rest is not unique to the Judeo-Christian tradition either.  In Buddhism, the idea of rest is prevalent.  And even the work done in science on mindfulness and meditation encourage rest.  This is something that both science and religion agree on unequivocally – rest is good for you.  

Yet, so few of us actually take the time to rest.

The reason I bring this up is that far too many of us skip one of the most important aspects of humanity – rest.  Taking a break.  Hitting pause.  Enjoying a sabbatical.

Think about it.  When was the last time that you rested both externally (say, on vacation, a trip away, or in a quiet moment in your home regularly) AND internally (actually being present to the moment you were in)?  For most of us, if we are honest, it has been a long time. 

The idea of resting both externally and internally is a far-fetched notion for most hard-working physicians. 

Why?  Because we consistently tell ourselves that we can do it all.  We can handle whatever life throws at us, and resting is just going to get in the way of getting all the things done that need to get done.

Oh, and there is that mantra that medicine teaches us which is that saying “I can’t do it all” is for the weak.  That only someone who can’t hack it would ever admit that they need a break.

A Lack of Rest is Toxic

This idea is so pervasive in medicine that we even have a hard time asking for a break when really bad things happen at work.  Most of us would feel bad asking a partner or colleague to come in to relieve us if we had a bad patient outcome, even if we know that what is best for the next patient is for us to step away.

It all comes from the same mentality that the answer is always to put your head down, put your hands to the plow, and to keep pushing.  No matter what.

Kind of ironic given the imagery that we talked about earlier in the passage from Matthew about how the yoke can be easy and light if we let it.

I probably don’t have to ask you to think very hard to come up with the last time you needed to take a break because you were too tired physically or emotionally at work, but you didn’t ask for the break you knew you needed because of the culture and pressure that exists in medicine.  

I’ll Sleep When I am Dead

Our language even reflects this belief.  Have you ever heard someone say, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”?  Have you ever said that yourself?  

What about “there is no rest for the weary”?  

And then there are the images of doctors being good soldiers who put their head down and get the work done, regardless of how bad things are. 

If you are a hard-working physician or entrepreneur, you know what I am talking about.  Rest feels counter-productive, and our culture in medicine teaches us the same.  Rest is the thing that gets in the way of our never-ending to-do list.  

But is this really true?  Does rest really get in the way of us being productive?  Or is this just a story, narrative, or paradigm that we have chosen to believe?

Rest is Good for Productivity

For those that know me well, they know that I value one thing above almost all others when it comes to philosophy, which is being consistent.  If I can draw your natural conclusions out to their end, I can often show you that what you say you believe isn’t really true.

For example, if rest and work are truly against each other, why ever rest at all?  Because we all know that rest is good for us.  Deep down we all recognize this is true, yet we many of us rarely take a break.  (In fact, I know physicians who don’t take vacation because they are worried about the financial costs of taking the days off and not making money).  

Science supports rest, too. We now believe there is something called the Default Mode Network (or DMN) which kicks into gear when we rest.  And that when studied, it has been shown that rest and DMN activity “is highly correlated with intelligence, empathy, emotional judgment, and even overall sanity and mental health. Rest, it turns out, is critical to health, development, and, yes, to productivity.”

Max Frenzel, a big proponent and author on a book called Time Off: A Practical Guide to Building Your Rest Ethic and Finding Success Without Stress, says it this way,

“Excellent work, particularly of the creative and innovative kind, needs rest and relaxation just as much as it requires time actively engaged in work.”

Taking a Break on the TPP Podcast

And for these reasons, and many more, I am also going to take a break from podcasting.  A sabbatical, if you will.

Don’t worry, I’ll be back behind a microphone before you know it, but for the time being, I am going to focus on writing this book. 

I’m not sure how long the break will be.  It could be 2 weeks. It could be 2 months, but I also know that that this is the right thing for me to do so that I can focus on creating a great book that is going to help a lot of doctors out there.

And I hope that, as I take this break, you reflect on the importance of taking a break, too.  Not just for an upcoming vacation, but that you take a moment each day to truly rest.  To find a quiet moment to write and reflect, meditate and pray, read, and be inspired. 

For those looking for something to listen to in the mean-time, here are a few suggested books that led me to the importance of rest and getting clear on my priorities. 

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