And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. (Genesis 2, 2-3 NRSV)

While going through my blog, sorting out and clearing up, I found this draft blog post written a couple of years ago, while I was in the fury of writing up my PhD thesis. A post about Keeping Shabbath, and learning to rest. True that the things that keep me busy have somewhat changed, but it is still true for me today. And hopefully it may help someone else too.

I have never been good at resting. I’ve been good at wasting time, but not at actively resting. Strangely, the hectic rhythm of this last year has helped me to learn just that. I need to learn to rest.

I have never been one for religiously imposed rest, either. Yes, Christian tradition has inherited from Judaism a sense of keeping Shabbath, often tied in with an obligation to dedicate at least part of that time to prayer and church/synagogue. Its wisdom, however, goes beyond that. After all, the Genesis story speaks of God blessing the Sabbath because he rested. Keeping holy the Sabbath is not only about religion.

One question for me has become: how do I rest? Not just stop from work, but really REST. Increasingly, I appreciate the wisdom of a weekly day of rest, even a daily time of rest. Technology, smartphones, and the chance to be permanently connected – I feel – has made this need more urgent. And often, it is not really an issue of more TIME, but of life choices.

I can only share some of the simple steps I am slowly opting for:

  • Turn off email (and other?) notifications on my mobile. Yes, I know I’m terribly important, and the world will stop if I stop looking, but most emails can wait. Certainly until the next time I’m at my desk. I already spend an inordinate amount of time at my desk anyway. I know I will feel the urge to check that email if my mobile notifies my … but do I really need to every time I pick up my phone?
  • Take a day off. But do something on that day off. Ideally with friends or family. If I stay home, I’m likely to be a couch potato, and spend time in front of a screen (TV, computer). There’s more to life. Visit a Museum, go for an exhibition, a concert, whatever. If weather permits, go for a walk!
  • Turn off for a few hours a day. Turn off when I get home from work. Turn off between major jobs in a day. And find something I enjoy, and helps me unwind, at least for a bit.

Coming back to this post two years on, I realise that these choices have helped me, particularly during the last months of the writing up, as well as in major shift of settling down to post-PhD life. I still keep email notifications turned off on my mobile phone and tablet, and it helps me relax after a day’s work. I have also become better at taking a day off, at doing something to actively rest. And I certainly have taken much more of a liking for exercise: whether it is time on an exercise bike at home, better still a hike, or even an eight-day walking pilgrimage! And of course, finding some quality time for prayer may also be an important part of the recipe to some of us. But whatever our beliefs (or none), learning to rest is a key to better quality of life.